Bookmarking Book Art – Barbara Tetenbaum

Image of map of My Ántonia reproduced in A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012)
Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

For the Books On Books Collection, Barbara Tetenbaum’s works have offered a map for exploring the different ways that text, image, structure and material bring about enjoyment and meaning in book art and bookmaking. Broadsides, chapbooks, a codex, a sculpture and, yes, a map have joined the collection over time.

The broadside and chapbook forms seem to be both a rite of passage and a pastime of pleasure for book artists. For Tetenbaum, it has been both of these and a rite of remembrance of friendship. During Tetenbaum’s time at Circle Press, founded and run by UK artist Ron King, she reconnected with Chicago friends poet Michael Donaghy and his wife Maddy Paxman, who had moved earlier to London. Understandably taken with his poetry, she chose his “Machines” when King offered her the chance to set and print anything she liked while King and his wife were away on vacation.

The earliest of Tetenbaum’s work in this collection, the chapbook Machines (1986) pairs Donaghy’s neo-metaphysical poem with the asemic markings that Tetenbaum had begun to pursue as a technique in 1985. Taken on their own, the markings do not call to mind any particular image or metaphor in the poem. Considered more closely as a physical response to the poem, though, they do share in the poem’s building rhythm and density (see further commentary here).

Machines: A Poem by Michael Donaghy with Artwork by Barbara Tetenbaum (1986)
Designed and printed by Barbara Tetenbaum at Circle Press, Guildford. Handset 14 pt Optima printed on rag paper, artwork printed on Himalayan mitsumata paper. Edition of 75, of which this is #72. Acquired from Circle Press, 22 June 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

Back in the US, the artist continued with the marks and Donaghy’s words. The broadside below was the result. This time, technique, form and subject cannot avoid similarity — like a reflection in a mirror. ‘Smith’ has a regularity but looseness often found in Donaghy’s poems, something essential to their charm. The iambic pentameter is not always iambic or ten-syllabled, and the length of stanzas vary. Flush right to Donaghy’s flush left, Tetenbaum’s lines of marking mirror the poem’s ragged right and variable counts — but not precisely.

‘Smith’ (1988)
Poem by Michael Donaghy, artwork and printing by Barbara Tetenbaum
Broadside. H333 xW268 mm. Unnumbered edition, signed on reverse. Acquired from the artist, 31 October 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. ‘Smith’ © Michael Donaghy Estate.

A love poem that takes off from the act of trying to remember forging a name in a hotel register for an assignation that forged something true and lasting, ‘Smith’ is about making one’s mark as artist and responding, intimately, one human to another. To transfer her marks made in response to the poem, Tetenbaum used

coated wire (bell wire) brought to type high on a piece of MDF covered in carpet tape to hold them in place. This is a technique I learned from Elmar Heimbach and used in a bit of the illustration in O’Ryan’s Belt. (Correspondence with artist, 21 November 2020. Link added.)

Another of Tetenbaum’s earliest chapbooks, Donaghy’s O’Ryan’s Belt (1991) foreshadows her move toward work that responds with a growing independent relationship to the text.

O’Ryan’s Belt: Eleven Poems: 1990-1991 by Michael Donaghy (1991)
Handbound book of poems produced by Barbara Tetenbaum at the Silver Buckle Press.
Structure designed by Marta Gomez; handbound by Tracy Honn; typography, setting and artwork by Barbara Tetenbaum. Acquired 1 October 2020. Edition of 70, of which this is #31. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. O’Ryan’s Belt © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The spine of O’Ryan’s Belt consists of a small fold. Inside, on either side of it, is a gathering of folios. The two sets of folios are sewn (belted?) together through the small fold. Each set includes a tunnel-book-like artwork of three layers. The first sits adjacent to the poem “A Spectacle”, and the second, to “The Hunter’s Purse”, a line from which the chapbook takes its name.

View of the “internal spine”, an inward fold of the cover creating a tab to which signatures on either side are sewn.

