[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 last.]
[KS] In What You Will, the language is layered both in the printing and in the text itself. Unlike many of the works discussed in Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible, the legibility of the poems was in no way compromised by the printing, nor were the poems written specifically for this book form. Spaces within spaces, books within books, with all four elements visible simultaneously. I get bored when there aren’t at least two things happening at once, but I’ve never been interested in noise for the sake of noise, and/or artists’ books that are essentially one-liners talking over one another (or any other kind of book for that matter). As I recall, in 2009 Aaron asked me for some work and I sent him eighteen new poems. When he received the manuscript, he thoughtfully asked right away if I had any thoughts about how the book should be, and I said something like, “you know how much I admire your work, so please, do what you will.” (or did I just say this to myself and title the manuscript thereafter?) The poems in this book take on quite a few different forms (the shortest poem is just two words, the longest is four pages) and yet I feel that the short line holds it together. The line is a unit of measure that I’ve been working with for the last five years, combined with a somewhat street-wise vocabulary. Almost all of the poems are occasional and contain found language, often from several sources within a single piece, but the sources aren’t as important as the relationships between elements, the contrast that can be introduced by a diverse palette of words and phrases that sometimes result in unexpected twists that keep the poem moving forward, at other times making for awkward moments that create something of an intentional acoustic or visual fumble (such as typos or successive clichés).
Reading is an experience that unfolds in time—the letters build up into words, the words into sentences, and the sentences into a text. The codex has a specific sequence and a sophisticated hierarchical structure designed to honor the author’s intention. Traditionally bound books are often divided into chapters rationally organized in ascending order, as are the corresponding page numbers which are conveniently listed in the table of contents, while the index creates a complex network that is easy to cross reference among identical copies of a given book; i.e. the third word of the third sentence in the third chapter of the first edition of Moby-Dick is intended to be the same in every copy. But artists’ books and poetry often don’t rely upon such conventions, which is one of the reasons that the two genres have such a rich and intertwined relationship. The time of a book (unlike the time of a dance performance, film screening, or bus ride) is subjective and determined by the individual reader. Poetry is rarely read cover to cover, and poets know this. Are the rules for reading a traditional codex any more defined than strategies for reading artists’ books? How are these strategies informed or obfuscated by collective reading environments? When is one “done” reading? Does the book begin the same way it ends? Is experience a reading that in time unfolds—text into sentences, sentences into words, words into letters?