By Annie Guthrie
This interview was conducted at the Poetry Center's 2012 Poetry Off the Page symposium.
How does Between Page and Screen relate to more traditional book art techniques you have used in the past, and how did writing and making Between Page and Screen compare to the process involved in your previous book art pieces, like Ange Malade?
The processes were completely different, from the writing to the creation. With Ange Malade, a one-of-a-kind book I made in 2005, I selected several Victorian novels I read that year and narrowed in on those passages that struck me as revealing a subtext about the heroine’s self-discovery (there is always some moment of self-discovery in the books, but I tried to find places where the normative paradigm is subverted). I then used a process of erasure and illustration, entirely indebted to Tom Phillips’ work, to bring out the emergent poem. I worked with a sheaf of copied pages, which I then bound into a stab-bound book. The first edition of Between Page and Screen was also hand-bound, but using a technique that allows the pages to lie flat and a fine press paper that is delicate, but strong. I had to worry about things like alignment and uniformity when I letterpress-printed it, since the book has this overall minimalism to it: white paper, black ink, the grid of the image and the square of the book. Both projects were very labor intensive, and the processes are actually pretty closely linked with the aesthetic and thematic goals of the books. Ange Malade is messy, a little ill, a little unruly. Between Page and Screen is careful, mysterious, guarded.
Would you consider Between Page and Screen book art, or is it more of a hybrid between a chapbook and book art?
I do think of it as a hybrid of the artist’s book and chapbook. It is very much attempting to fulfill Johanna Drucker’s injunction that the work’s form and content must be in dialogue (the language itself is only available in the space between print and the digital). But it is also a book of poems that is about language itself, and that’s full of word play, anagrams, and paragrams. The text is important too.
Would you consider yourself more a poet, or more a visual artist? Or do you describe yourself as a multimedia artist?
I generally describe myself as a poet—my primary medium is language, and I turn to other media as the project calls for it. It’s all in the service of language for me.
Did making Between Page and Screen change the way you think about the relationship between physical reading material and digital content? Was it a contemplation for you, or was it more your expression of thoughts you already had?
Making the book, and particularly writing the poems, definitely gave me space for meditation, and allowed me to think through the relationship between these two technologies, both of which I am invested in. In the process of looking into the etymologies of the words “page” and “screen,” I discovered that these terms have been set up in a false binary (most binaries are false, but sometimes we need to be reminded of that fact!). Their meanings have several points of connection, which I try to draw out in the poems.
In Between Page and Screen, it seems as though the book allows the text to come more alive than in a traditional book, as they appear to be in three dimensional, physical space. But on the other hand, the text has more constraints and conditions placed upon it as a result of the physical-digital hybrid form (for example, the reader/viewer must have the book, a computer, a webcam), and the text is more ephemeral, in that once you turn the page, the text is gone. What do these apparent aspects of Between Page and Screen imply about the currently changing nature of written language and literature? To you, does it necessarily imply anything?
To me it implies the centrality of the reader to this equation. Even as the words scatter at the turn of the page, the reader sees him or herself behind them. The form of Between Page and Screen (and the constraints you mention) draws attention to an exchange that is always happening between the book and the reader—making visible the way books constructs us and we them. Even as the form of books change, they exist for that reader, by nature of someone willing to engage in the act of reading.