View of the tunnel-book image adjacent to “A Spectacle”

The colophon explains that stencils, string and other found objects were used to print the illustrations. Note how the artworks’ lines cross the pages but not into the space of their adjacent poems. It’s as if the artwork is asserting a claim — this is a part of, but apart from; or this is apart from, but a part of. The images created by the artwork seem more related to “A Spectacle” than “The Hunter’s Purse”. Both artworks capture the idea of the image started by the lines “The shape of man, a shadow on the ground,/ Returns a mirror image from pondwater.” As the poem proceeds, we see through the shadow/mirror image to the objects and gravel at the bottom of the pool. Hinting at stalactites or stalagmites as well as the layers reflected on and beneath the water, the first paper sculpture makes sure we recognize the poet’s shadow boxing here with Plato’s cave.

So snugly fitted to the structure, the artwork seems to be waiting to surprise the reader.

The broadside Co-Pilot extends this structurally interpretive technique. The poem “Co Pilot” (no hyphen in the original) hilariously turns the speaker’s conscience into a parrot on his shoulder, “a tiny Charlton Heston” squawking the Ten Commandments. But there is no parrot, no Charlton Heston, no Ten Commandments in the broadside’s artwork beneath the typeset poem.

Co-Pilot (March 2002)
Poem by Michael Donaghy, art and printing by Barbara Tetenbaum.
Broadside H500 x W233 mm. Edition of 35, which this is an artist’s proof. Acquired from the artist, 31 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Co Pilot” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

There is, however, an eye peeking from four holes scattered among bubble-like transparent circles printed over a collage of images and texts from newspapers, health and housekeeping guides (from the Fifties?), history books, clothing ads and prayer cards. Are the eyes the conscience in bubbles beneath the surface of a clear punch bowl? Are those images the compromised and socially mundane background noise of the party?

The collage comes from a large photoengraved block, originally made for a tiny book, Collage Book #3, which explains the urge to turn the broadside upside down to examine the image: it’s an imposition of the unfolded, uncut pages of that book (correspondence with the artist, 21 November 2020).

Not strictly a work in the collection, the installation The Reading Room (2002) should be mentioned here — not merely because it occurred the same year as Co-Pilot but also because it is a reminder of a constant theme and a harbinger of other installations to come. Thin slabs of plexiglas bearing text in black serif type hang at angles to one another from clear fishing line. The words, phrases and sentences suspended in air are drawn from a short story composed by Tetenbaum; they are what make The Reading Room a room for reading. That’s almost all there is to do in it. If, as Anthony Powell’s character Lindsay Bagshaw says, “Books do furnish a room”, Tetenbaum’s installation proves, “Words do furnish a room”. What reading is, can or might be is that constant theme in the artist’s works — whether evoked by asemic markings, a walk through the words of a story, a “map of reading” or a “diagram of wind”.

The Reading Room (2002)
Barbara Tetenbaum
Installation at Nine Gallery, Portland, OR, December 2002. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Half-Life: 25 years of books by Barbara Tetenbaum & Triangular Press (2005)
Barbara Tetenbaum
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

Half-Life (2005) is the collection’s representative codex by Tetenbaum. A catalogue raisonné for works between 1978 and 2005, with a chronology of the artist’s life and an appreciation of her work from Uta Schneider, the book reveals several of the influences on Tetenbaum’s development, including Ron King (as noted above) and Walter Hamady (evident particularly in the Co-Pilot broadside). Tetenbaum is generous in her collaborations and acknowledgments. Although closer to a fine press edition than anything produced by Dick Higgins, Half-Life notes in its colophon the influence of his FOEW&OMBWHNW (New York: Something Else Press, 1969).

For a body of work realized after Half-Life, Tetenbaum spent a month in a gallery listening to a recording of Willa Cather’s 1918 novel, My Ántonia. The result was two installations and two publications: a catalogue called A Close Read: My Ántonia (2010) and an “artist’s book” or “bookwork” called Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map (2012). The collection currently includes only the map and the catalogue. Some work in this category of “response to literary material” can be primarily craftwork — as in those well-known narrative scenes sculpted from the pages of the book in question. Other responses to books — including altered books — stand as works of art yielding depths of meaning and aesthetic response on their own.

Of course, the antecedent to this in literature is called ekphrasis. W.H. Auden’s ekphrastic poem Musée des Beaux Arts stands on its own — though with — Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Even more so Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn stands on its own; the urn described is unknown. Tetenbaum’s direction of ekphrasis is inverse to that of Auden and Keats. The artwork comes after the literary expression. Nevertheless, her inversely ekphrastic artwork Mining My Ántonia stands on its own — though with — Cather’s My Ántonia.

