Republic of Consciousness Shortlist

Republic of Consciousness Shortlist

Writers and publishers from across the UK and beyond gathered on Wednesday 11th January for the short-list announcement of the highly anticipated Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Creator Neil Griffiths, an award-winning novelist, aims to celebrate people collaborating in what he sees as a publishing revolution. The first of its kind, this prize represents a fantastic opportunity to reward the production of unique and innovative literature, crediting the publishers as well as the authors.

Long-listed hopefuls and their friends gathered in the stunning art deco surroundings of Waterstones Piccadilly in London’s West End. Susan Curtis-Kojakovic of Istros Books, long-listed for Quiet Flows the Una by Faruk Šehić, observed: ‘Small presses usually have a limited look-in on the prize scene, especially translations, so this is a welcome new development’. Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press, long-listed for The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift, agreed. ‘This is a great initiative that finally acknowledges the very careful choices made by small presses to publish books based solely on merit’.

Eloise Millar (Galley Beggar), Susan Curtis-Kojakovic (Istros Books) and Meike Ziervogel (Peirene Press)

Acclaimed writer David Collard introduced the event, declaring that this is the best literary long-list he has ever seen. He also praised the way the prize recognises small presses for publishing ‘beautiful books enriching our lives and challenging what is possible in literature’.

Before announcing the short-list, Neil Griffiths expressed how proud he is to be standing up for small publishers, congratulating those on the long-list which in itself is an outstanding achievement. He believes that such inclusion will help create momentum and increase interest in all the books.

Neil Griffiths with the short list

Eight books in total have made the short-list. Following the announcement, Charles Boyle from CB Editions, whose book Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams has got through, observed that over the past twelve years, the range of small press books and authors has grown immensely. ‘It is fantastic to have that trend confirmed in the emergence of this prize.’

Eloise Millar of Galley Beggar Press said she was absolutely delighted that their entry, Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge, has also made the short-list, heaping praise on its author. ‘It can be very challenging for small presses to get publicity on a national level. Being short-listed therefore represents huge validation. This book to me is a joyous love letter to fiction.’

The winner will be announced on 9th March 2017.


Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Freight for Treats by Lara Williams

And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Galley Beggar Press for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge

Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene

Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr

CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams

Cassava Republic for Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

Reporting and pictures by Becky Danks

Presence : Absence : Silence

Three new poetry collections from the small presses
Moonrise is a beautifully hand-bound book of poetry from small press As Yet Untitled. Editor Rosie Sherwood is a poet, photographer and book artist, whose care and attention to the book as an object in terms of structure, sequencing, materiality, quality and beauty means that every copy of Moonrise – in this numbered edition of 150 – is created in-house from quality inks and papers, and hand-tied to finish.
Ella Chappell’s poetry speaks in fearless, open and tender-hearted reflections – juxtaposing the loss of innocence with the increased knowledge and understanding of scientific study, and creating resonances that ask readers to consider how both might contribute to our understanding of what it means to be in the world right now. Interleaved with the poetry is a set of Sherwood’s poetic photographs printed onto transparent layers that offer alternative perspectives or contact points.
Chappell clearly revels in the opportunity to play with sounds and the textures of language in her poetry. For example, encouraging the mouth around the deliciously mellifluous Honey: ‘You’re all in my mouth / just after I say your name: / syllable syllabub – kinda runny – / I wake up from dreams laughing these days.’ While in other places there’s a depth of presence in the precision of well-chosen words: ‘a scarab carved with a prayer from the book of the dead.’ The present absence is the longed-for simplicity of innocence and magic which permeates every page.
‘Shul.  She’s grateful for this language that names the silent weight of you.’ A testament to silence, to absence, to shul – the traces left behind – Envies the Birds is the debut poetry collection of Angelina D’Roza, poet in residence at Bank Street Arts. Published in satisfyingly weighty hardback by Longbarrow Press, this collection names the silent weight of absence in the traces that are left behind of ordinary and devastating encounters. The surface of Breech, in its seven sets of couplets, recounts receiving a phone call, while leaving only absent traces of the ‘ruptured words’ at its heart.
The archival research and broad ranging stimulus texts open and undo the fixity of the lyric ‘I’; in these poems, I has a shifting and migratory identity becoming another absent trace of something or someone that remains nevertheless present. Like the birds, this collection effortlessly crosses cultural boundaries and is enriched by language and ideas from across the globe, such as the Tibetan word shul, the letters from Zelda Sayre to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aesop’s Fables, and the work of Marina Abramovic and Ulay.
This collection speaks in silence of the weight of absence:
‘Don’t ask lyrics to change the world: / a mouthful of gnarled syllables, dry / as branches. All there is to say / is what we’re not, what we don’t want.’
‘    :      this land is a memory of wind without wind’
Plainspeak, WY creates and energises the semantic potential of spaces and silences that poetry is best-placed to explore and exploit.  Joanna Doxey’s poetry occupies space on the pages and throughout the book as a whole, as phrases are fractured and fragmented across lines or pages with careful attention to spacing and location, resulting in a profound shift in pacing too.  Visual spaces read as silence between phrases, words and punctuation, slowing the reading and giving time for pauses between thoughts.  The location of words on the page plays out as a landscape, echoing the theme of present-absence in a landscape shaped by the memory of wind, snow and ice, even after those meteorological events have ended.  The poetry in this collection enacts an experience that is both temporal and spatial through the interactions between words and silence in both its themes and its aesthetic.
This collection creates a visual record of silence as the spaces between the visible words, just as the landscape it describes creates a visual record of absent meteorology in the presence of sculpted plains.  In this poetry, the plains speak as the record of memory, the landscape of time.  Yet Doxey also asks us to consider future time, as well as the past, and inscribes the sense of loss and absence that comes with knowledge that the earth is changing, and the landscapes we thought were constant will also soon be gone.  There’s poignancy in the description that
‘Core samples taken from glaciers show bits of atmosphere, air bubbles that tell of ages past, ages before humans, ages that are disappearing from history as these glacial bodies melt and calve to their terminal end … a body of melt releasing an ancient atmosphere.’
Ultimately what Plainspeak seems to evoke is ‘A beautiful extermination of mass and time.     /    This is my work.’  By energising the spatiality – and thus the temporality – of the text on the page, Doxey creates the poetic paradox of both inscribing mass (materiality as spatiality) and time (the silent spaces that generate pauses) into the poems and describing the poignancy of their ‘beautiful extermination’ in her work.  The tension between the creation of mass and time within the text and its extermination in the physical landscape vibrates throughout the words and silences of this collection as presence and absence become relative and intertwined.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; and the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

“Press this memory out of you”

“Press this memory out of you”

Ada Kaleh by Freddie Mason: Little Island Press (Budding New Poets), 2016

This is a book of experimental poetry in mustard yellow hardback and two tones of embossed title text, black and blue; Colourplan papers and a bellyband: in short, a beautiful object with printing qualities more often found in contemporary fine art books. I couldn’t find any other poems by the poet, but wanted to: no searchable poems in online or print journals. The central subject of the book is memory and memory loss, in streams of mostly unpunctuated consciousness that dip in and out of various historical times and locations. Ada Kaleh was a small Danubian island that in the 1930s had a population of 680, a majority of Turkish inhabitants, with Romanians on the north shore, Serbians on the south. It was submerged in 1970 for Iron Gate I Hydroelectric Power Station. The strategy for coping with this post-globalised, trans-horizonal world is set out in the opening lines of the book:

Hello I am discussing you with myself

in pieces bit by bit but remember there will

be enough I promise when you need.

As voices try to cope with memory and change, there are moments of accumulative lyricism.

                 the legitimacy of all existence and plummeting away already

dying already needing you for the legitimacy of all existence

and plummeting up give in give in give in give in give in give.

In its repetition, it is reminiscent of modernist poets like Gertrude Stein. The book moves between various locations. Memories are assembled piecemeal, from Finchley to the Finnish river Ivalojoki, and a golf course called Avondale. The Utopian wish to arise and go now to a lake isle is undercut by military violence:

She kept an army of mercenaries in

a small secluded patch of ground near

the park and her Russian accent gave her authority

in the new killing career she was planning

The language of hype and hyperbole is shown with violence: “how are the ways/ in hype this mathematical and held in guzzling/ pastoral tumescence sinking into the careful”. Mason often deploys symbolic language that questions its own symbolic status, that lays bare its own slippery meaning by fluidly shifting between scenes, registers, and subjects.


