I boarded a 5:00 flight from Austin, read Jimmy Schuyler’s Selected Art Writings (although a New York poet, he was born in Chicago in 1923) and arrived in Chicago early Sunday night. Who else was born in Chicago (poetry wise)? Brad Freeman met me at the airport and we took a quick train to the Loop. This must be my second or third time in this city. I figured I would be staying in a dormitory or Motel 6, so I was pleasantly surprised when Brad dropped me off at Columbia College’s presidential suites on (get this) Printers’ Row. Of course there are no commercial printers here any more, but the annual printers’ ball will be happening Friday July 29th (there’s more information about that on the Poetry Foundation’s website).
I’m here on a two-week residency at the Center for Book and Paper Arts to complete a book that I conceived in 2007 or ’08 when I was living in New York City (where time and money are always at odds with one another). A ‘book’ of bumper stickers appealed to me because I’ve always been interested in the relationship between public and private reading spaces, public and personal libraries, group and individual reading experiences, and the art of finding poetry in unexpected places. Also a fan of vernacular typography, I found no shortage of inspiration in New York (tho there’s more and more commercial design on the streets every day and my childhood memories of beautiful subway trains plastered in graffiti, each one different, are nothing but fading memories). Even the street art of Berlin that I documented with Caroline Koebel in 2005 has largely vanished due to gentrification.
James Sullivan’s On the Walls and In the Streets is a classic study of poetry broadsides of the 1960s, a must for anyone interested in poetry, politics and the power of the press. I actually didn’t encounter Sullivan’s book until after I finished my dissertation, but was pleasantly surprised to see that our bibliographies were quite similar. In any event, with the oil wars continuing to rage, record-setting temperatures due to climate change, and Hummers still (oddly) fashionable, it occurred to me that the bumper sticker might be an interesting medium to work with because it is a form of ephemera that surely has roots in the broadside and handbilll.
I invited a number of poets and artists to compose bumpers, reminding them that the text should a) be written to be read in public b) that it must be short if it is to be read while the reader and/or sticker is in motion c) that the text need not mimic the conventions of a bumper sticker (i.e., I’d rather be reading; My other car is a sonnet; Imagine word peace; etc.) while offering no guidelines whatsoever in terms of content. Some happily defied or ignored my request not to mimic the conventions of bumper stickers, and those actually turned out to be some of my favorites. Also important to note that I didn’t invite all of my friends or ‘favorite’ artists to participate; there are some greats who I like very much who I just couldn’t imagine writing bumpers, while I imagined others ideal candidates for the job. For example, Tom Raworth, as I recall, responded within an hour of my invitation via. email with several bumpers to choose from. A terrific printer and collage artist, Tom not only wrote, but designed his own sticker (which I’m printing today). Another example: Sitting at our regular hang-out spot, a bar called Mumbles, with Ted Greenwald, I laid the idea on him. “Oh, I don’t know about that, let me think about it.” Ted turns back to his coffee, looking skeptical. “Okay, I got it.” Ted pulled an index card out of his breast pocket, wrote a line, signed and dated it, and handed it to me. Perfect on the first attempt.
Morning sunshine is pouring through the windows and the bulldozers and cranes on the construction site next door are making the building bounce. I’ll put up some pictures of the studio and works in process tonight.