A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012)
Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano
Catalogue with three inserts sewn to folded card, published by Oregon Arts Commission. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

For the collection, the map has been framed between two sheets of glass to make enjoyment of its translucent paper a daily possibility. Each time the catalogue is opened, its binding harks back to O’Ryan’s Belt (see above). Three inserts of different trim sizes are sewn into the central inwardly folded tab.

The first insert provides details from the 2010 installation; the double-page spread below recalls the dangling tags from The Reading Room (2002). The second insert shows images of the artist book Mining My Ántonia and details from the second installation in the Hoffman Gallery at Oregon College of Art and Craft (2012); an image of the map from Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map is shown at the start of this entry. The third insert is a 14-page pamphlet from Nathalia King, Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College where the first installation occurred.

Put aside — difficult as it may be — the play of craft and art so plainly suffusing the print, paper and binding of the catalog and artist book, what are their relation to the text that drove them?  Is it like making a “movie of the book”?  Are we looking at some new form of literary/artistic criticism?  As Nathalia King’s essay walks us through the installation, she points out how it teaches the viewer to read My Ántonia in multiple ways. To what degree, though, can we appreciate Tetenbaum’s book art or installations without having read My Ántonia? They certainly inspire the reader/viewer to read or re-read the work. But inevitably this reader/viewer is drawn back to enjoying Tetenbaum’s “making the novel her own” (as in the pun on mining). As with all book art, the more informed we are about the “material” of which it is made, the greater the enjoyment. We want to make such a work our own — to mine it — which may send us back to multiple quarries from which the artist drew her material. Cather’s novel is not the only material of which Mining My Ántonia is made. It is made of the artist’s experience of the novel in print, the novel as read aloud and the exterior/interior space in which that occurred. It is made of various papers, tabs, reveals and media. The artist book offers a solitary way of ”material reading”, but with the catalogue, it also offers a glimpse at the ambulatory and perhaps social way of reading offered in the installations.

Willa Cather's Prairie, Nebraska
Willa Cather’s Prairie, Nebraska (Photo credit: Ross Griff)

Also offering a different way of reading, Diagram of Wind (2015) pulls further away from its responding point than Mining My Ántonia. A line in Donaghy’s poem “Glass” provides the title for this sculptural work, and the work’s structure draws on the poem’s sestina form in its undulating, layering structure. Yet Diagram of Wind goes far beyond that.

Diagram of Wind: architectural book with poem by Michael Donaghy (2015)
Barbara Tetenbaum
Housed in a clothbound box (H590 x W180 x D52 mm). Book of seven overlapping pages of various papers including gampi (silk tissue), Zerkall Ingres and F-color, collaged with letterpress-printed text and images and sewn to backing of cloth and wood slats (H567 x W153 mm). Designed to be viewed horizontally on the wood platform (H565 x W153 x D39 mm) or vertically hung from the wall. Edition of 25, 0f which this is #11. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Glass” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

There are seven “pages” to this work, each sewn to green book cloth panelled with wooden slats and backed with gampi. The first page carries Donaghy’s sestina, each line letterpress printed on a strip of paper pasted to gampi paper. Less wide than the sestina page and shorter than the third, the second page shows an etching image of waterspouts rising from a body of water with mountains in the background. Less wide than the second page and shorter than the fourth, the third page consists of narrow, evenly sized white strips of paper pasted on gampi. The fourth page, slightly wider than the preceding page but still shorter than the following, offers the school-book-like statements:

Air movements have 
helped to change the 
whole face of the earth. 
We usually call air move-
ments wind. Wind may be 
started when cold and 
warm air masses are 
next to each other. 

Suddenly much less wide than the fourth page but still shorter than the sixth, the fifth page presents narrow dark panels or strips that narrow in themselves and narrow the space between them as they descend the page. Much wider than the preceding page, shorter than the seventh and printed with blue and white dots reminiscent of Co Pilot (above), the sixth page gives guidance on determining the amount of space to leave between the top of a flume (an engineering structure for measuring water flow) and the height of the water moving through it. The narrowest page of all and ending flush with the slatted backing, the seventh page shows a print similar to that on page two, but here between the evenly spaced paper strips, there is a small ship in the distance and the subsiding whirlpool and withdrawing upper part of a waterspout in the foreground.

