Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

30 OCTOBER, 2012

Grapefruit: Yoko Ono’s Poems, Drawings, and Instructions for Life

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“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.”

In 1964, more than a decade after the publication of her tender story An Invisible Flower, Yoko Ono collected a selection of her poetic meditations on life in a small but whimsical book published in Tokyo in a limited edition of 500. More than thirty years later, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings by Yoko Ono (public library) — part irreverent activity book for grown-ups, part subversive philosophy for life — was republished, with a new introduction by Ono herself. Here’s just a small taste of this immensely delightful tiny treasure:

A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality.

AIR TALK

It’s sad that the air is the only thing we share.
No matter how close we get to each other,
there is always air between us.

It’s also nice that we share the air,
No matter how far apart we are
the air links us.

from Lisson Gallery brochure ’67

MIRROR PIECE

Instead of obtaining a mirror,
obtain a person.
Look into him.
Use different people.
Old, young, fat, small, etc.

1964 spring

MAP PIECE

Draw an imaginary map.
Put a goal mark on the map where you
want to go.
Go walking on an actual street according
to your map.
If there is no street where it should be
according to the map, make one by putting
the obstacles aside.
When you reach the goal, ask the name of
the city and give flowers to the first
person you meet.
The map must be followed exactly, or the
event has to be dropped altogether.

Ask your friends to write maps.
Give your friends maps.

1962 summer

CITY PIECE

Step in all the puddles in the city.

1963 autumn

COLOR PIECE

Visual world not exactly shaped –
Sense of smell, anticipation, senses that
are not exactly shaped —
Dark shadows casted –
Rat colors with faint hairly smells and pale
dark spots like those on a transparent sheet
of celluloid –
Rose color with a glitter and softness that
is cool and motional –
The kind of color that does not exist by
itself but only when it is casted between
two moving objects –
The color like a remaining stain of illusion
on a moving object –
The color that only happens when movements
cut the air in a certain way and go immediately.
Use such color to tint your absent thoughts.
Have absent thoughts for a long time.

1964 summer

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29 OCTOBER, 2012

Stunning Black & White Engravings by Ian Hugo from Anaïs Nin’s Hand-Printed Under a Glass Bell, 1944

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Stunning artwork from a hand-made book that presages modern self-publishing entrepreneurship.

Anaïs Nin may have become best-known and celebrated for her remarkable diaries and letters spanning more than six decades, but she also published a number of short stories and novels. It wasn’t until the publication of the short-story collection Under a Glass Bell (public library) in 1944 that Nin’s work began to garner attention from the literary pantheon, propelled by a favorable review in The New Yorker by Edmund Wilson, whom Nin qualified in her diary as “the highest authority among the critics.”

But the book’s story itself is a fascinating piece of cultural history and a heartening, timely exemplar of everything from self-publishing to woman-led entrepreneurship to the maker movement.

In 1942, when Nin couldn’t find a publisher for the book in an industry bent under the weight of wartime financial pressures, she started her own publishing house, Gremor Press, in a small loft on Macdougal Street in New York. She taught herself typesetting and fell in love with the letterpress. Her husband, banker-turned-artist Hugh Parker Gulier, who went by the artistic pseudonym Ian Hugo, created all the line-on-copper engravings for the book, and Nin herself set the type by hand. She eventually printed 300 copies in the first edition, sold via an innovative subscription model, which sold out in three weeks, and another 100 a second edition.

I was recently fortunate enough to hunt down one of the few surviving original hand-printed copies and have scanned Hugo’s stunning engravings for your viewing pleasure:

The book comes complete with an endearing typo in the endnote, a souvenir of the humanness that brought this handmade book to life:

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29 OCTOBER, 2012

Sylvia Plath Reads “A Birthday Present”: A Rare 1962 Recording

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“I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year. / After all I am alive only by accident.”

Sylvia Plath’s is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in modern literary history. How does a creature so breathlessly and earnestly in love with the world, in love with art, and in love with love come to take her own life?

In October of 1962, mere months before her death, Plath recorded herself reading “A Birthday Present,” written the previous month and later included in her beloved poetry collection Ariel. The recording was one of several broadcasts Plath participated in for BBC’s celebrated series “The Poet’s Voice” and survives on The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. With lines like “I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year. / After all I am alive only by accident. / I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way,” the poem stops you dead in your tracks as you absorb the quiet catastrophe of Plath’s fate and simultaneously behold the all-too-human, universal terror that birthdays stir in all of us, that subtle but inevitable reminder of our own mortality. And yet — “sweetly, sweetly” — perhaps you’re moved to reach for, to choose, a different truth, the one 18-year-old Sylvia knew when she wrote, “I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have.”

A Birthday Present

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,

Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.

Thanks, Natascha

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