My contribution to the Literary Hybrid Book Arts SalonI'm fresh back from the Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop on Literary Hybrid and Book Arts in Gambier, OH. Although it had the fun of summer camp and relaxed atmosphere, I found it to be one of the most productive weeks I have had in a long time. Three new written works mocked up with visuals and six handmade books done within one week of time. As a new mom, this is just what I needed!
This was one of the first workshops of its kind led by literary hybrid Gretchen Henderson and book artist Ellen Sheffield. It was rooted in the writing workshop but modeled after a visual artist's retreat with studio time and techniques. Literary history and theory about artists working on intersection of image+text were covered: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha to Claudia Rankine to Jen Bervin, William Blake to Fluxus artists to Jonathan Safran Foer to Anne Carson. All my heroes in the same seminar - it was very informative to see that although we still think of this as "new" it's really a practice that has existed in the margins for quite a long time.
Above: Tree of Codes by Johnathan Safran Foer. Check out my Image+Text board on Pinterest!I've added many of the artists we discussed onto my Image+Text board on Pinterest so that you can check out the literary experiments.
In terms of my own process, it was the perfect time to hunker down and finish writing the stories that have been sitting in my head for the last few months. I continue to explore narratives that are hidden in the body and have pushed to take them to different sensory spaces, times, and incorporate multiple languages.
What was useful about the writing exercises was the process of working against a constraint or sets of rules that are imposed on oneself. We came with 25 first lines and although I already had ideas of what I would write with them, we were asked to pass them around the classroom and then to write from someone else's first line - which was unexpected but great. Sometimes we were read our poems backward word by word in order to discover new diction. We did erasures of our own lines, broke the poems, put them back together, and also considered the white space on the page as another element of language that challenged our notions of linearity in a work.
"Incarnadine" by Mary SzybistEach night, we also attended readings and heard brand spanking new writing from faculty, fellows, and peer writers in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. It was quite remarkable to see the risks people were taking. In particular, I was stunned by the poetry of Mary Szybist whose spare and simple lines split my heart like a newly sharpened knife in such an elegant and mysterious way. The week culminated with a Book Arts Salon in our studio where we enjoyed the "living library" of books that our class created during the week.
Best of all, I left the workshop with new colleagues and friends. It was definitely a place full of generosity, experimentation, intellectual rigor without the pretention, warmth, and fun. Here are two takeways that I left Kenyon with from our faculty:
1) "Don't think, just do." - Ellen Sheffield
2) "Play is the highest form of research." by Einstein as shared by Gretchen Henderson.
I would recommend this workshop to anyone whose practice straddles the literary and visual arts traditions who are looking for space and time to crystallize their ideas with a balanced consideration of form and content.