The Desert

The Desert
Jen Bervin

    Brooklyn poet and visual artist, Jen Bervin, is the author of several artists’ books. Some of her works include The Desert (Granary Books 2008), A Non- Breaking Space  (Ugly Duckling Presse 2005), Nets (Ugly Duckling Presse 2004), Under What Is Not Under (Potes & Poets 2001), as well as many other artist books.  She works with mixed media, using scraps of cloth, discontinued thrift store thread, old photographs, and old course texts. She is interested in the in-between space and describes her process as “making a whole with pieces missing.” These missing pieces, the cracks and fissures left bare are the most remarkable parts of her work; she says these are the places where things happen.

Granary Books has recently published Jen Bervin’s new book, The Desert. This is not just any book; this is one of Granary’s many incredible art pieces. Bervin used John Van Dyke’s The Desert (1901) as a source text, much as Tom Philips treated and transformed A Human Document by W.H. Mallock to create his famous A Humument. Rather than illustrating over the original text à la Mallock, Bervin painstakingly sewed with light blue thread over the “erased” words, to leave a texture-rich poem. She and a small team in Seattle sat at sewing machines and carefully sewed through more than one hundred facsimile pages of Van Dyke’s text in each book. The result is beautiful. The original text is still visible beneath the threads, obscuring but not obliterating Van Dyke’s prose.

Bervin leaves us with a sparse and poignant text. Reading this poem in its intended form is necessary, as the book is a reading and viewing experience. Still, here is a brief selection [perversion and distortion brought to you by the Almighty Word Processor] to give a small sense of what Bervin is doing.

I mean the air
but I am not now speaking

-yet I believe
whole face
is always present,
one looks through it as

    The book was designed by Jen Bervin and bound by Susan Mills. It is attractively wrapped in cloth with trim to match the thread, and held in an archival box. The paper was handmade by Twinrocker Handmade Papers, for this limited edition of 40 books.

-Claire Sammons 

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