The poem that inspired this work uses images of the natural world — sand, smoke, wind — to build its metaphor of love’s paradox (its holding fast with an open hand). Humanity is in the foreground, nature in the background. Tetenbaum’s Diagram of Wind reverses that. Nature with its air movements and waterspouts move into the foreground. Then humanity with its controlling and measuring flume comes into the middle ground. And finally it ends with humanity’s ship on the horizon and nature’s dissipating waterspout in the foreground. Even though by virtue of its page one position the poem is in the foreground, it has become as much “material” for the artwork as the paper, ink, wood, cloth, earthy colors and physical structure are. The artist has transformed the poem’s sestina shape, its use of nature and its paradox into “material” for Diagram of Wind. In this instance of inverse ekphrasis, Tetenbaum has created a work that stands independently of, and in dependence on, its literary inspiration.

Postscript

Tetenbaum has provided another way to experience the Cather Projects: The Slow Read (2018). Take a wander through that site, composed of an introductory page to “a public literary and fine art project conceived and produced by Barbara Tetenbaum honoring the centenary of the publication of Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia“, a set of seventy-four links to the daily scheduled readings, a blog section, a “concordance” that is more an unfolding of the installation and artist’s book than a listing of words and phrases against page references, and finally a portfolio of artwork by Tetenbaum.

Further Reading

… in medias res … Barbara Tetenbaum“, Bookmarking Book Art, 18 August 2013.

“‘Machines’ by Michael Donaghy and Two Artists’ Books“, Books On Books Collection, 12 October 2020.

King, Nathalie. “Reading the Literary Text as ‘Art in Space’: Barbara Tetenbaum’s My Ántonia,” The Artist’s Yearbook, 2014-2015Bristol: Impact Press, pp. 95-99.

Paterson, Don. 2014. Smith – A Readers Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy. London: Pan Macmillan.

Schneider, Uta. “Turning the Page”, pp. 18-28 in Tetenbaum, Barbara, James Carmin, and Uta Schneider. 2005. Half-life: 25 years of books by Barbara Tetenbaum & Triangular Press. Portland, OR: Triangular Press. Three key works not in the collection are described in Half-Life. The first would be an edition from the Gymnopaedia series, based on the artist’s response to Erik Satie’s musical compositions of the same name. The second would be Tetenbaum’s collaboration with Julie Chen that resulted in a powerfully moving work: Ode to a Grand Staircase (for Four Hands) (2001). The third key work returns to Donaghy’s poetry with the clear aim to incorporate sound in book art: Black Ice and Rain: Psalms 6.6 (2002). In the absence of the work itself, Uta Schneider’s description of it in Half-Life is as close as one can come to experiencing it.

Books On Books Collection – Béatrice Coron

Much has been written on Béatrice Coron‘s works — including “Machines“, the commissioned work below. Her interviews with Helen Hiebert and Steve Miller are excellent accompaniment to her pieces with TED.

Machines (2017)

Machines: Poem by Michael Donaghy (2017)
Béatrice Coron
Leporello pop-up, enclosed in box with closure of small gear and black thread. Box: H205 x W162 x D27 mm. Leporello: H195 x W143 mm (closed), W1125 (open). Edition of 3, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

For more on “Machines” in the Books On Books Collection, click on the link.

Further Reading/Viewing

Carter, David A. and Diaz, James, The Elements of Pop-Up, A Pop-Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (New York: Little Simon, 1999).

Coron, Béatrice. “Stories Cut from Paper“, TED Talk, March 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, September 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Helen Hiebert, Paper Talk Podcast, 22 August 2020.

May, Kate TorgovnickDaily Battles, cut from paper, animated in 3D“, TED blog, 26 November 2013.

Wallace, Elaine. Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists (New York: Lark, 2011).

Bookmarking Book Art – Yasutomo Ota

Even under the glass of vitrine or screen, Yasutomo Ota’s Die Forelle evokes by typography, image and structure a physical perception hard to shake.†

Die Forelle (2014)
Yasutomo Ota
Printed on 34 narrow laminated cardboard strips per sheet, which are held together by two threads, one on each side. Eighteen unnumbered pages H140 x 300 mm in box H160 x W340 x D50 mm. All photos with permission of the artist.

Franz Schubert first wrote a song called Die Forelle, based on a poem of the same name by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart. Schubert was later commissioned to turn it into a piece of chamber music, which resulted in the “Trout Quintet” (1819).

