Thursday, April 7, 2011

Carrie Arizona's Altered-Page Found Poems


Do you know about "altered books"?

Around the late 1970s and 1980s, a "grassroots" art movement began in which people would save books that might otherwise have been thrown away and would turn them into works of art. Glue, glitter, collage, paint, pencil, pastel, sculpture even . . . these are the materials these artists would use to change these books from mass-produced, disposable things to one-off, highly personalized objets d'art. I mention sculpture because an altered-book artist might, for example, cut out a cubic enclosure inside the book, out of many pages perhaps, and maybe suspend something like a small nail-polish-red papier-mache heart within that space.

Sometimes people would do this with only one page, perhaps torn out of such a book, and this would become a free-standing artifact . . . in other words, a poem, a found poem. As the Altered Books website puts it: "Find poems in the pages by the process of obliteration." Find the words that will make up your poem in the page at hand, maybe in order down the page or left to right, circle them (let's say), and "obliterate" the rest of the text on that page: cross out lines of text, draw an image over areas of the page, whatever. Look at the Altered Books website (link a couple of sentences back) for some examples. I gotta tell ya the altered pages you'll see there seem quite slapdash, clumsy, not really artful at all. The website's endorsement of the word "obliterate" in this context suggests violence to the text, to the page . . . a confrontation between the purpose of the original writer of these words and the artistic intent of the mixed-media altered-books artist. One would think some delicacy would be called for, a commitment to beauty, to some sort of unified vision.

Well, look at the example to the right. That's an altered page from the artist Carrie Arizona (deviantART.com) . . . notice how her black "cross-outs" start at the top left of the page and meander down to the bottom right, clearly an echo of the way we read in Western culture, left to right, up to down. The page has been converted into a pleasant cascade of organic shapes, bubbles in which are revealed Carrie's found poem. The wonderful thing about this poem is that it's a great poem, a — to use technical poetics lingo — a kick-ass poem. The page has not just yielded up, via Carrie's hand, a beautiful visual pattern; the poetic text she's culled from the page is profound, intelligent, and pleasingly defamiliarizing (that is, it helps us see our everyday lives and reality in new, surprising, potentially delightful, ways). Like all excellent poetry, it can both unsettle you and make you think, feel . . . have an experience that is both visual and textual.

Here is the page magnified so you can read the poem. Notice how Carrie even finds us punctuation in the page, as needed. The poem can also (should also) be experienced in its "natural habitat" (so to speak) on deviantART.com — an international social network for artists of all skills and backgrounds and cultures. Along with the image of the book page, Carrie also provides for us the text of the found poem:


            Beautiful Leech

Whoever you may be,
be as blood flowing
to a bleeding answer.

I am a wound
who lives on blood
like a beautiful leech.



And then below that Carrie adds, quite delightfully, "Nietzsche, of course." As far as I'm concerned, there's no US poet working with found poems and altered pages/books who can come close to the rich elegance and exquisiteness of Carrie's work. She rules, no question about it, friends.

I hope you can take some time to explore Carrie's deviantART gallery: paintings, collages, photographs, digital art, "regular" poems, and of course more found poems on altered pages. I always enjoy how beautiful these poems are, visually. Marvelous marvelous work.

Here is an intriguing self-portrait by Carrie; she can be an enigmatic, mysterious figure . . . the few self-portraits you'll find in Carrie's deviantART gallery don't give much away. Her pseudonyms, carrieola and Carrie Arizona, don't reveal much either, except that she lives in the state of Arizona. How about this . . . let it suffice to say that Carrie Arizona is a wonderful, talented artist. Let's leave it there, shall we?


P.S. If you'd like to find out more about altered books and found poetry, google the words altered, pages, books, found, and poetry in various combinations.

That the "altered books" art movement had been quite a strong force can be seen by the existence of a website titled Altered Books &mdash The International Society of Altered Book Artists (ISABA). This organization evidently dismantled itself only recently: December 2010. But you can still sneak into their gallery of altered books. Here's the back door that I found ajar.

And try to "write" one of these poems yourself, for National Poetry Month! Have fun.



Note added 7 May 2011: Carrie's work is featured today in an art exhibit.



7 comments:

vstefani said...

Very cool! I've been intrigued by the possibilities of altered books and have actually set aside some that I couldn't bring myself to throw away but that were unlikely to be accepted by the used bookstore, thinking I'd do something creative with them. This is a good month to experiment with them.

Vince Gotera said...

Vicki, that's great. As you play with altered books, I hope you'll post the pages in your blog morning-glory-garden. Howzat for a plug?

ptbertram said...

Books, design, poetry all combined into one. What a compelling art form!

BTW, glad to see you back in the blogosphere.

Vince Gotera said...

Pat! Thanks. Sorry to be responding so late ... I actually did respond earlier but evidently it didn't take. Hey, I'm glad to be back in the blogosphere ... we gotta talk, I owe you bloggeries.

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Lauren Jackson said...

I have written, and asked my high school lit. students to write, found poems where they look through the whole text for quotes they love, or that relate to a particular character or theme or motif. Then they remix the lines to create their own poem. I like this alternate version where the page of the book becomes visual art as well as literary art. I wonder if this form can be converted even further into digital media. Thanks for this post!

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