Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Fragile

1977



Project Statement


Fragile was printed as a protest and assertion. I had begun working at the West Coast Print Center in the winter 1975-76 and had met an enormous number of young writers, poets, and publishers. My sense of myself as a writer changed dramatically in that environment. The poets around me challenged me to define the project of my work, and to position myself within a lineage of poets. I had always been more of a prose writer, and my sense of literary identity and history were far more clear to me within those traditions, but I had written poems quite extensively in the early 1970s, finding the condensed form, shorter lines, deliberate form of their structures conducive to a certain discipline. This book was published on my birthday in 1977, at least, it was printed all on that day, out of a desire to show that I had a history to my own writing. At that time, to be able to point to work that was five years old or more seemed a measure of maturity and development. I distributed the book among the poets I knew, to make them aware of that history. Did it make any difference? Not really, not to their perception of me. I was hard at work on From A to Z in that summer, and that work was so completely, obsessively focused on exposing aspects of that scene that Fragile felt like a small thing, which it was, even to me. No one much knew that I was working on A to Z, and that, after all, is another story and belongs in another file. I certainly felt the poems in Fragile demonstrated my relation to language poetry, even written as they were before I had met any of the poets so intent on defining themselves and their work under that rubric.


Production Narrative


This book was printed using Stymie light in 12 point, from John McBride's collection (unless I had purchased the type from him by then, which I think may have been the case). It was set and printed all in one day, my birthday, in 1977. I was in a very funny mood, and seem to remember that I went and ate a hamburger afterwards and that it was the first meat I had eaten for five years, since the time I had met and fallen in love with and lived with my first boyfriend. We had parted two years earlier, but I'd kept the vegetarian habits. In any case, the book felt like a landmark to me, a milestone of sorts, ritualistically produced as a sign of maturity. I was turning 25, and the roundness of that number felt monumental. I was keen to show who I was, what I had done, as well as what I was doing. Spending that quiet Memorial Day alone at the Press was extremely important to me, a kind of consolidation of autonomy and self-determination captured in the printed work of those pages. I was exhausted at the end, totally, riding my bike back to Oakland through the quiet holiday streets. But the rush of exhilaration at having determined to do something and having done it, all at once, buoyed me. The paper was all offcuts from the Print Center, and the cardboard was just scrap. The only production costs were the labels, "Fragile," and they cost me about $5, which was somewhat appalling to me at the time (I think I paid $120 a month for rent, lived on another $60 a month, and was saving desperately for a planned trip in the fall).


Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: Simple Stymie light, typeset in conventional form, delicate on the pages, as suited the texts.

graphical: A clean, light layout as a presentation that stressed the texts in legible, accessible form.

openings: The book was assembled into an accordion fold strip.

structure: Accordion fold

Critical Discussion

Fragile is definitely a work of juvenilia, but the work isn't immature. The writing is sophisticated, but a bit abstract, allusive, rather than direct. Even the sense of these as personal texts would be easy to miss given the complexity of their composition. They speak from rather than about the difficulties of late adolescent shyness and are very much the expression of perception and sensation. The presentation suits the works, echoing their peculiar floating disconnect from any particular tradition, and also, their lightness, delicacy.

Detailed Analysis

"How at once pale and opaque / ten-year recollection of a glass-paned afternoon/ sensation still formed, pre-articulate, and she was frightened behind the reptile, in her small space" or "I live in blue with my dear sisters, beatitude and quietude." These lines stay with me, shot through with memory and girlish sensitivity, the images of a life in Philadelphia and its longings and frustrations.

Work

Agents

Johanna Drucker

type: initiating

role:
author
printer

Publication Information

publisher: Chased Press

dates:
publication: 1977-05-30

publication history: This book was printed in a single edition, all at once, and none of the work in the book was printed in any other form or published elsewhere.

Aesthetic Profile

movement:
language poetry (local)

subject:
artists' books (LCSH)
late adolescence

themes: The poems do have a theme, which is shyness and the edges of sexual awareness, dream life and sensitivity, a certain fear and withdrawn-ness that was still the residue of teen traumas.

content form:
poetry (AAT)

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)

inspiration: These poems were written when I first arrived in California and was living at the Hillegass house with a group of students from Berkeley. They introduced me to many things, and the California life of the early 1970s -- drugs, rock and roll, sybaritic indulgence, all filled with expansive, exuberant promise and possibility -- was a revelation and inspiration.

related works: Very little of my other work is like this, since that period of my writing life was characterized by a peculiar combination of self-consciousness, awareness, and naivete. I don't think I ever wrote anything so personal again ever, having moved quickly away from such expressions of interiority and into the other strains of writing that characterize the bulk of my work -- news fictions, dark comic commentary, studies of narrative, and works about language through visuality. This book is related to none of these, though the voice and style of composition obviously have continuities with other works.

other influences: I had read the entire work of Carl Jung when I arrived in California, all nineteen or whatever volumes. These had an enormous effect on my interior life, particularly the imagery of dream life and drug life. Lingering effects of Edna St. Vincent Millay (awful, but true, in the sentimental tone), a bit of Sylvia Plath (all that personal interiority), some Colette in the details and sensuality of observation.

community: other The community for the writing of this work was twofold: the group house I lived in and the creative writing classes at CCAC in the early 1970s. Betsy Davids was an important figure in my life, and showing her this work and having her respond to it was a major affirmation that I was a writer. The community for publishing this work as a book was the West Coast Print Center and a broad group of poets in the Bay Area in the later 1970s.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: The poems were taken from a much longer manuscript, all of which I still have, that was filled with drug images, ramblings, dreams, and these curiously cryptic personal poems.

General Comments

title note: A heading on the inside of the front cover reads: "Selected writing: 1971." [A. Schutte]


Edition

Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Chased Press

place: Berkeley, California at the West Coast Print Center

dates:
publication: 1977-05-30

Measurements

horizontal: 6.3 inches closed

vertical: 6.3 inches closed

depth: .2 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
letterpress (local)

binding: other Unbound--accordion fold.

substrate:
bookBlock: paper

media:
ink (local)

Appearance

format: accordion (AAT)

cover: The covers are two pieces of brown cardboard. A piece of string is attaced to the front cover by a red sticker with white writing that reads: "Fragile Handle with Care." The string can be wrapped around the work and tied in a bow to hold it closed.

color: no

Content

pagination: unpaginated 12 pages

numbered?: unnumbered

signed?: unsigned

Colophon

none