If you are lucky enough to live near one of the six libraries that hold a copy of Ota-san’s Die Forelle, you can take your phone and earbuds, cast your line for it in the quiet of the rare book section and listen to the music inspired by the poem printed across the pages made of thirty-four laminated cardboard strips held together by two rows of threads and wriggling in your hands like a fish and flowing over them like a stream.

Or failing such access, you can view the artist’s demonstration here. The book’s structure is based on the chikukan, originally a Chinese scroll formed of bamboo strips, written on vertically and linked by thread to be rolled up correspondingly. The Coptic binding, the type that reads horizontally and the printing on both sides of a leaf shifts the form from scroll to codex. Also, as the artist writes, “By using the alphabet on a panel intended for vertical writing brings a strong sense of the direction taken by the written word” (Correspondence with Books On Books, 9 November 2020).

Of course, the Asian printing tradition also included horizontal reading and printing on both sides of the scroll. Consider the dragon-scale binding of the Diamond Sutra re-created by Zhang Xiadong (demonstrated here).

Diamond Sutra, Dragon scale binding (2017)
Zhang Xiaodong
In 32 zhuan (seal) fonts, 152 x 382×160mm. Edition of 300, of which this #197. Acquired from Sin Sin Fine Arts (Hong Kong), 31 October 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Examples of dragon-scale binding in the National Library of China’s permanent display of the history of the book in China. Photos: Marcia Watt, reproduced with permission.

Balinese Bamboo Book”, Special Collections & Archives Research Center. Accessed November 10, 2020, .

Contemporary book art also holds vertical and horizontal variations on the related “Venetian blind” or bamboo book form. Consider the dynamic Diagram of Wind by Barbara Tetenbaum (demonstrated below) and Diane Harries’ Legacy (below).

Diagram of Wind (2015)
Barbara Tetenbaum
Letterpress printed texts and images cut into strips and adhered to Japanese ‘silk tissue’ (gampi). Sewn to cloth and wood backing. Supported by a wood wave-form platform and held inside a lidded box made of cloth and book board. Poem by Michael Donaghy: “Glass”. H17 x W10 x D3 inches, ten pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #. Acquired from the artist, 8 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Legacy (2018)
Diane Harries
Venetian-blind book. Photos: Reproduced with permission of the artist.

In all of the works above, form draws attention to itself but also inevitably back to the content. The reader/viewer marvels at the mechanics of each work and how its interaction with hand and eye creates a simile for its content. The unscrolling and fluttering dragon-scale binding demands a prayer’s concentration and contemplation. The “curveship” of the support, the segmentation of the Donaghy poem “Glass” into strips, and the stir and lift of pages under the slightest breath demonstrate the wave form that Tetenbaum investigated for three years. Panel by panel, connected by slender threads, Legacy draws together different pasts in Harries’s work. Likewise, the flipping, slipping, shuttering/shuddering of Die Forelle‘s pages re-create the trout in the brook. That is book art at its best.

† With thanks to Andrew Schuller for drawing attention to Yasutomo Ota.

Further Reading/Viewing

… in medias res … Barbara Tetenbaum“, Bookmarking Book Art, 18 August 2013.

Zhang Xiaodong“, Books On Books Collection, 1 December 2019.

Ambler, Charlie. “Yasutomo Ota Revives Book Art in the Digital Age“, Artsy, 7 July 2014.

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)”, International Dunhuang Project, British Library. Posted 07 February 2007. Accessed 12 December 2019.

Donaghy, Michael. Collected Poems (London: Picador, 2014).

Ota, Yasutomo. From the POLA Museum Annex Exhibition, 2020, Ginza, Tokyo. Video of exhibition.

Books On Books Collection – “Machines” by Michael Donaghy and Two Artists’ Books

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) was something of a throwback to the Metaphysical Poets of the seventeenth century. Their love poetry excelled at extended metaphors designed to touch the heart and mind. “Machines” illustrates this best among his poems. It is worth a listen.

For Barbara Tetenbaum, intense listening to works of literature has provided a rich source of artwork. Her Mining My Ántonia (2012) is based on hours in a gallery at Reed College listening to a recorded reading of Willa Cather’s novel. Here is how she describes the artist’s book:

It features five automatic drawings made while listening to the novel, printed as etchings. A cloth-bound book of handset letterpress-printed excerpts accompanies this. A large fold-out map of how I see the novel, printed as a large etching with letterpress text, is housed inside the book along with one piece of text from the original Reed College installation.

