The Improbable (What It Is)A miscellany of the rich and varied space between art and literature

the improbable, 09/21/23

In 2020, Siglio published two issues of The Improbable, originally conceived* to give out free at Siglio’s pop-up at the Museum of Modern Art bookstore (one of many little acts of subversion I attempted in that space). It opened at the beginning of March, then closed just two weeks later as the city, the country, the world shut down.

When the museum reopened to a limited number of visitors in August, there were so few people encountering the pop-up and The Improbable, it seemed important to get it out in other ways. I sent it to dozens of indie bookshops (see list at the bottom) and a couple of comrade publishers (Ugly Duckling Presse and Cuneiform Press) who all passed it on to unsuspecting readers. Its entry into the world was multi-tentacled, unpredictable, without any ambitions to reach any particular reader or demographic: the opposite, I hoped, of commerce. It is meant as an unexpected gift.

For those first two issues, I was very proud to include so many writers I admire—many I’ve previously published, and others I worked with for the first time (see the list below). You can find the table of contents and introduction for each issue in the readings section, as well as selected pieces that will be added over time.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to further undermine the commodification of culture while still renumerating writers and artists and distributing the paper as wide as possible. A generous donation has funded the third iteration (Volume 2, No. 1 — Lingual Music, coedited by Alex Balgiu and Chloé Gourvennec), and two grants from the Literary Arts Emergency Fund will help offset costs for others now in the works. As The Improbable moves forward, I imagine it as an expansive space created out of many imaginations.

Head to The Improbable No. 3 intro page for Alex and Chloe’s introduction, a current list of bookstores and arts organizations where you can find a copy, as well as info about how to get a copy directly from siglio.


*This iteration was conceived as a gift, like Siglio ephemera, as something that simply cannot be bought. But The Improbable, in an online form, began as a book review of uncategorizable books, with indie booksellers selecting and writing about titles published by some of the most risk-taking small presses. It was meant to not only bring attention to unusual books, but to cultivate a community of booksellers and publishers who cared deeply about advocating for them.

The Improbable participants, 2020 and 2023:

Sally Alatalo
Rosaire Appel
J. Mae Barizo
Amanda Berenguer
Amaranth Borsuk
Helen Cammock
Ulises Carrión
Mary Ann Caws
Mónica de la Torre
Mirtha Dermisache
Anaïs Duplan
Lily Greenham
Dick Higgins
Lucy Ives
Richard Johnnny John
Douglas Kearney
Wayne Koestenbaum
Shiv Kotecha
Richard Kraft
Ann Lauterbach
Annea Lockwood
Tracie Morris
Tausif Noor
Min Oh
Clive Phillpot
N.H. Pritchard
Jerome Rothenberg
Nicole Rudick
Rachel Valinsky
Matvei Yankelevich
Elizabeth Zuba

Printing by LINCO in Long Island City!


One or both issues could be found in 2020—in California: Artbook at Hauser & Wirth and Skylight Books in Los Angeles; Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes; Green Apple Books, San Francisco; East Bay Booksellers, Oakland; in Oregon: Monograph Bookwerks* and Passages Bookshop*, both in Portland. And a smattering across the country: Binnacle Books, Beacon, New York; Brickbat Books*, Philadelphia; Riff Raff, Providence, Rhode Island; Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, Vermont; Lost City Bookstore, Washington, DC; Open Books: A Poem Emporium* in Seattle, Washington; The Dial Bookshop* in Chicago, Illinois; Marfa Book Company, Marfa, and Deep Vellum Books, Dallas, both in Texas; The Concern Newstand, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Sweet Melissa Records, Marietta, Georgia; Woodland Pattern Book Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; in Canada at The Printed Word Bookstore* in Dundas, Ontario; and in England, Bookartbookshop in London—one of my very favorite bookstores in the entire world.

If you work at a bookstore, get in touch and I’ll put you on the list to get a stack of the next issue to distribute there.

The first two issues of The Improbable released in 2020.

p.s. If you’re wondering what those images on the readings index have to do with The Improbable, they are the result of a google image search for “the improbable,” then cropped.

see also

✼ not stones, not stale bread:

The book object. Object as aim. Object as thing. “In committing himself to book-objects, Dick Higgins confronted object status . . . the objectification of the creative act and the rise of art as a commodity object.” Call It Something Else at the Reina Sofia through January 22, 2024, curated by Alice Centamore and Christian Xatrec.


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