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The Dusie Kollektiv Chapbook Series

Nicole Mauro: Introduction: The Kollektiv of the Spineless

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‘Not to confine the page to the certainty of certain place, but to haul it alas through transitions successful or non, through transit — ‘
                                    — Jennifer Scappettone, from Beauty [Is the New Absurdity]


In late spring, the Dusie chapbooks appear. In my mailbox are tales, ballads, disquisitions and tracts, laments, contemplations, a variety of lyric and a miscellany of fact in the forms of ekphrasis, palimpsest, and parataxis. All are carriers of a sort, transporting ideology, language, and experience over geographic and lyric territory, and I can see, by the postmarks, that borders distant and not were crossed, and I wonder what it took for them to get to and get through to me.


My question is hypothetically framed not because I know the answer, but because I think it is notional, not, in other words, objectively answerable. ‘Territory’ might be measured in linear units, in expanse and distance — as in a chapbook hand-delivered to a neighbor over the fence in the yard, or one that arrives in California from Qatar. ‘Territory’ might be measured in units of time — as in the chapbook that includes poems written every day at the same time over a three-month period. They come at 10, and at 1:22 p.m., and on Wednesday, when ‘the cloud bleeds ink and/the sky is wholly world-like’ (Workman, A City A Cloud, Dusie, 2006), and when ‘the voice is surrounded/by the head’s flesh/and the voice wants/that encasement buried’ (Levin, Stanley, and Theis, In Fortune, Dusie, 2006).


Vast territories, however we define them, are undeniably being navigated, and their languages translated. Scappettone’s line suggests meaning is restless, is in perpetual ‘transit’ even as the words that carry it stay stubbornly stationary. Part of the appeal of writing poetry is the challenge of locating something, usually temporal in nature, then holding it still on a page (or its words, anyway) which makes the chapbook — a lighter, more ephemeral cousin of the book — especially suitable to contain moment and what is momentary. I like Scappettone’s quote, too, because it speaks to the difficulties of delivery as well as containment. ‘To haul it alas through transitions successful or non’ acknowledges that we are forever ferrying words that do not always arrive at our expected destinations.


The dilemma Scappettone elegantly describes is symbolic and actual, and one resourceful woman in Switzerland has taken action. Every spring, Susana Gardner, editor of the online, avant-garde poetry magazine Dusie, rallies poets to create and publish their own chapbooks. She calls this project the ‘Kollektiv,’ German (from das kollektiv) for ‘collective,’ a word that technically refers to the running of a farm or a co-operative.


Here’s how it works: Kollektiv poets make 100 or so chapbooks to send to each other by mail. They also make a pdf. version for the annual, online Kollektiv issue (close replication of the actual chapbook is encouraged so the virtual resembles, as much as possible, the physical original). Invited participants, mostly poets who have previously appeared on Dusie, join the Kollektiv through a listserv, which serves the purpose of aesthetic sounding board, and place where members can commiserate the practical issues of execution. In one post, Marci Nelligan, on the assembling of her chapbook Specimen, wrote, ‘If there were a way for a grown adult to cause herself great bodily harm with a hole punch, I would be that grown adult.’ Print-queue snafus, office-supply mishaps, sudden onset Carpal-Tunnels,’ and surly Kinko’s workers are among the many obstacles that have stymied Kollektiv members, most of whom, I believe, are grown adults. That many have kids, families, significant others, and jobs, that many have been extensively published, have had books and chapbooks printed and distributed through other avenues, that most, to put it another way, don’t have to do it themselves raises an interesting question: why do so many do it, and, more importantly, want to do it themselves?


The answers are individual and varied, but I suspect most have to do with freedom. The Kollektiv satisfies the impulse to write poetry without worrying about marketability, which, being poetry, is already pretty enclaved, while also satisfying an artisan desire to be hands-on, to conceptualize and articulate thought, and turn that thought into a product using ordinary (paper and ink), and sometimes extraordinary (hardware, plastic, shrink-wrap) materials. To find a concrete way to objectify and embody abstract content and make a concept tangible without sacrificing the purity of the conceptual is the reason, if a single reason can be assigned, why Gardner’s Kollektiv not just exists, but thrives in space actual and cyber. Posting the chapbooks as pdf.s online ‘disrupts the limited print-runs’ and the closed audiences of other collectives, and is a terrific way to reach, believes Gardner, the ‘hypothetically infinite people’ who might encounter the chapbooks on screen, and, if transportability, time, and tactility are factors in their reading appreciation, download and print for free.