Framed copy of the large fold-out map included in Mining My Ántonia (2012). Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist.

Decades earlier while working with Ron King, founder of Circle Press, Tetenbaum was engaged in a 10-year body of work of “marks on pages, marks as diary entries, marks as keeping time, marks as recording lived experience”. That work foreshadowed Mining My Ántonia — as did the result of meeting Michael Donaghy and his wife Maddy Paxman in 1986. That same year, when King and his wife left for an extended vacation in Eygpt, he gave Tetenbaum free rein to make any chapbook she wanted while he was away. She naturally turned to Donaghy’s melodic poetry to find the right one to react to with typesetting, paper choice, printing, binding and her own artwork — not to illustrate the poem but rather to create a companion experience for the reader.

The first of that companion experience comes from the warmth of the cover’s color, texture and weight.

Machines: A Poem by Michael Donaghy (1986)
Designed and printed by Barbara Tetenbaum at Circle Press, Guildford. Handset 14 pt Optima printed on rag paper, artwork printed on Himalayan mitsumata paper. Edition of 75, of which this is #72. Acquired from Circle Press, 22 June 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The cover is actually a large single deckle-edged sheet, trimmed at top and bottom then folded to quarters.

In addition to strengthening the cover, the folding protects the three-point single-thread binding that attaches two sheets of rag paper and one sheet of mitsumata paper to the cover.

Structurally the pages have a subtle imbalance. The first sheet of rag, bearing the title and colophon, folds to two slightly unequal panels. The title page is wider than the colophon page.

The second sheet folds to three unequal panels, the last bearing the dedication to Maddy Paxman on one side and the poem itself on the reverse. In a gestural embrace, the panels fold to envelop the sheet of mitsumata paper on which Tetenbaum’s marks appear.

Also folded in “slightly off” thirds, the soft translucent mitsumata has an additional subtle imbalance. Unfolded for “reading”, the panels show a steady increase in the number of marks from left to right. Oddly though, the first and third panels show vertical marks, while the second’s are horizontal and printed on the other side of the sheet.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

What is going on? The answer begins to appear from the view of the triptych of marks alongside the poem and its music. The columns of marks move left to right and down like the lines of verse. Taken together, the four panels achieve a forward-moving balance: vertical-horizontal-vertical- horizontal. Like a bicycle ride, the poem and marks start slowly, then move forward picking up speed — a natural outcome of a performative response to Donaghy’s poem.

But then, this is a view the artist did not fully intend. She writes, “The folding in the book was in part to allow the reader to have access to the poem without the intrusion of the visuals“. Listen though to Donaghy as he speaks the poem, which at the end appositely replies to the artist’s intention: “So much is chance, So much agility, desire and feverish care, As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove Who only by moving can balance Only by balancing move”. The same for the book artist. The varying folds and contrasting papers envelop, separate and blend art and text. Just as the asemic pulsing marks contrast with and mirror the rhythmic, rhyming text.

Before going on to the next artist, it is worth a short online detour for background on the mitsumata paper that Tetenbaum chose. The paper is handmade from the inner bark (or bast fibre) of a plant called mitsumata (argeli in Sikkim, India). A sustainable and renewable resource, the plants are cropped above ground level and reharvested after 3-4 years. Argeli’s scientific name is Edgeworthia gardneri, in honour of Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, botanist and civil servant in India, and for his half-sister, writer Maria Edgeworth. So much is colonial science, so much is literary chance.

Mitsumata paper is made with the Japanese nagashizuki dipping and layering method of papermaking. From “Mountain Plants to Paper: A Sikkim Story“, documentary by Jaya Jaitly, Dastkari Haat Samiti, n.d. Accessed 25 September 2020.


Béatrice Coron has dived into the mechanical and musical metaphors of the poem and emerged with a knife-cut leporello pop-up incorporating text, images and metal gears.

Machines: Poem by Michael Donaghy (2017)
Béatrice Coron
Leporello pop-up, enclosed in box with closure of small gear and black thread. Box: H205 x W162 x D27 mm. Leporello: H195 x W143 mm (closed), W1125 (open). Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The black thread unwinds from the sprocket on the fore edge of the box, and the box opens to a pastedown title page sprinkled with drops of solder. The enclosed leporello unfolds to a tour de force of paper engineering.