Ada Kaleh is more of an idea and symbol for the poetry than a linear narrative history, something which Alexander Christie-Miller has examined in more practical terms in The White Review. Blurring, merging, submerging: many islands, voices, and sensations sink into one another through gorges “where the dogs/ bark at false dawns and women pluck grenades out from/ within blackberries”. Concrete images are subject to change: grenades are not hidden within blackberry bushes but the blackberries themselves. For the speaker, reality and the real is subject to fast changes:

I am certainly afraid of this gradient the climate of

a tropical motherland breeding within me like vegetables

on fire I sucked do you remember? out do you remember?

the fire from within those vegetables for you and your followers

This hunger for sustenance, this pull from the isolated isle into the mainland, reads like a strange translation. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Ada Kaleh depended on food, drink and tobacco imports from mainland Romania, and so can not be classified as a self-sustaining Utopia. So while the notion of a lake isle idyll of happy people and no crime rate (the last recorded crime in Ada Kaleh was for a man who did not pay for his meal), there is a tension between remembering and moving on. The question is: what is lost when we sink a civilisation. Ada Kaleh is a beautiful book with some striking challenges to sensory perception, notions of real and imagined places, and the way we construct memories. The illustrations by Alice-Andrea Ewing, “an artist and sculptor trained in the Italian Lost Wax method”, provide a lumpy tactility to the atavistic scope of the poetry.

Click here to find Ada Kaleh at Little Island Press.


About the Publisher:

Little Island Press is an independent publisher run by Andrew Latimer, based in Stroud, working in fiction, poetry, and literature in translation. Budding New Poets focuses on early career newly-flowering poets, its title punning on Edwin Beard Budding, a Stroud-born inventor.

Review by Simon Pomery

Simon Pomery is a PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway and a TECHNE Associate, researching innovative poetry and digital culture in the 21st century. He curates PRAXIS, a text-sound poetry series of events held at Parasol-unit foundation for contemporary art and AND/Or Gallery, with assistance from the Royal Holloway Poetics Research Centre. His poetry and reviews have appeared in The White Review, 3am magazine, P.N. Review, Edinburgh Review, and The Times Literary Supplement.


XxX: 100 Poems

XxX: 100 Poems

Merrill Moore, XxX: 100 Poems : Little Island Press, 2016

Merrill Moore’s (1903-1957) biography is, unfortunately, significantly more interesting than the majority of the poems in XxX: 100 Poems (published by Little Island Press, 2016). A psychiatrist by education, Moore counted among his clients Robert Lowell – with whose mother, Charlotte Lowell, Moore may or may not have had an affair – and Robert Frost’s children – one of whom committed suicide and another who was later committed to a psychiatric hospital. Yet, as a poet, Moore left behind somewhere between 15,000 to 50,000 poems, all written in his own, occasionally loose, interpretation of the sonnet form.

Selecting the one hundred poems that make up the collection must have been an incredible undertaking, but on reading XxX one is left feeling that one hundred may still have been too many. The editor of XxX, David R. Slavitt, writes that while ‘it is easy to find deficiencies in Merrill Moore; what is more important is that there is so much admirable achievement and that the poems, taken together, build to become a persuasive account of a time in the life of America.’ I am much more inclined to agree with Slavitt’s opening claim regarding the deficiencies in Moore’s work than the latter, more grandiose, suggestion. The sonnet form that Moore chose to work in, where a single out of place word or phrase can derail a poem, does not allow the space for the ‘deficiencies’ that Slavitt points towards to be discounted so easily.

‘Dust’, for instance – at points one of the stronger poems in the collection – opens with a display of Moore’s fleeting ability to balance his take on the sonnet form with an ear for rhythm

Dust is always prepared to levitate

When chambers are re-heated by the tall

Columns that surmount the fabulous

Intricate and geometric wall.

but an awkward line half-way through the poem leaves the remaining lines clinging on, unable to rectify Moore’s misstep:

The trustful stone has fallen to distrust

And ships are sunk, and, deep in the Ganges

Dirt settles that was dust.

