27 September 2023
Open to interpretation
Ouvert Oeuvre: Openings & Touching in the Wake of the VirusPoems by Adeena Karasick. Visualized by Warren Lehrer. Price $28.95. Published by Lavender Ink, New Orleans, Louisiana, US
A typographic and literary collaboration between Warren Lehrer and Adeena Karasick dramatises responses to the pandemic. Review by Amy Henry
Ouvert Oeuvre: Openings & Touching in the Wake of the Virus is a striking publication that gives voice (and form) to the challenges, triumphs, interactions and realisations of our post-pandemic world, writes Amy Henry.
In this engaging hardback, writer, designer and book artist Warren Lehrer has visually staged powerful lines by poet, performer and cultural theorist Adeena Karasick. Raw emotions and meaning jump off the page in stirring alliterations, capturing observations made throughout the years of lockdowns and transitions caused by Covid-19.
Introductory spread from Ouvert Oeuvre: Openings & Touching in the Wake of the Virus.
Top. Adeena Karasick in performance.
With a nod to concrete poetry, Lehrer creates a distinct textual rhythm that calls to the reader, emphasising and vocalising Karasick’s evocative wordplay. The chaos, pain, hope and connections (or absence of) experienced during the pandemic are inescapable in these playful visualisations. The reader is engaged, actively participating in the experience as the words and layouts investigate human interactions in ever-evolving environments.
The book is divided into two sections, each featuring an extended poem. The first comprises seven ‘openings’ signified by large roman numerals. In the first there is a statistic that expresses the global reach of the virus: ‘As of 23.03.23 663 million worldwide have been exposed.’
Despite the potentially sombre subject matter, Lehrer’s typographic explorations lighten the tone of the book, making it instantly engaging for the reader. In ‘Opening III’, the spreads (below) include numerous bold ‘o’s among the regular sans letters, encouraging the reader (unwittingly) to form a round shape with their mouth as they read.
The second section, Touching in the Wake of the Virus (a ‘Panddendum’) focuses on navigating connections. With a nod to Jaques Derrida’s On Touching, the poem expresses ‘how touch is fundamental to being human’, with spreads in which Lehrer plays with the poem’s vocal exploration using angles, distinct partitions and connections.
The publication comes to a close with an invitation to read the poems again, this time with an audio component. The reader is presented with a QR code that links to another collaboration – this time with Grammy-award winning composer and musician Frank London. These powerful recordings, delivered with such fervour by Karasick, can be found here.
The carefully produced book is section-sewn and stamped with three different foils on a three-piece hardcover binding. It is offset printed on acid-free ultra-black paper and published by Lavender Ink in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ouvert Oeuvre: Openings & Touching in the Wake of the Virus demonstrates the crafting of a sensory experience and will interest anyone with an appetite for linguistic and typographic experimentation. It evokes the chaos of Covid yet, as the authors say, ‘The poems foreground language as an organism of hope’.
Karasick and Lehrer (above) will be celebrating the launch of Ouvert Oeuvre: Openings at the New York City based Center for Book Arts on 6 October 2023 at 7pm (EST). The in-person event will feature a performance / reading, followed by a moderated conversation with the duo. There will also be food, drink and a book signing.
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