[Editor’s Note: This series of Duration, Sequence & Structure posts is a text/image version of a collaborative talk that was given by Kyle Schlesinger and I at the 2012 College Book Art Association conference in the Bay Area. One section will be posted every day of this week. This is the third.]

[AC] Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. That text is at once continuous and fractured. We see it as a line, moving relentlessly from the beginning to the end, but that line is precarious—shot through with cracks, fissures, breaks, white space. The line is an accumulation of fragments. The line is an accumulation of voids. The largest gaps occur in the transition from page to page, through the gutter or around the fore-edge. These are the crucial non-spaces of reading, when the technology of the book rushes up to meet our attention, when our conception of time asserts its artificiality; yet we, as readers, steadfastly ignore it. The lines of text and the blocks of the pages divide and spatialize time—sometimes arbitrarily, always artificially. Artificially because we don’t read like that, we don’t experience books in the way that the things themselves like to imply—in a straight line of perfectly divisible units in strict sequence. The text does not pass by our fixed viewpoint like the frames of a film. We read, we stop reading, we get distracted, we pet the cat, we back up, we start again, we read, we start to fall asleep, “it’s a little warm in here,” we read, we stop, we read, “did you remember to?” We flip to the end of the chapter to look at an endnote, we read, we stop, a word or phrase reminds us of something, we read, it’s time to eat, we grab a bookmark and wedge it into the space of the gutter, we close the book and now it’s all fore-edge again, now we’re back at the beginning. We walk away. We come back hours later. We walk away. We come back days later. We walk away. We come back years later. The text does not change, but it’s a different book every time we pick it up.

[KS] And sometimes the text does change, rekindling the old adage: you can’t step in the same book twice. Bolinas poet Robert Grenier’s Sentences, published by Whale Cloth Press in 1978 is one instance of a book’s structure having a direct effect on the reader’s understanding of the poem. Sentences consists of five-hundred poems that could be described as minimalist in nature, each of which is printed on one side of a 5 x 8 inch card, and the cards are housed in a Chinese box complete with ivory clasps manufactured in Hong Kong. Unlike the poet’s other books, the loose cards invite the reader to shuffle the stack, revisiting the text anew each time. Paradoxically, Michael Waltuch, Whale Cloth’s publisher and designer of Sentences, told me that when he was in the Rare Book Library at the University of Pennsylvania discussing his work with some students, he unclasped the box, cut the deck, and began shuffling the book, reading the short poems in a randomized, rapid sequence. He said the librarian nearly fainted! Apparently, the library had preserved the original (arbitrary) order of the cards for twenty-five years, urging their patrons to never, under any circumstances, place the cards in the “wrong” order. I might have had a similar idea in mind when I made A Book of Closings in 2005.

I had been reading Keats’ odes and thinking about the way poets say goodbye, formally and informally. I began writing down all of the closings culled from Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978 in my notebook. Then, I wrote them down on index cards and sorted them, avoiding any repetition.

For example, “love” seemed to be a popular closing, especially as the two poets came to know one another more intimately. I decided that “love” with a comma was different than “love” with no comma, just as “love from Mallorca” was certainly different from “love from Betty and me.” 

The closings were printed letterpress on cardstock and housed in a blue paper folder of sorts. I didn’t attribute particular closings to a particular author, in part, because I’m interested in that mysterious third element that is introduced in any relationship or collaboration, and of course, who could resist the bookbinders’ pun on the absence of signatures in a book composed entirely of loose cards? The form allows the reader to randomly rearrange the lives, and more importantly the relationship lived through letters by the poets.

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