The holy men

Who prayed for days, return to it again,

Ceaselessly suspended in desire,

Beyond the touch of ice, and out of fire.

While there are issues with the opening lines, the line ‘the trustful stone has fallen to distrust’ is delivered so awkwardly and linguistically naive that the rest of the poem struggles to recover. This is true of much of XxX.

‘Sleeping By My Pad And Waking With A Pen In My Hand’ and ‘In Re Sonnets That Choose To Arrive At Meal Time’ – these are not even close to being the longest poem titles in the collection, one poem’s title runs to roughly eighty words – recounting a poet who finds himself ‘interrupted / By several sonnets trying at the same time / To get release from the net of the unconscious’. Many of the poems of XxX feel like interruptions, leaving behind nothing after their first reading, and would have been served by much stricter editing when Moore were alive. Through reading the collection, Moore comes across as a writer who did not know where his strengths as a poet lay and, more often than not, is unable to carry a poem through to its conclusion effectively.

A number of the poems concern themselves with observational character portraits and this is where Moore may well be at his strongest. In ‘Aunt Dora in the restaurant’ the fragility of the Aunt advancing ‘porously over the floor’, ‘because Aunt Dora was already seventy-two / And she knows that the glistening tiles are hard’ is captured perfectly by Moore reining in his tendency to unsettle a poem with an overwritten line. Having said this, some of the character poems have a misogynistic quality – ‘He said: there is something about a woman’, ‘The Bitch Goddess’ and ‘He was telling me about how he managed to get what he wanted’ being three of the worst – that I’m unsure can be explained away as a simple character portrait or as being wholly satirical.

Obviously Moore passed away almost 60 years ago and this collection, as mentioned in the introduction, is clearly a passion project of Slavitt’s, Moore being someone who sparked the editor’s interest in poetry. Slavitt might be correct, XxX is much more interesting as a collection than the individual poems that comprise it. I am glad the book exists as I’ve now been introduced to the truly eccentric life of Merrill Moore, and all of that credit must go to Slavitt and Little Island Press for bringing Moore back into public consciousness. However, without the biography of Moore that precedes the poems, the poems in XxX simply do not stand up for themselves.  Apart from one.

‘Two Things I will Remember As Long As I Live’ starts from a point of confusion and ends with a line so perfectly weighted that it makes the rest of the collection pale further in comparison. Moore could do it, it is just through the poems in XxX he doesn’t do it often enough.


‘Two Things I Will Remember As Long As I Live’


(And both, come to think of it, are similar;

I had not realized that until this moment)


They are: the look on the face of (believe me) a fish

When he is jerked out of water, by the hook

And is trying to disengage it from his mouth

In a dumb brute animal way that is pitiful

Also the effort in the eye itself

To see, to comprehend this awful state

The look of wild defeated frustration there

As the fish is suffocating in thin air

Gasping, gulping, convulsively moving his gills

And body, seeking water to cure his ills.


The other, I nearly forgot it, the other is

The look on the face of a man dying of heart failure.


Click here to buy XxX: 100 Poems from Little Island Press.

About the Publisher:

Little Island Press is an independent publisher of new and classic poetry, fiction and international literature in translation. Based in the UK, it is the work of a few dedicated individuals who believe that great literature survives in great books: each one a little island of its own.

Review by Mike James

Mike is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, researching trade union representation in contemporary poetry. He is also a poet, teacher and ex-comedian. He has lived and worked in South Korea, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Germany. None of these things inform his work. 






Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith

Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith

Baby X, by Rebecca Ann Smith: Mother’s Milk Books

Baby X looks at a near future where a baby is growing in an artificial womb. It personalises the science by telling the story through the voice of three women – Alex, the lead researcher, Karen, the ‘mother’ of Baby X, and Dolly, an assistant in the lab. (Dolly – wasn’t that the name of the first cloned sheep?) I write ‘mother’ in quotes, because Baby X has been created with a donor egg, and issues of parenthood, of motherhood are raised by this book. To sum up what happens, Alex goes on the run with the new baby, and as the book unfolds we gradually discover what has driven her to take this desperate step.


