Outside the box



A weekend of books, but not just any books. First, to the Research Group for Artists Publications Small Publishers’ Fair at Conway Hall, where international presses displayed their wares: pamphlets, prints, cards; as well as books, bound in board or leather or fabric, hand-sewn or stitched, or loose-leaved, or accordioned, some which popped from their boxes like springs, some which scattered their disparate pages like an attic of mementos. What these publishers and artists and poets have in common is the desire to prioritise the book, so that it becomes not just a container for words and images, but an object in its own right, as important and as memorable as what it says and shows. These are books which make themselves awkward, which do not sit vertically on shelves, which ask to be displayed like sculptures, to be opened from different vantage points. They force the reader to do more than ‘read’; they are about participation, working out how ‘word’ and ‘meaning’ and ‘gesture’ and ‘vision’ are linked, are indivisible.

And then to the Poetry Library’s open day, to see poets working in a diversity of strategies and ideas: computer poetry, concrete poetry, Oulipo techniques, patterned poetry, collaboration, chance operation, etc. And again, the idea that the book should not be secondary to its contents. Here are a few thoughts from Ulises Carrion, from his essay on The New Art of Making Books, originally printed in Kontexts no. 6- 7, 1975:

A book is a sequence of spaces.
Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments.
A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.

And this from Rick Myers, who talks about the concept of the ‘portable museum’:

I have been exploring the book as a format for this portability, for words and images, and when the contents of the pages have spilled over into three dimensions it has been necessary for the container to do the same … A box is a perimeter for space, for isolation of content, accumulated, often lying in darkness waiting to be revealed and considered …

It was the boxed editions which I found most exciting: lifting the lid on the unknown, a world in an enclosed space, like a walled garden. It takes me back to Bachelard, once again, the idea of the house as a receptacle for memory, the place where our memories are housed. ‘Intimacy needs the heart of a nest,’ he says. The book is like a nest that we crawl into …

As a poet, the idea that the poem can fly beyond the boundaries of the page is liberating; to know that there is a world of poets and artists making objects which are books, but also go beyond the confines of what we understand as a book, gives me hope. In an age when we are constantly being told that the book is dead, isn’t this an ethos for its revitalisation and renewal?

The image is a work by the book artist Georgia Russell.