First photo: Books On Books. Second photo: Etienne Frossard. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The first double-panel spread presents a centered fanfolded pop-up, whose slits and folds across the crease deliver a stroboscopic effect. Or that of a speaker vibrating with music. The words of the first stanza bracket the pop-up like parentheses representing motion or sound.

Photos: Books On Books. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

For the next double-panel spread, Coron takes the first line of the poem’s second stanza — “The machinery of grace is always simple” — and centers it appropriately at the top. The lines expanding on that statement are cut just below the teeth and into the circumference of interlocking gears. Along with their struts, rims and teeth, these gears are the only remains of this section of paper. Despite all that air and the weight of the small metallic flywheels and gears centered in the cutouts, the double-panel spread balances gracefully.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The floating layer technique is used for the third double-panel spread. The whole note (or circle) in the center hovers over the musical staves by virtue of hinged multi-tier paper supports. The words appearing between the staves and inside the whole notes (or rests?) take in all of the third stanza and first line of the fourth.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The remaining lines of the poems are cut above, below and into two interlinked spiral pop-ups. Normally a spiral is cut from a circle on one page, and one end of it is attached to the facing page. Here, with this variant on the technique, Coron give us the two bicycle wheels linked by a chain, or perhaps two treble clefs fallen over.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.


Coron’s and Tetenbaum’s palettes reflect the rich diversity of book art. With a few elements in common from the book arts, these two very different works, engaging the same poem, speak to the eclecticism of the Books On Books Collection and some of its underlying themes. One is the meaningful materiality of book art as well as its haptic pleasure — be it in the structure, paper, the type or lettering or marking, the colors, the balance of image and text, or that of shape and space.

The second is a particular kind of engagement with literature. Not all of the book art in the collection engages with literature, but that which does performs a sort of inverse ekphrasis, where the poem engenders the work of art. So distinctively different in their responses, the two works show that, even within that underlying theme, eclecticism seems inevitable.

And finally, the last of the three is chance. As noted, the poem itself addresses the role of chance in the “gadgetry of love” and creativity. But what of this then? When Donaghy reviewed the proofs of Tetenbaum’s typesetting, he called out the presence of one extra word that threw off the meter. The type had to be reset. When Coron’s rendering was opened and inspected, the collector called out the absence of one word. The leporello had to return for recutting. Mirrored typos thirty-one years apart — now there’s chance.

Further Reading and Listening

Carter, David A. and Diaz, James, The Elements of Pop-Up, A Pop-Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (New York: Little Simon, 1999).

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, September 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Helen Hiebert, Paper Talk Podcast, 22 August 2020.

Donaghy, Michael. Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 2014).

Ferguson, Margaret W.; Mary Jo Salter; Jon Stallworthy (eds.). The Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).

Paterson, Don. Smith : a reader’s guide to the poetry of Michael Donaghy (London: Picador, 2014).

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Interview with Claudia Hamilton, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, 13 January 2006.

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Interview with Sarah Lange, University of Wisconsin-Madison Book Arts: Oral History, 18 June 2018.

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Correspondence with Books On Books. 22 September 2020.

Books On Books Collection – John Gerard

Alpha Beta (2005)

Alpha Beta (2005)

John Gerard 

Small quarto book chain-stitched in boards, with a paper label to the upper cover, 40 pages, H275 x W272 x D15 mm, housed in a paper four-flap enclosure H175 x W278 x D16 mm. Signed edition of 20, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 29 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the playground of the alphabet, papermaking, calligraphy, page design and layout, image and text, printing and binding, John Gerard has created an outstanding and contemplative work of book art and the book arts. Eastern and Western traditions meet on the page and in the material and structure: Coptic-style binding, handmade paper and spirited brushing of the letters right up against the geometric constraints of Jan Tschichold’s diagram for deriving the text block’s ideal space and positioning from the Golden Ratio.

The cover’s paper label shows the image of Jan Tschichold’s canon for page layout, which is reproduced on every page of the work. Each letter of the alphabet is messily scrawled in black over and over to fill the mathematically precise text area defined by Tschichold’s canon.