I read Baby X all through in a day, and at first I wondered if it was going to be a little slow, but I was gripped within the first few chapters. My sister picked up the book and did the same. Smith tells a complex story in a clear manner, and succeeds in taking us back and forth in the time line, from conception to present day to a future investigation into the project where Dolly is being interviewed. There is a mystery to unravel, and one action that appears to be the crime, while in fact another crime has taken place that is exposed piece by piece as we read through the book.

As the book progresses, the lead character, Alex, becomes more and more involved in her project, and we begin to doubt the integrity of her narration and the veracity of her actions. Has she lost the plot and stolen the baby, or are her concerns for the safety of Baby X justified? A potential anti-hero emerges, but, as with all good books he isn’t quite what he seems, and of course that means other characters have more to them than first appears. I guess my only let-down in the book is the denouement of the real villain towards the end: without spoiling the plot I felt the characterization was a little heavy handed.

There is always a challenge in melding science and story: the science must underpin the story unobtrusively. I probably have a greater interest in the science and medical part of the story than most people, but I’d say that Smith has the balance right. She has created a gripping story, in a world that isn’t too far from our own; she addresses questions of what might happen if in vitro fertilization becomes in vitro gestation in a compelling and plausible manner.

About the Publisher:

Mother’s Milk Books is a small, family-run press, which aims to celebrate femininity and empathy through images and words, with a view to normalizing breastfeeding.  Mother’s Milk Books receives no grant funding and the press survives purely through sales of books, cards and prints. The press was set up in 2011 and its first title Musings on Mothering, edited by Teika Bellamy, was published in September 2012. This charity anthology of art, poetry and prose about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding continues to raise funds for La Leche League GB, a breastfeeding support charity.

Click here to buy Baby X from Mothers Milk Books.

Review by Antonia Chitty

Antonia Chitty is an author of 20 nonfiction books and writes at

Ikon Birmingham

Ikon Birmingham

If you’re in Birmingham this Friday head over to Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace for the opening of three new exhibitions, including the literary-inspired For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge  by Philippine Hamen.

Friday 23rd September, 6-8pm

Exhibition Opening

Celebrate the opening of three new exhibitions – Žilvinas Kempinas,Sara Barker and Philippine Hamen: For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge 


Philippine Hamen, For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge (2015). Laminated beech, steel, upholstered foam.

French design student Philippine Hamen presents a new hybrid piece of furniture in Ikon’s Tower Room. It is inspired by David Lodge’s short story, The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up (first published in 1966), about a man who is tired of getting up every morning to live the same joyless life, day after day, until one morning he decides to stay where he is.

In reality, he didn’t love life anymore. The thought pierced him with a kind of thrill of despair. I no longer love life. There is nothing in life that gives me pleasure any more. Except this: lying in bed. And the pleasure of this is spoiled because I know I have to get up. Well, then, why don’t I just not get up? Because you’ve got to get up. You have a job. You have a family to support. Your wife has got up. Your children have got up. They have done their duty. You have to do yours. Yes, but it’s easy for them. They still love life. I don’t any more. I only love this: lying in bed.

The hero, or perhaps anti-hero, decides not to get up – ever. The consequences are unexpected, for himself and others. Hamen has made a “lounger desk” for Lodge’s character and in a sense for the writer whose imagination conceived him. With an appropriate ergonomic structure, including a ‘face hole’ usually found in massage tables, it enables the user to read or work lying face down and thereby questions the long-held association of verticality with the activity of work, whereas horizontality is mostly associated with idleness. Hamen’s lounger desk assuages any guilt we might feel when lying down, reconciling the work space with the domestic sphere.

Please note Ikon’s Tower Room is only accessible via a number of steps. The exhibition is supported by Fluxus Art Projects.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up and Other Stories by David Lodge is published by Vintage on 15 September and will be available from Ikon Shop or online at


Event: David Lodge and Philippine Hamen in conversation

Saturday 8 October, 4.30–7pm

£8 per person, £6.40 concessions Ikon Gallery and Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2ND

Booking essential.

