Writing Life

Writing Ephemeral Objects or How You Read

Jacq told me I should edit my bio to include the incessant ephemeral poetics in my work. I think the concept alone of ephemeral art and writing is too large for a bio and thus… A blog post is born (crazy how anything can be content, no?).

Blog post warning: I am, in no way, qualified to teach or, really, even talk about most things, including high-level poetics… Outside of my own experience, of course. If you read this and something chafes or doesn’t sit well or doesn’t ring true in the greater arts and writing community out there, let’s talk about it.

During my MFA, I fell in love with relational art (yes, I’m one of those). In general, I’ve always been focused on that intersection between writing and art and how I’m tired of there being a distinction. The professor who would become my thesis adviser thought the same way and then introduced to me to an entire world of things, objects, work, art that were made entirely for their experiential quality, not their shelf-life. And, frankly, I’ve never looked back. Each piece of art (writing object) I create is meant to be experienced in some other fashion than turning the page. And, if I do it right, it’s not meant to last forever. I think there’s something so personal, so meaningful, in a writing or book object that is meant to disappear because it mimics our own existence. I believe the experience of engaging in a piece of art is as, if not more, important than the work itself. There’s also something incredibly tragic and thus romantic about the ephemeral that I can’t ignore, but that’s probably best saved for the Ph.D. I’ll likely never get.

So, what kinds of things am I actually talking about here? Well, in the “traditional” art world, my absolute favorite is “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991 by Félix González-Torres (happy side note: the exhibits lives in my favorite art museum of all time, which makes my heart sing). What does this look like in written form though? It can be a series of 5 cards that align with 5 different senses. You read the card, then follow the directions on the back to destroy the card, thus creating an experience of interaction with text that the reader can never get back. It can be hiding a work’s intention or integrity in book form and, when a reader engages with the book object, it asks its reader to destroy, tear, rip, write its pages to create something. A more popular form of this example is, say, guerrilla artist Keri Smith’s “Wreck This…” series. It can be like Jill Maji’s wet chapbook, Sign Climacteric, where the reader first alters the book object’s appearance, then engages with its narrative, thus adding layers or levels of interpretation and meaning.

Tangentially related, I’d like you to reflect how you engage with book objects in your life, even the most traditional of books. Do you keep your books pristine, never daring to even crack the spine or dog ear a page? How do you arrange your books (alphabetized by title? By author last name? By author first name? By color?). Or, are you like me, and you let books migrate toward each other, grouping by what else they are in conversation with thematically or poetically? Do you read with a pen in hand and can’t wait to get a new or used book, in part, to add to its character by creating new cracks and creases? Do you shun the physical book entirely and engage only, or even partly, with digital books and, then, what does that mean for engagement with a narrative? Are there only certain books you read on a kindle/tablet/phone and others you physically hold in your hands? Why? What does that say about your reading style and, thus, your writing style/poetics? Even if you don’t agree with the idea of ephemeral writing and book objects, I think taking time to notice how you consciously or subconsciously engage with narrative physically can be an important part of your process as an writer, artist, etc.

I’d love to know how you read more so than what you read. 

Comment below.

This content was originally written for Recken Press and posted on Medium. If you liked it, why not head on over there and give it a few claps?

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