I bought a stack of old hardcovers at a church sale in a tiny Wisconsin town. I picked them for their covers or illustrations within or, sometimes, the title on the spine. I chose them with the thought that I could make something new out of them.
We Three is a reading primer for children. I picked it for the three kids printed on the cover and the cookie-cutter illustrations of conformist WW2-era American life throughout.
As I set about ripping out and defacing the book’s pages, I occasionally stopped to read random phrases. In the four previous collage books I made, I rarely left printed text from the book I was using as an armature, or staging area, visible. But something about the simple phrases about Mother or Father or children kept grabbing at me as I glued construction paper and my own childhood art onto the pages. I started scribbling and painting out half paragraphs; leaving a sentence or two per page. Sometimes I’d paste in text from elsewhere to sort of match up with or contradict these primer words.
The more I did it, the more I wondered how coherent a string of sentences I wanted. Some pages started looking like blackout poetry. I’d flip back to the start and read it as if it was a story. But in the end I wasn’t interested in revealing a set meaning. These sentences are frosting on the cake, not the filling. If you read it cover to cover, no mystery will be revealed to you. Maybe a couple laughs or eye-rolls, but that’s about it.
“New Attack Words” came from the series of vocabulary tables in the back of the book. I only noticed the phrase when I was coming to the end. As I said before, I didn’t read this book before mangling it. Would early-reading teachers use terminology like this now? Unlikely. We “attack” differently these days.
I’m still getting my sea legs with this way of working. I don’t know all the notes, all the rules. Still only making an alphabet. But this book pushed me further into considering what the recycled remnants I build the collage books out of demand. I chose these neglected, discarded hardcovers intentionally. When I see them in thrift stores or church sales, they speak to me and what they say demands thinking about.
As I add bits of my past to the past printed on their pages, I’m hoping to make something present.
See the whole book here.
— Summer of Soul is the most joyous thing I’ve seen in a long time. The concerts were filmed the same year as Woodstock, but inexplicably forgotten for fifty years. Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, Sly & the Family Stone, The Staples Singers, and much more of the best music of the time. I loved every second.