Designer Philippine Hamen and writer David Lodge discuss Hamen’s work For The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up – Hommage to David Lodge at an event chaired by arts journalist Rosie Goldsmith. The event begins at 4.30pm at Ikon Gallery with a drinks reception and special viewing of the current exhibitions, followed by the talk at 6pm at the Library of Birmingham. To book visit or call 0121 245 4455.


Liberature : Literature in the Form of the Book

Liberature : Literature in the Form of the Book


Based in Krakow, Poland, Katarzyna Bazarnik and Zenon Fajfer are creating, curating, documenting and theorising a literary revolution : Liberature.  Since Fajfer coined the term in 1999 – which could be used not only to describe the kinds of works that he and Bazarnik were creating together but could also be applied retrospectively to works by writers such as James Joyce, Stephane Mallarme, William Blake and Laurence Sterne and equally applied to a range of more recent and contemporary works by writers such as B.S. Johnson and Jonathan Safran Foer – the couple have been prolific in producing, publishing and researching around this previously undocumented area of literary activity.

Katarzyna has published widely in academic contexts on Liberature, including the 2014 Incarnations of Material Textuality, and has a book forthcoming this year.  Zenon’s collected essays from 1999-2009 can be found here.  Together they edit and run the Liberature imprint at Krakow-based small publisher Korporacja Ha!art, which has published several notable works including the first publication in Poland of Raymond Queneau’s One Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, a specially-formatted version of Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des following the writer’s original directions for the text, and the first foreign translation of Nobel Prize winner Herta Muller’s Der Wächter nimmt seinen Kamm.  The Liberature imprint has also published works by B.S. Johnson, and publishes a range of liberatic works by Bazarnik and Fajfer themselves.

Liberature takes its name by replacing the Latin ‘liter’ (letter) with the Latin word for book, ‘liber’, which also means ‘free’.  

What distinguishes Liberature from literature is the focus on the form of the book as an integral element of communication within the structure of the whole.  Where generally the bound codex is rendered invisible – and in the digital age, almost obsolete – as simply the carrier of the message of the printed word, Liberature recognises and foregrounds the book’s physical materiality as a vital component of the literary work printed onto its pages.

What distinguishes Liberature from the Artist Book is that the primary focus is on the literary text in its relationship with the book object – the marriage of material form and literary content – where the Artist Book in general explores the possibilities of the book form without requiring specific literary content.

On 12th August, Joe and I met Katarzyna and Zenon at the Liberature Reading Room in Krakow where they showed us their collection and spoke about their work.  The Liberature Reading Room is a research resource housing books from their own personal collection, theoretical and scholarly publications, promotional material and press clippings, all related to contemporary and historical works that are considered to be works of liberature, or ‘liberatic’.


The book for which the term was coined, Oka-leczenie (2000), is formed of three interlinked codices bound together – a deliberate decision to present a physical experience of the book’s content in material form.  Spanning the stories of a death, a birth and an intermediary period between the two, the book can opened at the beginning of any of the three codices which never end but open onto one another in an intentionally endless cycle. Thus the book is no longer an invisible component, subordinate to the text in the communication of meaning, or at least intention.  In a work of Liberature, the material structure of the book is employed as an integral dimension of communication in the design of the text as a whole.  This, for those who have attempted it, is a radical act that questions some deeply held assumptions.

The focus of Western literary production and its critical reception has overwhelmingly been on the words of the text, rather than the design of the book as an object.  This echoes the cultural prejudice that has traditionally valued the intellectual over the physical.  The physicality of the book remains invisible and unquestioned, as it has largely been the intellectual work of the writer in creating the text that has been most valued.  In this way, it’s become easy to ‘lose yourself’ in a good story – the physical act of turning the pages becomes no interruption to the mental and intellectual act of reading the words and reconstructing an imaginary narrative.  But this kind of reading can neglect, or at worst negate, the body: the physical processes at work not only in the act of reading, but in the experience of being human.  To me, this replicates the age-old theological dichotomy between the body and the soul, which again demonises the former in favour of the latter.  Liberature aims at bringing the material form back into play, to foreground its relationship with the immaterial and raise questions about its role.

