After reading Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
With the rise of the on-line literary magazine, poems are losing their aura. Because poems can now be read on any kind of screen, immediately cut and pasted into e-mails and Word documents, they no longer contain the limited integrity of the printed page. I can search for any poet on-line, take his or her poems from wherever, where they may or may not be accurately transcribed, and then change its font, color and size—even edit the work at will!
There remains however, the aura of the book, which—though still a reproduction—creates a distance of production between the reader and the writer. The reader does not have access to a printing press or design team. The book object still retains a ‘specialness’ that we still feel at bookstores and libraries. This specialness comes from the fact that this object can be possessed and that there is a limited supply of it.
The rise of the Artist's Book can be traced first to the rise of the Printing Press (e.g. William Blake) and the need to create an aura similar to illuminated manuscripts that were lost with the press’s invention. Now there is a new renaissance in the Artist's Book with the advent of the Internet. The limited series, the handmade process, the uniqueness of the artist’s vision give the artist's book an aura of originality, authenticity. The love of the book is already nostalgic. It can be imagined that artist books will become even more beautiful and more sensual as time goes by.
The resilience of the small press can only be attributed to the aura of the book, because the text of a book of poems on-line can instantly reach an audience hundreds of times greater instantly and for free.
It is also interesting to reflect on, in light of Benjamin, the idea of distraction and architecture, an art form that is received while not paying full attention to it. I am reminded of an article I read once by a poet who said that I finally began to enjoy Ashbery’s poetry when he read him while watching television. I agree that Ashbery's poetry is best enjoyed when kind of not paying attention to it. But the connection is further developed by the kinds of architectural language that many contemporary poets bring to describe their work—that a poem is a house, a room, an environment that the reader is invited to explore. And, in a way, the shift from poem as song to poem as field develops this same idea: the poem is something to wander around in. We are not fully engaged by everything we see in a poem, but we perhaps are fascinated by a word or line, perhaps by the connection of a few different things. We take a turn about the architecture. Is this not what we do in advising, in workshop? Do we not often zone out while reading others’ poetry, especially a particular kind of contemporary poetry that doesn’t demand our full engagement?
34 minutes ago