Tuesday, April 01, 2008

So I Hear You Haven't Been Listening...

Awhile ago I begged you to go to Small Fires Press and buy Julia Cohen & Mathias Svalina's "When We Broke the Microscope." Well? Did you do it? Did you go?


Why not? The poems are awesome. In fact, you really couldn't ask for a better collection of poems...what's that? Oh, it costs 50 bones, eh?

Well, perhaps it would be best for me to take a different angle. Which is why I'm not going to talk about these poems at all, but instead tell you about the greater experience of reading this book.

Books serve functions. They are objects used by us to meet an end. Ultimately, what we hope for when we pick up a book is to entertained. To entertain. To be more entertaining ourselves. It is my belief that Friedrich Kerksieck had all this in mind as he pieced together this fantastic work of art.

To say that this book is a reinvention would demand too much of the thing itself, its creator, and the poems it holds. But what this book does do is twist your expectations....

We're all familiar with picture books. We've had them read to us. We've read them ourselves. We've read them to others. When you imagine a picture book most likely you imagine pictures that physically represent the words on that same page, pictures that work like road signs: though your imagination does do some work, the pictures point you to a specific place. For example, when we see a picture of Scooby-Doo in Shaggy's arms, we might imagine the act leading up to what we see, but rarely do we extend much beyond that.

In this book there are pictures, but they are pictures that do not represent the text, rather they are pictures that move within the text, are influenced by the text. It's easy to imagine each of the images swirling around inside a glass slide, bottom-lit, constantly reminding you of the microscope long after the title has slipped away from you.

What's easy to forget when reading this book is the profound influence that both illustrator Cherie Weaver and editor/publisher/printer Friedrich Kerksieck hold over the whole experience. Yes, the poems are beautiful. Mathias and Julia are two of favorite poets and I have a hard time not finding face-crushing beauty in their singular and collaborative poems. And these poems could have easily carried a lesser made book. But what these pictures do to the poems is add another level of conflict. Where the poems seem to ask the reader to rearrange and re-see the big picture, the illustrations beg us to go back to the poems and take a good look at their atoms, their electrons.

In short, yes, $50 is a lot of money, but you'd spend $50 on great meal without hesitation and you could never go back to that meal and hold it in your hands, appreciate the work that went in to it, glory in its construction and marvel at the genius of total package. There are many easy ways to spend 50 extra dollars, but not too many of those will give you as much joy as this book.

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