Because the Kollektiv utilizes dual receipt (postal and virtual) and dual audience, the Kollektiv differs from other collectives in a most intriguing, and seemingly paradoxical, way. Participating in the Kollektiv requires its poets to hark back to old-school, even old-fashioned creation and distribution methods while simultaneously creating simulacra of the ‘original’ chapbook to re-publish using the current technology of a mass network. This duality asks Kollektiv participants to envision and re-envision the same chapbook, to create two maybe very different, maybe very similar versions of the ‘same’ thing. Anachronism and progression, though definitional contradictions, exist equally; the beauty of the Kollektiv is the two need never be reconciled or corrected, only addressed equally.


The idea for the Kollektiv came to Gardner just before spring 2006. Though she had read many chapbooks published by small groups in the tradition of exchange before, such groups struck her as ‘very exclusive.’ And while a small number of people coming together to pursue a common creative interest wasn’t, in and of itself, unappealing, Gardner found the exclusivity that often accompanies the tight-knitted-ness of the usual collective to contradict the openness that is, ideally, supposed to epitomize collectivity. She decided to experiment with collective size; hers’, she decided, would include as many poets and artists as such an enterprise could reasonably accommodate (with the added benefit of expanded readership), but she had to find a way to achieve this without erring on the other side of size. If she involved too many the Kollektiv might become random and unwieldy, which could lead to scattered motives and dissipating, disconnecting energies. Gardner’s ingenious solution was an open invitation to all the past contributors to Dusie (some 60 plus people), all of whom would constitute a big enough group to create a thriving, diverse community under the ‘umbrella’ of the Dusie label, who, though geographically distant and aesthetically distinct, would be connected by two common artistic goals: to create and produce interesting poetic works, and to possess full control over the production and distribution of those works. Logically, a larger scope would provide the range of voice and variety that could accomplish these goals. The objective was less about bridging socio-poetic chasms and poetry ‘schools’ (though it may well be one of its long-term effects), more about getting people to make the poetry they always wanted to make.


‘Allowing authors total control of their work,’ Gardner explains, ‘is both liberating as well as edgy.’ The only thing Gardner requires as the Kollektiv’s publisher is that poets include the Dusie pressmark somewhere on, or in the work, and create something ‘they are really effing proud of.’ The adverb ‘effing’ is a good way to describe the indescribable surprises that arrive in the mailbox from the Kollektiv.


One of the more curious features of the creative liberty and do-it-yourself resolve is the ‘spineless-ness’ so many of the chapbooks exhibit — how many of them don’t use standard binding, or binding at all. Some of the Kollektiv works are loosely bound, contained in other kinds of ephemera: a homemade folder, a band, an envelope; others aren’t bound because they are in planar forms of media: flashcards, postcards, posters. Samar Abulhassan’s fár`ah (2007) is bound — on the right in accordance to the way Arabic is read.


I use the term ‘spineless’ literally and tongue-in-cheekish-ly to underscore how gutsy and backboned every one of the Kollektiv chapbooks is. I say this as a zealous member of both Kollektivs, not as an objective observer. I hope my obvious bias for this project and those like it reveals my unadulterated enthusiasm for these uncommon creations that, speaking for mine, would never have materialized were it not for the drive of the Kollektiv. There is a reciprocal relationship amongst its members resembling that of poet and ideal audience; it’s not that all members applaud all work, or that members think all work is equally good (the critics, if so inclined, can take on this impossible task, and I am perfectly happy to let them), it’s that there are real people to write to, to give a real thing to, who, nevertheless, I may not reach. This, Gardner asserts, is the trust of ‘risk.’ Because every chapbook bears ‘the mark of the writer’ the knowledge that real people are receiving my tangible work is intimate, and the thought that I might reach infinite people doing the same thing online is frightening. There is a difference between giving, and, as us Americans like to colloquially say instead of understanding ‘getting.’ Audience duality, or, better yet, audience plurality raises the stakes. And the risks. What if others — these real and/or hypothetical people — don’t ‘get it?’ The thought should be immobilizing, but under Gardner the effect is positively galvanizing, which may account for the deviations, and explain the departures of form and content.


