Friday, August 31, 2007

THE HAUNTING: VIGILANCE 1917

Vigilance publications are, without exception, the most haunting poetry publications I've ever received. They creep. They crawl. They lay either prostrate playing dead or coiled in your mailbox like a venomous snake. There is nothing contained in any of them which indicates where or when they were produced. They simply arrive in your mailbox. First I began receiving them at work. Then at home packaged in envelopes with neither sending nor return address. The only text which appears on any of the envelopes simply reads: Vigilance 1917.

They are the flipside of the rusted coin spent on spyware and wire-tapping. They are the terror the war on terror breeds. Contagion. The colophon of each contains not the usual information but militant and aggressive slogans like "We Never Sleep" or "Speak of this to no one" or—and this is most disturbing—"Astra Castra Lumen Numen." They make it difficult to sleep at night. They make my fucking skin crawl.

Perhaps this is the work these books are intended to do. Each, in one way or another, calls attention to the somatic materiality of the body and the fragility of flesh. The covers of most of them foreground images of some aspect of the body, whether animal or man. The image on the cover of C.J. Martin's City boasts a human skeleton whose skull is the capital building, whose left hand holds the Washington Monument, whose pelvis is not a pelvis proper but the White House. The cover of Michael Cross' Cede reveals the head of a man bleeding from the mouth, the blood running down his chin forming text across a kerchief wrapped round his neck. The back cover of Eli Drabman's Daylight on the Wires features sketches of two rabbits, one which foregrounds the beast's muscle structure and one its skeletal structure.

Like Bataille's notion of death, these books and broadsides are the common inevitable and, in another way, profound and profoundly inaccessible.

Other Vigilance books include Craig Dworkin's All Saints and Rob Halpern's Disaster Suite. All are hand-stitched letterpress pubs. With the exception of Drabman's Daylight, all are small. Given their size, one can imagine their publisher concealing them like weapons, trafficking them like drugs, planting them like bombs. Despite their size, they come like Olson's America: large and without mercy.

The authors of these publications know as little about their source as those who receive them. Although each Vigilance publication appears to be a single-author work, or at least bears the name of an author, the authors of these works receive them in the same mysterious way readers do. And for those that receive them—do they arrive as a warning? Do they mark us as irresponsible poets and intellectuals? Or do they affirm the work we do as intellectual laborers, as producers of culture critical of cultural production? Each of these publications is clearly the product of labor, but I worry that this is a labor which comes for us — for our sons and daughters, our mothers and father, for the ones that we love.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

CHRISTIAN BRETT & BRACKET PRESS


Working closely with Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud—both formerly of Crass—printer and publisher Christian Brett has spent the past couple of years bringing out strikingly immaculate letterpress publications through his own imprint, Bracketpress. The work—which comes out of Lancashire, England—synthesizes digital design and fine letterpress printing such that each publication, whether a hand-stitched book or a simple card, is indeed something to behold. Although these publications are carefully designed and produced, Brett's aesthetic sensibility seems, on a number of levels, to gesture toward the type of cultural production Crass themselves were invested in from the mid 1970s through 1984.

Often referred to as simply a band that brought out music, the scope of the work Crass did was far broader, extending into nearly every sphere of the arts. Film. Visual Art. Performance. Sound. Written work. Their lyrics, produced in a fury but thoughtfully written, often involved an investigation into the complex relations between language and ideology, the religious and political, the social and the singular. The fullest expression of this investigation can be found in "Reality Asylum." Backed by a series of discordant sounds which grow increasingly louder as the song progresses, becoming at first unsettling and then overwhelmingly ominous, the words of the song are uttered in a tone of abject defiance:

For you lord./ You are the flag-bearer of these nations/ One against the other that die in the mud/ No piety. No deity

[...]

The cross is the mast of your oppression/ You fly there, vain flag. You carry it/ Wear it on your back, Lord. Your back/ Enola is your gaiety/ Suffer little children to come unto me/ Suffer in that horror. Hirohorror. Hirrohiro/ Hiroshimmer. Shimmerhiro. Hiroshima. Hiroshima

Their lyrical work, written collectively to be performed collectively, is akin to that of Adrian Mitchell or Attila the Stockbroker. Although pegged and tauted as a punk band, most of the members of Crass were much older and far more committed to exploring the intersections of art, literature and activism.

Gee Vaucher, doing most of the visual and design work for the group, was already in her mid-thirties by the time of their first public performance. Before joining the collective, based around the Dial House in Essex, she worked in New York as a freelance artist, contributing visual work to a number of magazines and journals, including New York Magazine and Rolling Stone. Before that she worked on other commercial projects and illustrated countless children's books.

Penny Rimbaud, who performed on drums and provided the rhetorically incendiary prose included in Crass albums, was also in his mid-thirties when the group formed. As a young man in his mid-twenties he flew to the US and for two months traveled across the country, maintaining a journal throughout his travels. On returning to England he revised this journal into a work later published under the title The Diamond Signature. Lawrence Ferlinghetti later referred to the work as "An enor-mously Ambitious + sonorous work of the Eye-magination."

