Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ken Sparling, The Serial Library

The girls sat across from the prince. The woods listened. Their secrets were small. Pods of milky mist encircled their faces. The girls in the woods held their secrets. The prince wanted to know them. He wanted to enter the space in the silence the girls scattered among the trees in the woods. He wanted to penetrate the woods and know the secrets. He wanted to know secrets in the way a person knows when he gets inside another person and becomes the secret that the person no longer wants to keep. The secrets lay at the fringes of the world, brought forward like swords thrust forward, lurching toward futility. The prince stepped into the secrets only to find himself again in the library sitting across the desk from the sorcerer.
Recently, Toronto writer Ken Sparling instigated The Serial Library (www.TheSerialLibrary.com), a project of altered books, apparently sending two altered books out to two friends, with the following rules for the project:
Rules and Regulations
1. Any book you borrow is due three weeks after I sent it to you.
2. Send me an email when you receive the book and I’ll extend the due date to three weeks after you received it.
3. You can renew a book once by emailing me before the due date.
4. When the book is due, please pass it along to someone else; please point out these rules and regulations to the person you loan the book to.
5. If you don’t want to loan the book to someone else, please return it to me.
6. If you need to mail the book – to me or someone you want to loan it to – and you can’t afford the postage, send me an email with your address and how much money you need for postage and I’ll send you the money.
7. You can track your book, or any book in The Serial Library at TheSerialLibrary.com

I hope you enjoy the book.
My copy was Ken Sparling’s Gordon Lish, “Extravaganza,” with the original hardcover wrap turned around and altered. Many of the pages of the original hardcover have been removed, and those that remain have pasted texts, collaged images. It’s an interesting project, from the perspective of the history of altered books, to the idea of the lending library and the fact of much of Sparling’s fiction composed as an accumulation of short fragments that eventually cohere. For the sake of Gordon Lish, “Extravaganza,” obviously, the collage aspect of the final book has expanded beyond Sparling’s previous works, yet, unlike certain poetry projects of the altered book, doesn’t seem to use or alter any of Lish’s original writing or language, instead using the physical object of the book as his canvas, pasting in an array of photographs and illustrations from magazines, history and classical texts. Instead of “erasure,” this is almost a re-imagining or re-conceptualizing the original into something collaged and far broader in scope, writing the small moments that thread together into something new.
It was as though her dog had shit in the grass. That was approximately the way he felt about her right now. It was like he saw her naked in the grass in the park and her dog had just shit in the grass in the park and she hadn’t picked it up because she was naked and afraid and she wasn’t even noticing she had a dog. It was like she was naked and alone in the park with something she couldn’t see coming after her. She had this look on her face. She was terrified, but she didn’t want to show it. She wanted to run, but she was afraid of dying from something she couldn’t see coming toward her.
Given the boundaries of the project, I’m intrigued at the idea of a bit more than a dozen readers of any title throughout a given year; intrigued at what the other titles in the project might look like. The only regret I have through participating (I am apparently the first “lendee” of Gordon Lish, “Extravaganza,”) is that I have to give the book away, send it further along down the line. I look forward to hearing Sparling’s report on where the project might end up, a year or two from now.

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