When we started Two Cities Review, almost a year ago, our mission was to find and promote work that bridged form and genre. We wanted work that didn’t fit into neat boxes, work that challenged our ideas of what fiction or nonfiction or poetry was, work that combined written word with visual art. When artists from different areas come together, the results can be startling, fresh, and truly breathtaking. This merging of styles and art forms is readily apparent in “Broken Rooms,” a book released last month that blends a year of haiku by Ellis Avery with broken plaster sculpture by William Corwin, all beautifully hand-sewn into a stunning book.
Being familiar with Avery’s intricate, detailed prose from her novels, I was struck by the simplicity of the haiku form and Avery’s ability to distill a single moment of each day into a bite-size morsel. The poetry weaves its way through 2011, starting with a cockroach on the wall and ending with a New Year’s souffle. Between these two bookends, the reader will find wonder and loss, grainy honey and the first magnolia of spring. It is the kind of book you can read all in one sitting, but might want to savor day by day as the year progresses.
Meanwhile, these poems are all beautifully paired with fractured pieces of plaster arranged in piles and stacks, evoking city streets and birds nests and Dominoes. There is a synergy between the poems and the sculpture, though the sculpture does not illustrate the writing nor is the writing a description of the sculpture. They exist together on the page in a way that seems to fit without being overly contrived. Both artists are able to show their talents and together, they make a whole that is more than just the sum of their work.
We asked the poet about her work and the work-relationship between herself and the artist. Here is what she had to say:
“I have been writing a haiku a day for the past fifteen years. In early 2011, Will Corwin saw my daily haiku in a show called Express/Local at the Queens College Arts Center, and that winter he asked me to contribute haiku for a show he was curating there. My mother had just died, and I was in no shape to participate then, but six months later, he got in touch again to propose that we collaborate on a haiku-and-sculpture book project.
As Will’s and my conversations about this idea deepened, it turned out he had lost his mother too, and the two of us decide to use that sense of loss as a jumping-off place for our book. Will contributed a series of images made from broken plaster pallets that evoked rubble and ruin, while I contributed poems about my mother, and then the two of us, having made our art separately, played with how to lay them out on the page together. Will’s low-key but real enthusiasm for my work helped me see the haiku in a more playful and sculptural way, and to really experiment with line breaks and composition as a visual, rather than text-based artist.
When we teamed up with publisher Jordan McIntyre of Brooklyn-based Crumpled Press, Jordan asked us to re-think the line breaks and pushed me to add more haiku from 2011 about place and space, in order to emphasize a spatial as well as emotional link between Will’s work and mine. The result was a book that invites readers to think about the haiku and sculpture alternately, rather than simultaneously, but I think the effect of Jordan’s choice is to constantly refresh the reader’s palate, allowing them to see both the textual and sculptural elements anew each time they turn the page.”
This book is exactly the kind of multi-genre work we look to publish and promote here at Two Cities Review. We hope you will check out Broken Rooms and perhaps consider it as a New Years gift for that art lover in your life.
You can find more information here: http://www.crumpledpress.org/publications/brokenrooms.html