The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use WordsA Madeline Gins Reader

Madeline Gins

Edited by Lucy Ives

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paper, 6 × 8 in.
328 pages, bw illustrations
published in 2020

PDF Press Release

Poet, philosopher, speculative architect and transdisciplinary artist, Madeline Gins (1941–2014) is well-known for her collaborations with her husband, the artist Arakawa, on the experimental architectural project Reversible Destiny, in which they sought to arrest mortality by transforming the built environment. Yet, her own writings—in the form of poetry, essays, experimental prose, and philosophical inquiries—represent her most visionary and transformative work. Expansive and playful, Gins’s vigorous and often ecstatic exploration of the physicality of language challenges us to sense more acutely the ways in which we can—and could—write and read. Like Gertrude Stein before her, Gins transfigures grammar and liberates words. Like her contemporaries in conceptual art, her writing is attuned to the energized, collaborative space between reader and page. She invites the reader into a field of infinite, ever-multiplying possibility.

The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader is a revelatory anthology, edited and with an introduction by the writer and critic Lucy Ives. It brings never-before-published poems and essays together with a complete facsimile reproduction of Gins’s 1969 masterpiece, WORD RAIN (or A Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G,R,E,T,A, G,A,R,B,O, It Says), along with substantial excerpts from her two later books What the President Will Say and Do!! (1984) and Helen Keller or Arakawa (1994). Long out of print or unpublished, Gins’s poems and prose form a powerful corpus of experimental literature, one which is sure to upend existing narratives of American poetics at the close of the twentieth century.

For anyone who wants to experience directly the uncharted regions of inner and outer space in which language, perception, thought, and image play freely with our cramped expectations of them, the Madeline Gins Reader is an indispensable guide and a startling discovery. Her explorations of the interstices between words as symbols, as images, as sounds, as drawings are sure, steady, and entirely original. It seems incredible that her work received so little attention during her lifetime. This volume performs an invaluable service in recalling her to our attention.
—Adrian Piper

Madeline Gins was marooned here, on Earth, and made the best of it, using what was available to her, like words. This book is a splendid testament to how far she pushed them, and us, to realize what she already knew. That this, all this, is not it. Not. Even. Close.
—Paul Chan


An excerpt from Lucy Ives’s intro at Art in America
Chapter Two from WORD RAIN at Design Observer
A few of Gins’s poems “Transformatory Power” at POETRY with an essay by Ives
And interviews with Ives in Bookforum, Ursula, and Los Angeles Review of Books AV Podcast


“Surviving Death with Madeline Gins: A Conversation with Paul Chan and Lucy Ives” recorded at the Printed Matter Virtual Art Book Fair in 2021.

about the author

Poet and novelist, artist, philosopher, and speculative architect, MADELINE GINS (1941–2014) participated in experimental artistic and literary movements of the 1960s and ’70s before developing a collaborative practice as a philosopher and architect. The author of three full-length collections of writing, Gins also collaborated with her husband Arakawa on a theory of “procedural architecture,” an endeavor to create buildings and environments that would prevent human death. She leaves a rich and complex legacy of interdisciplinary thought, action, and writing: although much of her work was unpublished or went out of print in her own lifetime, her prescient efforts in poetics, aesthetics, and environmental studies are central to contemporary debates about how to form communities and create collaboratively and sustainably.


Along with possessing an inventive and collaborative nature, Gins’s I-as-reader is porous, delivering a vision of human subjectivity always in excess of the singular self. The I-as-reader is capable of deep, intermingled connection, a connection that is not only trans-personal or trans-species, but trans-material.
—Karla Kelsey, Hyperallergic

This work didn’t quite fit into the literary landscape when it was written, and it doesn’t quite fit now. That’s because Gins was never concerned with being hyper-contemporary, nor with commenting directly on the day’s news. She was dedicated to a lifelong exploration of duration and ephemerality. While her architecture remains better known, that’s only one part of the story – this generous selection of texts is an opportunity to engage with the full scope of her thinking.
—Steven Zultanski, Frieze

So many more great reviews: 4 Columns, The Architect’s Newspaper, Brooklyn Rail, Elephant, PIN-UP, Publishers Weekly, rob mclennan’s blog, and Tarpaulin Sky.


Reversible Destiny Foundation
New York Times obituary
Harriet/Poetry Foundation (Lucy Ives on Gins’s “questionnaire”)

see also


Feminist Poetics of the ArchiveA Forum at Tupelo Quarterly

Karla Kelsey, curator


Surviving Death with Madeline GinsA Conversation with Paul Chan and Lucy Ives

Saturday, February 27, 2021, 3:30-5pm EST (online)


It Is Almost ThatA Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & WritersLisa Pearson (editor)


MemoryBernadette Mayer

✼ natalie’s upstate weather report:

April 11, 2024 — The spring peepers have thawed (these little frogs freeze in winter) and now, unabashedly randy, they chirp. At first there was one, then two, and now it sounds like thousands. Two days ago, when it was truly spring, their adamantine chorus was almost deafening (we closed the windows to simply think!). Siglio has relocated to a lush, thriving hollow at the furthest most edge of the Berkshires after two years of peripatetics, sans library—which is now unpacked in a less than Benjaminian manner (little time to contemplate—our urgency in getting books on shelves mirrored the peepers need to mate). The first few months of 2024 were almost unendurable, but we’re home, spring is here, and there are books to made. We are singing!


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