In a continuing effort to expose my students to books that play with format and structure in unique and creative ways, as well as possibly providing evidence for why we need to continue to publish books we can hold in our hands, I have been bringing such books to class every Monday. This post is the second installment of some of books I have shared with them.
Anne Carson’s Nox: Anne Carson’s brother died in 2000. She had not been in much contact with him for the last 22 years of his life. He had run away from home while still a teenager and she received a postcard from him now and then, a letter here and there. Her brother was troubled, was involved with drugs and the law. She found out about his death two weeks after he had died because his wife (third) had not been able to locate Carson’s phone number. His ashes were spilled into the sea.
Nox is Carson’s dealing with her grief, not just for his death, but for a brother with whom she had never formed a relationship. Carson is a poet and teaches ancient Greek. She has written essays and translated ancient works. She has used Catullus’ poem on grief as a thread through this book, translating and defining each word. These definitions become a form of poetry itself as she stretches and pushes the words and connects them to her mourning.
The structure of Nox is an accordion book. It is a facsimile of a journal, visual and literary, that she created after her brother Michael’s death. It includes old photographs, musings, scraps of memories, and ephemera connected to her and her brother. It is a powerful and poignant demonstration of a search for meaning. This book is an attempt to reinvigorate the dead. “A brother never ends,” she writes. “I prowl him. He does not end.”
The students were very intrigued with this book. I shared with them that the only disappointment I had with its format was that there was nothing on the backside of the accordion, that a characteristic of the format was that it created a 360 degree narrative, never ending. I saw this, I shared, as clearly a missed opportunity for Anne Carson, especially because “A brother never ends.”
The students were seized with this idea. How could a 360 degree narrative work? I told them that I had actually created such a book. They were eager to see it.
then: The title of my book, then, is the first word of a poem about my mother’s dealing with Parkinson’s. When you read an accordion book, flipping it spread by spread, when you get to the end (and back to the beginning), the book goes onto the opposite side of the book seamlessly, hence the circular, looping, endless narrative. The words are:
excruciating back pain
slurring nausea dry mouth
wild involuntary exaggerated
movements and twitches
side effects of the medicine
even worse than the disease
my mother hardly ever takes her pills
but sometimes for an hour of peace
for an hour of dignity
she will take her pills
It really seemed that the students were moved by this book. It was silent until GB said, “Can we make one?”
Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout: Kleon has done what dada/ surrealist artists, whose hopes in the future and trust in the past were destroyed by the realities of World War I, first discovered. In their attempt to find some new meaning in the words that they had once put faith, they pulled words (frequently randomly) from pages of books to reveal new texts. In much the same way, and literally discovered as an exercise through writer’s block, Kleon transforms original newspaper stories into poetry using a black marker, sometimes riffing off the original, sometimes creating something totally new. The rich layers implicitly make the experience both visually and literarily compelling.
We’ll be trying our hand at this as well.
And thanks to you blog readers who continue to make terrific suggestions for books to share with my students. I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to expand my own expertise and knowledge of these books as well. The idea is that these books should somehow push the notion of what makes a book a book, that the structure and format, perhaps even content, of these books should somehow be unique and push boundaries of bookmaking and writing.