Friday, November 12, 2010

Commenting on two Plan B Press chapbooks

Richard Erdmann
Plan B Press
Stay-at-Home Press

The Mutual Life
Relationships, Colonization and Other Accidents
A Manual of Reference
James Thomas Stevens
Plan B Press

I haven’t written before in this blog about any chapbooks published by Plan B Press since I am the co-founder and head of Plan B Press. Felt like a conflict of interest. However the thrust of my comments here have to do with the books published by one of our divisions : Stay At Home Press. Not that that matters terribly much except that I have a bit less to do with this division than our “running man” division of the Press.

The concept behind Stay–at-Home Press is the attempt to wed image with text in a more realizable way. And to do this in the “book” format, not relying on or hiding behind the non-conventions of the e-book. To produce something a person can hold : a book. This, of course, was only the most basic reason for developing this new division of the Press. One of the statements that our Press tries to adhere to came from El Lissitzky who in 1931 wrote: “The book must be the unified work of author and the designer. As long as this is not the case, splendid exteriors will constantly be produced for unimportant contents, and visa-versa.

Our first attempt was Richard Erdmann’s chapbook Without. This chapbook melded text with image and image with text on. It was more of an experiment than a finished project, in hindsight I say, and as often happens – the poet disappeared into this “day clothes”. It happens. What remains is the chapbook - what has been lost is the meaning or the attempted meaning of the work.

The project that SHOULD have been the first Stay-at-Home Press book was James Thomas Stevens’ 2006 chapbook The Mutual Life . Stevens took much of the language as well as the illustrations that exist in the chapbook and the recreated cover from the original 1901 Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York: Accidents, Emergencies, and Illnesses published BY The Mutual Life of New York. The chapbook itself was the second phase of the work; it was created in 2004 for a writers convention and then published by Plan B Press as the fullest expression of its potentiality (complete with use of same font headings, etc.) before landing in a more neutered state with his 2007 Salt Publishing full book entitled A Bridge Dead in the Water. (the version that exists in that book is devoid of illustrations and the font matches the rest of the book) Besides being the most true expression of the merging of image with text, it presented the most compelling argument for the creation of the Stay-at-Home Division to date. However, Without was not successful as the first effort.

There will surely be more to come from this division as manuscripts continue to come our way with stronger visual elements. At the same time, there are entire publishing firms that dwell only in the e-book universe which challenges the dimension and understanding of what “text” and “book” will mean in the 21st century.

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