The codex form itself, far from being an innocuous and insignificant vehicle for the written word, developed at a culturally and spiritually significant point in time.  The first codices were Coptic – designed to encode the biblical narrative.  In the structure of the codex form, with its linear temporality and teleological focus, we can see the structure of the biblical narrative embodied in material form.  Every novel ever written and produced within this set of structures is to a greater or lesser degree reproducing the structure and story of the Bible.  Its structures and codes have dominated our narratives for so long that they are now an unconscious and unquestioned part of our lives, shaping the ways that we think, interpret and experience the world.

For these reasons and others, I believe it is the vital work of writers and artists to draw attention to and question our unconscious assumptions about the material form of the book.

In his ’emanational texts’ – the literary texts that become the content for the liberatic material forms – Fajfer goes further still in probing the relationship between the physical and the spiritual.  Each book contains both a visible text and an invisible text: the invisible text emanates from a close reading of the first letters of each word of the visible text, until only a single seed word remains.  The seed word becomes both the origin and the end point, or the birth and the death, of the visible text on the page.  In this way, both the visible and the invisible carry equal significance and weight, as each gives rise to the other.


An exploration of the relationship between the physical form of the book and the physical form of the body, and the energising of silent spaces in relationship with the word, are integral elements in the work of our book The Unfinished Dream, which we donated to Katarzyna and Zenon for the Liberature Reading Room while we were there.  It was exciting to discuss our work in the context of Liberature: particularly being told that The Unfinished Dream is a liberatic project in their opinion.  Overspilling the boundaries of the codex, The Unfinished Dream is also a performance and a film with each element of the project designed to foreground the relationship between the physical forms of the book and the body and the interrelationship between word and silence in speech and on the page.

The physical object of the book is a central concern of The Unfinished Dream.  The project explores the ways that the materiality of the book is ignored and made invisible at the expense of the words and ideas it contains, in a similar way to the relationship between the physical human body and the concepts and ideas that are generated by the mind.  The Unfinished Dream explores writing, drawing and creative practice as embodied, physical processes – processes that take place in, of and through the body, and which may be experienced physically, viscerally and emotionally by those who come into contact with them.  The foregrounded interrelationship between word and silence is intended to raise questions about the relationships between self and other, subject and object, writer and reader: creating a non-linear multiplicity that requires the collaboration of the reader to engender meaning.


In Fajfer’s words, Liberature is ‘total literature’ in which every aspect of literary production is engaged and controlled by the writer as a potentially meaningful component of the work.  I find the phrase ‘total literature’ difficult to subscribe to, due to the ways that I work with energising silence to co-create a text that overspills its pages and finds its meaning and its locus somewhere in the spaces between self and other, subject and object, writer and reader – it doesn’t reside in the pages of the book, and I as the writer am not fully in control of its meanings.  I asked about this while we were there and Katarzyna explained that the term comes from the idea of ‘total theatre’ in which all elements of theatrical production are employed to generate the overall effect.  Total literature is intended to reflect this all-encompassing method of production, and not to be conflated with totalising.  This is something I understand, but still find uncomfortable in its terminology.  For me the defining phrases ‘spatio-temporal literature’ (p62), or simply ‘literature in the form of the book’ describe the work and impact of Liberature adequately, whilst avoiding the complication of unintended ideological connotations.

In the UK, the London-based small publisher Visual Editions has published a number of works that could be considered liberatic, employing the spatio-temporal aspect of literature and constituting literature in the form of the book, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of CodesKapow by Adam Thirlwell, and a redesigned contemporary edition of Tristram Shandy.  

It was incredibly inspiring and energising to meet with Katarzyna and Zenon to discuss Liberature, and we’re grateful to them for their generosity and their genuine interest in our work as well as the vibrant and animated conversations we had that sparked so many ideas.  We hope to continue the conversation for many years to come.

Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally is researching for a PhD in utopian theory and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, and works as the research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press project.  The Unfinished Dream is a collaborative project between Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans.