Making places, making poems: process and performance in landscape book arts
Artists books that feature a single poem, or a themed sequence, are very familiar and widely appreciated. I’m interested in those that go a stage further: where the artists-book form is more than a decorative vehicle for poems that could (and often do) appear subsequently or in parallel in mass-produced formats. Just as a standard
print or performed poem will not work in the fullest sense in prose paraphrase, so these artists-book poems are only fully realised when seen as text-art objects whose linguistic and material creativity are inextricably intertwined.
My two examples address spatiality and landscape and re-purpose found text. Camilla Nelson’s Translating the Coal Forests, a collaboration with Steven Hitchins, ‘translates’ pages from F.J. North’s Coal and the Coalfields in South Wales into a ‘micro poetry publication’ whose text and materials are literally de- and re-formed through a lengthy process of immersion and petrification. (For example, not only is the paper made from grass, mud and coal, but word-choice and form for the poems derive from the partially retrieved text through reinscribing in verbal form organic breakdown and decay.) Paeony Lewis’s A Practical Guide to Gardening behind the Post-War Fence reconstructs a fragile 1950s reprint of a 1947 gardening manual (Practical Gardening and Food Production in Pictures, by Richard Sudell), to stage a picket-fenced paper garden where found poems are also lawns, cascaded pages incorporate illustrations showing how to scatter fertiliser, and the presence of wild birds and animals is signalled through diagrams and tables for their control and destruction.
Lewis’s surreal re-enactment of suburban territory and Nelson’s ecopoetic reconfiguration of Welsh coalfields push hard at Charles Olson’s contention that ‘Form [in poetry] is never more than an extension of content’ (1). Here the content – landscape and its construction through natural and human forces – both extends and is intimately bound up with the form.
1) Charles Olson, ‘PROJECTIVE VERSE’ reprinted in Paul Hoover (ed.) Postmodern American Poetry. New York: Norton, 1994 (first published 1950)
Anna Reckin is a poet and freelance academic based in Norwich. Her first book publication, Broder, an artists-book collaboration, won a Minnesota Book Award for fine press work; her most recent collection, Line to Curve, appeared from Shearsman in 2018. She has a PhD from the Poetics Programme at SUNY Buffalo and writes reviews and essays alongside her own creative work. Current projects include book-length sequences on material objects: perfume and Chinese jades. See also