Enjoying the Juncture: An Interview with Amaranth Borsuk

Affinities, Author Bios & Interviews, Interviews

July 18th, 2012

 Amaranth Borsuk  is reading at Triple Canopy on July 20th and presenting a live demonstration of Between Page and Screen.Coupling the physicality of the printed page with the electric liquidity of the computer screen, Between Page and Screen chronicles a love affair between the characters P and S while taking the reader into a wondrous, augmented reality. The book has no words, only inscrutable black and white geometric patterns that—when seen by a computer webcam—conjure language. Reflected on screen, the reader sees himself with open book in hand, language springing alive and shape-shifting with each turn of the page. More on the book here. The following interview was conducted by Siglio intern Jasmine Francis on the occasion of the book’s release.

You have said that the aural and visual aspects of a poem are equally important and that the medium through which a work is read changes the reading experience. Could you talk about how this manifests in Between Page and Screen?

What I mean when I say the medium changes the reading experience is that our media are not transparent. We’ve known that since McLuhan, but we sometimes gloss over that fact. We treat printed books (and e-readers) as though they were all the same—as though they were simply vehicles for content. But of course that’s not true. We read differently when we’re piecing together Dracula on an iPhone (as I am during my commute to MIT) or holding a fine press edition in our hands. I’m not just talking about the cultural value placed on these different technologies, but how the physical experience of holding the “book” (how close is it to your face? what does it smell like? how much does it weigh? how do you mark your place?) and interacting with it influences our experience of the text.

I think Between Page and Screen wouldn’t be the same book if it were not presented in augmented reality. If printed on the page, then the text would seem to privilege the book object. If only on the screen, then it would seem computers had won out. Even reading the poems from the book in a screen capture, like those included here, takes a fundamental aspect out of the text—that uncanny feeling of holding an object in your hands while looking at yourself onscreen. Of moving your hands and body around in order to figure out how to make the words appear. Of getting used to the mirroring effect of the screen. Of seeing yourself and the text at once. You are constantly framing and re-framing the poems as you read. All of that is part of the reading experience.

Amaranth reads “A screen is a shield, but also a veil…”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You have also mentioned that there is a fluidity and a continuity—a kind of “give and take”—between the visual and the aural. When you take one of the senses away, what’s potentially lost or gained? Particularly in Between Page and Screen, how does the visual presence of the language persist in sound?

In a broader sense, both the sound play and the visual shaping of the poem are closely bound up in the work’s content. The fluidity is probably most overt in the book’s puns and etymological wordplay, which draw the reader’s attention to the way words with a similar sound might actually share a common root, despite their different meanings. The visuals in the book play with those same etymologies. The pig poem, for example, is a collection of anagrams of the word “charcuterie,” which comes from the same Indo-European word root as screen. They seem worlds apart (cured meat and a gossamer veil?), but they are bound by etymology through things that shine. It’s a visual/concrete poem, but it’s also really fun to read out loud because of the way the anagrams bounce off one another sonically. Conceptually, they are all different ways of slicing “charcuterie.”

 

 

 

 

There is always a connection between the visual shape of the poems and their content, even in the prose poems, actually, which start out highly contained and eventually open up. But even in the most overtly visual pieces, like the pig, I’m interested in language behaving in playful ways that reward reading too. There’s one poem that looks like a stock ticker, for example. It scrolls across your screen from right to left, like a chain of market data. But if you voice the symbols, you piece together a little poem. It begins like this:

BE-2.41 TWE-1.02 EN+4.20 PAG-1.14 E-2.34 AND-0.34 SCR+.67 EEN+3.30a-1.19 book+0.38 spx-1.24

These are actual stocks—BE is Brompton Equity Split Corp, PAG is Penske Automotive Group, etc.—and the numbers are the stocks’ value change on the date I wrote the poem. Even though the poem appears in one long scrolling line, there are little rhymes and puns within it. And much of the language in it doesn’t mean anything unless it is sounded, unless the reader connects the pieces into words. To go back to the question of the visual presentation, I don’t think the poem does the same thing when it’s presented in lines on the page (where would you break the lines?), nor would it have the same effect printed in large scale on the wall of a gallery. It wants to move through the space between page and screen that the reader has opened up, the space where the book is allowed to speak.

Amaranth reads “Page don’t cage me. Why this mania…”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

S and P attempt to define their relationship/the nature of their connection throughout Between Page and Screen. They almost come to a concrete definition (the “trellis”), yet P insists it is nevertheless a metaphor. I found something both climactic and resolving about this exchange because of the tension between the approach to and the retreat from the concrete. Does this tension define the book itself?

That’s a lovely reading. Certainly tension is at the heart of the book, or the hinge, or the spine. To be between is to be in a state of tension, isn’t it? Between means both separating two objects and joining them. Because the book is so much about our own relationship to reading and to the idea of the book, the tension between them is in a way our own—our relationship with page and screen is as fraught as their relationship with one another. We all have props, don’t we? I believe P’s claim that the trellis is a metaphor, that P isn’t entirely invested in order and training. I’ve seen many wild, unruly pages.

Amaranth reads “Dear S, that trellis is…”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Between Page and Screen is a love story, which is complicated by the inclusion of the readers’ face—what are we supposed to make of ourselves on the screen, alone in the background, watching ourselves read? Where do we fit?

It’s a bit voyeuristic, I guess, to watch this affair play out against your own face, but it also forces you to play both roles, to get between P and S. As much as it serves to highlight the tension, when I read or perform from the book and see my face behind the text, it’s also a reminder for me that any book, no matter the platform, is written for a reader—that without someone there to pull the book off the shelf, turn on the Kindle, boot up the computer or what have you, the text remains inaccessible. For me, given my own interest in how books are changing in light of recent technological shifts, that fact provides some sense of stability. I find it reassuring. As a reader is given a choice between these platforms, I don’t feel I need to take one side or the other—the death of books or deadening pixels of screens—instead, I can enjoy the juncture and move back and forth between the two, as most of us already do.

One of the things I love about using people’s webcams is that each reader sees something different when he or she opens the book. The context is completely different. A few friends have sent me screen captures of themselves with the book, and I love seeing their faces behind the poem. I’d love it if readers sent me an image of themselves with the book. It’s a great reminder that the reader is part of the text, and that it’s in his or her hands that the poems take shape.

Amaranth reads “P.S. A co-script posthaste postface”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

More interviews:

Buzz Poole interviews Borsuk and Bouse for IMPRINT

Danielle Oliver interviews Borsuk and Bouse for THE DAILY BRINK!

David Shook interviews Borsuk and Bouse for “The Book 2.0” on MOLOSSUS

Leave a Reply