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ISSN 0160-0699

Volume 31, No. 1, Mar 2008

Brief Review of Yale Conference

Brief Review of March 13th-14th symposium at Yale University “Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book”

By Joan Stoltman

Day One:

The symposium began with a keynote by Johanna Drucker, as many artists’ book events are known to do. She spoke of spacing, line and “the opening up of sense” that poets have mastered as a capability and awareness particularly suited to publishing. Her considerations for the physicality of the codex book (its “concrete reality”, ordered elements, aesthetic features, performative nature, and space) indirectly became the critical platform for much of the rest of the conference’s discussions, particularly in day two when production, cost and audience were debated. C.D. Wright gave the second keynote, a poetry reading and presentation of her collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster. Wright was a brilliant choice for speaker: her collaborations with Luster served as insightful and striking illustrations to the process of creation. Those who lingered around after the talk were very fortunate: Wright passed around several of Luster’s aluminum-plate. I strongly recommend One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (hardcover, in edition of 2,000, I just bought a used copy online!)—I see this work as a contemporary sibling of Frank’s Family of Man.

Day Two:

Steve Clay, moderator of the Approaching Collaboration Panel, began the morning by reminding us of the Buddhist sense of creation and influence, one that maintains that all art is an inherent collaboration with environment, materials and people. Buzz Spector was a brilliant choice for first speaker; his wit engaged many a sleepy-eyed poet and bookmaker. His handout, A Taxonomy of Collaboration: after “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”, was a roaring good time while maintaining relevancy to the debate of where these works belong. Spector’s altered book works often tread difficult waters, as he admits; I wished he’d brought slides. Ann Lauterbach spoke second, presenting her collaborations with visual artist Ann Hamilton. “Ann and Ann”, as her presentation is titled, have produced haunting, conscious, beautiful works together, and their unique aesthetic combination brilliantly illustrates the capabilities of collaboration. Lastly, John Yau—where to begin? Yau is hilarious as both poet and speaker, and I would pay to see again. His approaches to collaboration—one involved passing sheets of paper back and forth between poet and painter for hours on end, to the point of being in a competitive trance—- are intense, unconventional and demanding, but produce clever, remarkable works. Questions about collaborations with the dead, the concept of ownership in altered works and collaborative pieces, and collaborations gone sour spark a lively discourse between panel and audience, one that unfortunately did not continue into the Publisher’s Roundtable. The Roundtable consisted entirely of six small press publishers (Ninja Press, In Cahoots Press, Coracle Press, Ugly Duckling Press, Sutton Hoo Press, and Cuneiform Press) answering audience questions. Was it something in the food? This after-lunch panel turned sour very quickly as questions about art versus craft, the cost of books versus the cost of art, audience/ access/ reception, and the “quaintness” of bookmaking (“quaint” really was the word choice of the questioner!) put a damper on the positive energy of the symposium’s previous events. One audience member stated that it wasn’t the job of the press to get their work out there, only to create the works—-where is the logic in this? (I wanted to react, but thought it best not to “go there”.) Johanna Drucker, Buzz Spector and Joan Lyons, among others, diligently tried to rein in the discussion with their questions, and efforts by the panel did result in some pockets of significant dialogue. Many audience questions implied a naiveté about the differences between the panelists works, so Anna Moschovakis (Ugly Duckling Press) pushed for her fellow panelists to describe their works and missions in an effort to distinguish the presses from one another. Johanna Drucker assisted her efforts when the questions veered off again, and thankfully this allowed the panelists an opportunity to present themselves.

The symposium was organized by Nancy Kuhl (Curator of American Literature Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts) and Jae Rossman (Special Collections Librarian, Sterling Memorial Library); the events and speakers clearly reflected the insight and input of both women. The concurrent exhibitions, “Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book” and “The Publisher’s Roundtable: Book Artists in Dialogue” presented the collections of both libraries. Only a glimmer of these vast collections was presented, and I came away with the strong desire to return to Yale in search of more. This desire is also due to the inherent lifelessness that is vitrine display. I wrote down twenty or so books on display to return to this summer, and hoped that the other conference attendees were also planning to seek out personal interactions with these books. After all, Johanna Drucker began the symposium by presenting the codex “as a dynamic space”—what better way to experience space than to enter it!