Once Crass broke apart in 1984 both Vaucher and Rimbaud moved onto other projects which continued to synthesize cultural production and political activity. In recent years Christian Brett has joined them in various collaborative projects.

In 2006 Vaucher and Brett constructed "The Sound of Stones in the Glass House," an installation project exhibited at various locations in both the UK and US. The project is a simple steel-framed structure of frosted glass resembling a house or home. Cut out of the frosted coating is a seemingly endless catalog of US military interventions into foreign nations. The floor within the structure is a carpet of soil and grass. The sound inside is, of course, silence. On the soil, in the grass, inside the structure which resembles home, one finds oneself surrounded by language and indeed it is only through language, through the shapes of linguistic characters, that one can from within look out to the surrounding world. It is only through the letters that outside light can get into and nourish the grass which carpets the structure. Here language mediates all vision and light which enters in and exits out of the structure. This language is a language of war and aggression. Speaking directly, the first line of the press release for the installation states: "This exhibition is staged as a response to the events of September 11th, 2001 and the ensuing global aftermath."

As typographer and book designer, Brett has collaborated with Penny Rimbaud on a number of publishing projects brought out through Bracket: How?, In The Beginning Was The Word, and most recently The Conveniences of Philosophy. Each of these chap-size publications are part-letterpress, part-offset, all hand-stitched. Although Rimbaud is credited as author, the work is collaborative inasmuch as Brett's typographical and design decisions inform in part how each work is received and read. On each we find the residual print of the human hand. Each carries the aura of care. The work is that of exacting precision but also speaks something of the same sensibility found in early Futurist publications.

Each design and typeface selection seems to be driven by the specific demands of the project, such that each is appropriate to the project, drawing out further in a tangible and material way the force which resides in each work. We see this in the colophon of each, which not only indicates the typeface used, but offers information about each typeface in order to further in rich our readings of the work.

For The Conveniences of Philosophy Brett selected Sabon, a serifed typeface which he tells us was "Designed by Jan Tschichold in 1965 for German master printers who required that it should be produced in identical form for both mechanical composition by the Linotype and Monotype foundries...." Curiously enough, Sabon was used in 1979 for setting the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer. Aware of this curious relation, however accidental it may be, I find myself reading one among a number of catechismic exchanges Rimbaud includes in The Conveniences: "QUESTION: how is it Christ died for our sins two thousand years before we committed them?/ ANSWER: how is it Christ died for our sins two thousand years before we committed them?" Invested in a strange Rexrothesque anarcho-mysticism, the text, set in Sabon, becomes its own Book of Common Prayer. It is in this way that Brett collaboratively enters into the work of Rimbaud.

Like the now-classic work of Wallace Berman, Dave Haselwood, and William Everson, Christian Brett's ability to foreground through design the aura residing within a textual work is, as I say, something to behold.

_______________________

ADDENDUM: Christian Brett tells me that, while the choice of the Sabon typeface was not made as a conscious gesture toward the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Rimbaud's Conveniences was previously set in Baskerville and the two-column bible-like format of the text was designed with John Baskerville's bible of 1763 in mind.






Wednesday, August 22, 2007

BRIAN MORNAR'S REPATTERNING



At long last — Damn the Caesars the Blog is active again. And after the lapse of nearly a year, it's an absolute pleasure to announce in this brief missive the publication of Brian Mornar's Repatterning. This chap-length single-author collection of poems is a first for both Mornar and the Punch Press imprint.

Comprised of four poems of moderate leng
th, Repatterning sees Mornar synthesizing the mundane, meditations on the mundane, and the poetry and critical work of others encountered while wandering through the mundane. Thinking and writing through the everyday, Mornar comes out in these poems on the other side of the everyday with the musicality of a lyric sensibility in hand. He comes "Stately, outside waiting for the bus doors to open" and finds himself situated "Between the spaces public and private". As he states in "Kleist's Puppets", "Where the garage meets the road/ I do tell the people my name".

In the foreward to this inaugural collection, Lisa Fishman writes, "The intelligence of this collection is formidable and hopeful, alive to lyric utterance, margin note, and notebook entry as themselves events and as sites of hearing: Shelley's West Wind cutting through Chicago's Hawk wind; Mornar's Oakland re
futing Spenser's Ireland, everywhere the self stricken but not stricken out...."

Assembled by hand, this book includes two-color letterpress wraps folded over and bound to a black bristol interior cover. To order send check or money order for $5.00 to Richard Owens, 810 Richmond Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222-1167. Where else can fine letterpress poetry be had for the cost of pack of smokes.

________________________________________

NOTE: Brian Mornar was born on the South Side of Chicago, attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, St. Mary's College in California, and is now working on his PhD at SUNY-Buffalo in New York.