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Form & Structure

Here is something interesting I think:

Yes, writers are always playful with language – its structure, its tone, its voice, et cetera.

But I have read quite a few books recently where the editor played along or the press played along or something like that happened.

Lily Hoang’s CHANGING set in small mathematic sections.

Jack Boettcher’s THE DEVIANTS where several poems are randomly set on their side, uprooted from the norm.

Andrew Zornoza’s WHERE I STAY laid out length-wise, stretched from fingertip to fingertip.

Christian Peet’s BIG AMERICAN TRIP set in postcards, forcing you to read it like a small flip-spiral memo book.

Blake Butler’s SCORCH ATLAS destroyed (by hand) and destroyed (by words) and destroyed (by design).

These are just a few recent ones that come to mind, but it makes me curious about the potential relationship between growing indie press influence and form / structure of our printed words.

Are presses more excited now to play, to break, to change?

Is this the transition into our digital otherness (like Steve Tomasula’s latest TOC)?

In any case, it sparked something for me, this playfulness in structure, though I am not sure what it means, or if it means, or what.

8 thoughts on “Form & Structure

  1. Though I know for some reason it’s generally “not accepted as good,” or something, I think Danielewski’s House of Leaves is basically a catalogue of form-echoing-function, and by that of course I mean it offers countless examples of structures adding to the narrative (favorites: labyrinthine footnotes [possibly done before?], pointless lists within endnotes to echo of the finitude of the author/characters/readers, etc).

    Sollers’s Lois (I think it’s that one, maybe it’s H… it’s one of the titles that haven’t been translated yet) uses Chinese numerology (or something) to structure the layout.

    Queneau’s Hundred million million poems is also entirely dependent upon structure for content, as are a countless number of artists’ books.

    I think it has less to do with “indie presses” than it has more to do with a larger awareness of the historical avant garde & the realization that being playful exclusively with language is ignoring everything the printed word is possible of. I mean, looking at Richard Kostelanetz’s Breakthrough Fictionteers anthology has more examples of creative layouts packed into a single book than I’ve seen throughout publishing/lit in the last two decades (not that I’ve seen everything, of course).

  2. this: “it has less to do with “indie presses” than it has more to do with a larger awareness of the historical avant garde & the realization that being playful exclusively with language is ignoring everything the printed word is possible of.” YES – very well put.

    & the chapbook presses too, so many are letter-pressing and redefining the structure, the look, the function of the printing just as much as the form of the language.

  3. This seems like a cliché now in New Media and History of the Book studies but materiality definitely matters.

    Great point about the historical avant-garde– I’m thinking about Mallarmé’s _Un coup de dés_ among others.

    And speaking of “non-indie presses,” I think Stephanie Strickland’s _V: WaveSon.nets / Losing Luna_ (Penguin) is one of the most interesting intermedial works that I’ve seen. You can start the book from either cover and the two sections meet in the middle (within the book’s “v”) where there is a URL, and the book continues online:


    So, sure, digital otherness.

  4. i think a book should echo what’s inside, that the art of it should enhance the content. this is how i’ve always felt about album art, and one of the reasons i’ll never stop buying cd’s in favor of digital files. i think the design of a book should be no different. it doesn’t always have to go to extremes, or even to experimental lengths, but the layout, the font choices, the cover art, should all work together to present the writing as best they can.

    1. Yeah, good comment, Ryan about extremes…I’m looking at what’s on my desk right now and I love the elegant black and white minimalism of the cover of Andrew Joron’s _The Sound Mirror_ (Flood Editions).

  5. I don’t know if it’s something I drag over from m ycomics background, but I’m always considering form as I write, thinking in terms of the book. And I do also think that there’s something to be said about the influence of indie presses on the book as object. It is often the result of a particular DIY approach to bookmaking. And there’s less of a specific concern with profit margins and the standards that make mass production economical.

    1. I also always think about form and the structure of the book as I write, John–

      I feel like this is an important part of process, no, Ryan?

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