The text and label papers for Alpha Beta are handmade from cotton and hemp using a velin mould with Gerard’s early watermark depicting the Eifeltor Mühle (Eifeltor Mill) and the letters S and G (Studio John Gerard). The weight of the paper is about 150-180gsm. The lettering is done with Indian ink, and the printing of Tschichold’s diagram, with a proofing press using a photo-sensitive nylon plate. The cover papers are also made with cotton and hemp using a coagulant with slightly different pigmented pulps, which creates the decorative speckled look.  The sewing thread is linen.

Tschichold’s “canon” is but one among four. The others belong to Villard de Honnecourt, J.A. Van de Graaf and Raúl Rosarivo. Online, Alexander Ross Charchar’s dynamic diagram “The Dance of the Four Canons” delightfully illustrates the development of the Western craft and science of page layout.

Seifenblasen (2013)

Seifenblasen (2013)

John Gerard

Artist booklet, stitched with linen thread, two sheets hand-made of cotton and abaca fibers, the cover sheet being double couched using a layer of colored pulps, the inner sheet printed in 14p Book Antiqua in relief printing. H200 x W150 mm. Edition of 100 unnumbered copies. Acquired from the artist, 29 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Inspired by the 19th century poem “Seifenblasen” (“Soap Bubbles”) by Theodor Fontane, John Gerard uses pulp painting to create the shifting prismatic colors displayed on the surface of a soap bubble. By layering different colored pulps on a sheet of plain wet pulp, he evokes the same pleasure, color and lightness evoked by the words.Here is a loose translation:

Soap Bubbles

Children to show their delight 
Send soap bubbles up to the light. 
How they shimmer in the sun — 
Some big, some small. 
Blown with a mouth just so, some
Hold out a whole second —
But several there — 
Yes! — hold on for two. 
One rises as high as the house — 
Bumps there — then it’s over.

Gerard seems drawn to respond to things displaying a tension between spirit and form, be it the tension of soap bubbles or the tension between repeatedly scrawled letters constrained by a canonical grid.

Der Panther (2013)

Der Panther (2013)

John Gerard

Leporello of two connected sheets of hand-made cotton and hemp paper, pulp-painted with red and black lines. H140 x W130 mm (unfolded approx. 770 mm). Unnumbered, signed edition of 25 copies. Acquired from the artist, 29 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “The Panther” embodies the tension that Gerard seems to love. Three stanzas in black 12 pt Book-Antiqua pace across the leporello like the panther behind what seem to him “a thousand bars”, which Gerard evokes in black and red pulp painting on the reverse of the leporello. Fully open, the torn top edge slopes and rises like the back and shoulders of the panther as it strides and turns in the smallest circle it can make. The bars behind, or in front of it, end above the lower edge in rounded shapes like the panther’s paws, whose texture the soft and rough handmade paper mimics.

The alternation of black and red pulp echoes the tension between the cage and panther’s heart in the poem, and the leporello opens and closes on the panther just as its own pupil’s nictitating membrane slides open, then closes on its world. Reportedly, at Augusta Rodin’s behest, Rilke stood before the animal’s cage in the Jardins des Plantes in Paris for nine hours. At the end of the poem, he has placed the reader/viewer inside the animal, absorbed the reader/viewer through the animal’s movement and gaze. Gerard’s artist booklet — by giving the reader/viewer a chance to see through the panther’s eyes — makes Rilke’s poem just as tangible as Rilke’s poem makes the panther and its world.

Gerard’s three works belong with the Books On Books Collection’s first seven books of the Rijswijk Biennial. His Alpha Beta even features in that series’ Papier op de vlucht = Paper takes flight (2006) and contributes to two of the collection’s sub themes: abecedaries as well as the technique of pulp painting. Seifenblasen and De Panther exemplify the sub theme of “reverse ekphrasis” represented by works such as Barbara Tetenbaum’s version of Michael Donaghy’s poem “Machine” or herman de vries’ argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (de wittgenstein — tractatus — ) (2003). Gerard’s two works are, in fact, the epitome of transforming a literary text into an artwork.

Further Reading

Abecedaries (in progress)”, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial”, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Looking Back and Forward from the Paper Biennial 2018”, Bookmarking Book Art, 24 June 2016

Margins and making objects that live forever”, Bookmarking Book Art, 20 August 2014.

Claire Van Vliet”, Books On Books Collection, 8 August 2019.

Corbett, Rachel. “From You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin”, Poetry Magazine, 31 August 2016. Accessed 11 August 2020.