Since the Kollektiv’s inception in 2006, all manner and form of ekphrasis, palimpsest, medium, media, and material have been utilized. Elisabeth Workman’s A City A Cloud (2006) features text and image on a poster; Cheryl Quimba’s a poem (2006), and Jill Stengel’s may/be (2007) are books barely larger than a business card; Mark Lamoreaux’s Sometimes Things Seem Very Dark (2007), and Mackenzie Carignan and Felicia Ohnmacht’s & Persona (2007) are both stunning displays of photograph and poetry in correspondence and exchange. Sometimes the form is a piece of paper, as is the late kari edwards’ Bharat jiva (2006), or a photocopied pamphlet, as is Jill Magi’s [from SLOT (to pull an historical site from you)] (2007). Some chapbooks are expertly spined with staple or stitch, while others are hinged with more precarious ware like screws and tacks and bits. Jon Leon’s Tract (2006) stays in tact because of two exceptionally well-positioned safety pins barely fastening the abundance of spectacular pornographia within.


Even papyrus is eclectic: poems appear on graph and construction paper, are covered by recycled magazine advertisements and breakfast packaging. The cover of Tim Armentrout’s All This Falling Away (2007) is made of a cereal box. Some chapbooks are playful. Gardner’s EBB Port folds out into a paper accordion — originally her idea had been to fashion a bracelet out of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. Family members are collaborators. In Truancy (2007), young Paris Cox-Farr drew a book with a spine, a bird, and a man with a beard for his mom’s chapbook; Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s wife Mary designed his A Book of Days, Pt. I: Sorcery (2007) using illustrations taken from  17th century alchemical emblems, the Kaballah, the Symbolists, and the Tarot. Jen Hofer used her grandmother’s Olivetti Lettera 22 to type — manually type — the poems that appear in Laws (2006) and going going (2007).


When we read a spineless creation our sense of book changes. We use our hands to manipulate these puzzles — to unfold the poster, to open the accordion. They are constructions where book and object hybrid, even when they appear to be something familiar like a poster, into a foreign construct. We’re used to seeing posters, not reading them; we’re used to cereal boxes having cereal in them, not poems. Connections between the ordinary and the everyday, and the intangible and the abstract are made. The chapbooks defy category so niftily they open-up the insularity of genre, and so transcend novelty, are, truly, ‘novel’ manifestations of the personal, and so represent the literature of individual genres.


I’m paying more attention to the spineless chapbook because some (which isn’t to say enough) critical attention has been paid to the side-stapled, sewn, and stitched varieties operating more true-to-label as a chapter or segment from a book, which doesn’t mean that ‘true-to-label’ defines the spined Dusie chapbooks either. They, too, interrupt expectation, and so deserve their due. Identity Crisis (2006) speaks like a volley of gunfire across names. The following passage suggests we adopt different guises when we author, that authorship, if not collective, is “as,” or “in the same.”


Caterina Fake as Roberta Fallon
                 Andrew Feindt as Rona Fernandez
                 Adam Fieled as John Paul Fiorentino
                 Jim Flannagan as Debby Florence
                 Juan Jose Flores as David Forbes
                 Adam Ford as Paul Ford
                 Christa Forster as Dominic Fox
                 William Fox as Ann Fractusesca
                 Patry Francis as Gina Franco
                 Hardy Freidrich as Suzanne Frischkorn

There will be a one hour intermission between each act, each surname, each etude (4).


Identity Crisis is written by no one, not even Anonymous, but it names, names, names poets probably heard-of, and many probably-not. It is persona barrage, a fusing of authors into maddening, dazzling conflation that is too tempting an example not to use for what the Kollektiv is: a dizzying array of exchanges, trysts, chance encounters, and operations — so many experiments and upendings of the expected, where, among the spineless and spined alike, there are infinite lyrical amazements.

Nicole Mauro and her daughter Nina

Nicole Mauro and her daughter Nina

Nicole Mauro has published poetry and criticism in numerous journals, including COMBO, Kiosk, Big Bridge, Jacket, How2, The Argotist Online, and eratio, among others. Chapbooks include Odes (Sardines Press, 2003), Dispatch (co-authored with Marci Nelligan, Dusie, 2006), and The Contortions (Dusie, 2007). She recently co-edited an interdisciplinary book about sidewalks titled Intersection:Sidewalks and Public Space with Marci Nelligan, due out spring 2008 from Chain as part of its Chain Links book series. She teaches rhetoric and writing at the University of San Francisco, and lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Patrick, and daughters Nina and Faye.

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