Monday, August 1, 2011

"Books" of "Poetry"

"it depends on your definition of 'of'" (intentional misquote, everybody)

Welcome back to design and style. This is the new sorryforboringyou dot blogspot dot com. It's gone by noon in California on the first day of the month if you're reading this. I'm writing it a few days back in Florida (still don't know why the time's set to Pacific). Stephen King calls writing "telepathy," I call it "time travel." See you after the jump.

Nox is an I guess, book. Here's what I've written about it before:
I'm not trying to get more reflective than this so I'll just continue in the same fourth-wall breaking mode. Anne Carson has talked about the book, stating, "I know that I have to make things. And it’s a convenient form we have in our culture, the book, in which you can make stuff, but it’s becoming less and less satisfying. And I’ve never felt that it exhausts any idea I’ve had” (quoted from her page on the Poetry Foundation's website). This is something I think she addresses in the design of her latest book, Nox, which we might better call a work of art. It's a scroll of some sort. Not something I can understand completely from reading about it, which is a bit of a thrill, considering this world we live in, where we basically just read summaries about everything instead of actually experiencing it, but that's neither here nor there. I know that I am going to pick this up at the library here at the university right when it comes in. Or rather when the first person returns it, because it's on order now and someone already has it on hold.
Retroactively we can see Nox as one of the reasons for this feature on my blog at all. It was thinking about Carson's comment that has really gotten me to seriously consider what the difference is between the book and the art itself. When I read Nox it was an odd experience, because you would hold the scroll all together as if it were a book but pages bleed into others so you'd change it up to sort of capitalize on that. It was an experience. The book is based on a piece that Carson actually created, copied to I'm not sure what amount of authenticity, but I would assume quite well. It appears that this bleeding through of various pages could be due to "water damage" in the original work or rather the intentional use of water, as well as the fact that graphite tends to get anywhere (a lot of the art/poetry appears to be in pencil).

What I really enjoy when considering the book (that dreaded word again) is how bold Carson is. Critiques of her have considered her writing to be, quite frankly, not poetry and she answers back by making a work that is not only questionable at times as poetry, but is never actually a book, but rather a facsimile of her creation. Carson's original work is referred perhaps ironically as a "book," but if it actually is basically the same as the mass produced version it's more like the scroll than Freedom or even the published version of On the Road. Ironically, ultimately, Nox is a sort of methodical read. Even more than your average poetry book, it falls into a structure that really can lead to a feeling of repetitiveness. But Carson, as I have said many times before, works on a level above me, and I think Nox is surprisingly inviting for her. The book includes clipped definitions of every word in the Catullus 101, an elegy written by Catullus for his brother, working its way through the Latin, forming the skeleton of Carson's memories of her own late brother--in this way we get both Carson the translator and Carson the critic, once again spacing herself from the poet. I think the entire book feels very much like an important stepping off point, like In Rainbows, it's the work of an artist hitting a groove that accentuates everything that (in this case) she has made to this point.

But as much as Nox does everything I want it to do as a Carson book, it also comes with an artsy price tag. That was one of the things I enjoyed about checking it out of the library. Carson's page after page of minimally worked paper could certainly upset someone's pocket book. It's the most interesting way to spend $35 on a book this side of The Original of Laura (which I just saw is actually $55 and a terrible money grab for a "book" you can read in the book I repeating myself?) but I have to wonder about it. Nox, existing as it does on the fringe of visual art and poetry, logically has a price between works of art and books of poems, but one would wonder about the market for such a book. (Of course, Nox's repeated weeks at the top of the poetry bestsellers' lists sort of answers that question, doesn't it?)

I guess the poetry world is based on the support-the-artists reality of life as a musician. As in poetry books are quite expensive with the idea that you don't sell a whole shit-ton. Or at least that's my assumption. In reality, I'm not sure where all the change goes. But the whole chapbook history sort of sets you on this path to different styles of "book" for different (generally more) amounts of money. And this is how small publishers continue to exist. I understand and enjoy this, but it still seems a bit broken. What one thinks about while reading these expensive books is "How can you reach equilibrium?"

This is where Douglas Coupland is king. Coupland books often come designed by the author--as in he's the cover designer. It's very cool. (I mentioned this before in the post I've quoted earlier. I guess I still have the same trains of thought in my mental station.) And it's not expensive. Which isn't possible for everyone, I understand. But perhaps it's Coupland's art that works best here; made only better by its mass production, Coupland's art, like his writing, has a way of getting at the zeitgeist that is strengthened by its growing omnipresence.

To finish, I think I will close on a personal note. In making my book, I was happy to find how little the costs could be on creating a book. As a written artist, like Carson, I see the book as a good object but not a necessary device for my art. The blog is an example of something the book is not. Any blog is. However, as a person who thinks a lot about money myself while trying to consume art sometimes one has to think to oneself, is this much experimentation worth it? It's Carson's steadiness in her answer that makes her such a strong figure, but alas, I am not as sure for myself. Reviewers have seen Nox as the anti-ebook and considering the plight of ebooks in poetry, I think this is an interesting idea to consider all on its own, but ebooks bring up once again the question of price. Ebooks give you nothing tangible for a certain amount of (in my opinion too much) money, while Nox is as tangible as an object as I've seen the presentation structure of poetry get. Ultimately, however, when it comes to work like Nox one has to be thankful for the continued existence of libraries. This is art and valuable art at that. But as the reader, one always has to remember consumption comes, but at what cost?

NOTE: Anyone wanting an actual (well-written) review and overview of Nox could easily get one for example here. Sorry, I know I can't write, and yet I just keep on trying.

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