STARK WEEK EPISODE #2: “Off the Top Rope” — Matt Bollinger on collaboration with Sampson Starkweather
For Episode Two of STARK WEEK, we hear from Matt Bollinger, who designed and drew the front and back covers of The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather.
Sampson wrote to me early last December to ask if I would make a cover for his book. “I’m very busy,” I summarily replied but in less summary and more polite terms. Because of a new full-time teaching job and an impending solo exhibition, I felt there was no way I would possibly have the time to make a cover. The next email I received from him came like a sudden summer storm (particularly strange in the final week of a wintering semester) complete with simultaneous heavy raindrops and sunshine. He supplied approximately 43 ideas for the cover, including examples from the history of fantastic poetry covers. Here’s an example:
“A note about Andre the Giant off the top rope: this is actually an image that doesn’t exist, which is why it’s appealing to me, the unknown, what only lives in the imagination…so to my knowledge, Andre the Giant has never jumped from the top rope, but god, how i longed to see that; (i’ll send you the poem about it), but in my imagination, i love the image of the 7’5 almost 600 pound flying through the air Jimmy-Supafly-Snuka-style, althought i’m thinking the image would only be part of him or his silhouette, or partly his enormous shadow….”
A few days after the semester ended when I was in rural Illinois staying in the log cabin where my fiancé grew up, I found myself making numerous studies for the cover. It seemed that I was going to design the thing after all. Sampson, like his neck-brace wearing alter ego from the sectional cover of Self Help Poems, is impossible to say “no” to. Of course, I realized that I couldn’t possibly have let this chance go by. I felt too much of a kinship with his poetry. In my painting-collages, I grapple with a similar intersection between memories (possibly misremembered) and the present moment; between romantic hopefulness and a self-conscious criticality that withers nostalgia. Sampson puts it well in Self Help Poems:
Nintendo always felt more real than life. Simple yet somehow beautiful worlds, constantly breaking down, designed, whether intended or not, as pixilated avatars of hope. Old school video games are perfect precisely because of how unreal they are. They don’t try to teach you anything, except if you see a hammer, you better grab it.
The process of designing the cover was definitely collaborative. In my recent exhibition at Zürcher Studio in New York, I collaborated with a number of poets, Farrah Field, Alina Gregorian, Steven Karl, and Paige Taggart, who supplied texts for collages I made that depicted notebooks (Dan Magers handled the editing process). This project readied me for the onslaught of fantastic ideas that Sampson and I power-spiked back and forth (not unlike a twisted game of dodge ball where the only defense against the red rubber ball hurtling at face-bash speed is to slam it with your best haymaker).
When developing the images for the front and back covers, Sampson and I discussed Andre the Giant, Louis Zukofsky, “guerrilla underground hand-drawn poetry press style”, LARPing, Nintendo and Mickey Rourke among other things. Sampson had become obsessed with both the coat of arms and a large number 4 modeled after the “A” on Zukofsky’s famous cover. While we tried out a number of variations (see below), we went with the big 4 on the front and the coat of arms on the back.
I had the idea that the coat of arms should spawn from the inner selves of the various personas in his books and arrived at the hobo-TV-fire, the well (Sampson’s idea), the butterfly, and the grabbable hammer mentioned above. We hoped that his cover would resemble an older generation of much coveted books, the sort grabbed hungrily and pressed to the chest in basement bookstores or, more likely, found wrapped in a banana leaf on the shore of a distant island, the same far-away shore where you might find yourself 300 years in the future founding a religion who worships that sacred number: 4.
Matt Bollinger is an artist who lives in Peekskill, NY. He has exhibited extensively in the U.S. and France. In March 2013, he had his most recent solo show, Bed on the Floor, at Zürcher Studio in NYC. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and has been written about in Le Monde, Elephant Magazine, Anthem Magazine, and elsewhere. He is represented by Zürcher Studio, New York, NY. www.mattbollinger.com
WEEKS: A lot can kill you in a week. Even more can eat you at your weakness. A whole week of hair growth depends on, uh, genetics? Weeks contain a finite series of burritos and an infinite burrito of choices. Hoopla, regrets, collapses, dancing so hard you have to pour a cup of ice water on your dome, other times that feeling like you have to drag yourself so hard by your own collar your shirt might tear. Huge trucks at night carrying turned-off, unblinking versions of those normally blinking signs that say CONSTRUCTION AHEAD or SLOW LANE ENDS, except the signs are big so the trucks themselves say OVERSIZED LOAD and are blinking, themselves, even though their cargo’s dark. What I would like to do is nominate Sampson Starkweather to rewrite the entirety of America’s highway marginalia, to be the official roadside spokespoet for all of America’s restless feelings. I don’t have shit to do with those decisions, so what is happening instead is that this week will be Sampson Starkweather week here at HTMLGIANT, aka STARK WEEK.
THE BOOK: Sampson’s debut book of poems, The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather, is out now from Birds LLC. It’s really big. Like almost 400 pages. Who does that? It’s what it says it is. 4 books. All the feelings enacted in the opening paragraph happen inside of its four books, which are categorized as “poetry/life.” Sure, yes, yeah.
WHAT’S IN IT: It’s a book I’d give to someone just coming to poetry and to someone who feels totally burnt out on poetry. Those are kind of the same readers, I think. That’s why the whole week. Starkweather’s poetry is the existence of a nonexistent photograph of Andre the Giant jumping off the top rope. In his introduction, Jared White mentions “bass-voiced sexy soul-singer slow jams” and “punch-drunk Harlequin-robocop masculinity.” The poems have angry leaked dreams and love before roads and a pistol-whipped desire and the world’s saddest TV and offensive hurricane names and corpses wrapped in huge tropical leaves on islands named after them and that’s just in the poems you can read on the excerpt page.
WTF IS GOING ON: Over the course of this week, we’re going to feature a series of guests talking about Sam’s work in each of the books within T4B—1) King of the Forest, 2) La La La, 3) The Waters, 4) Self Help Poems—and also we’re going to hear from the awesome artists who made the covers for each of these four books. There will be criticism, talk of process, grand sweeping theories, tiny insightful scalpels. You’ll get to read some of Sam’s poetry. There will be some talk of what goes into, in 2013, putting out a 400 page book of your poems that is actually 4 books. Maybe there will be some interaction, multimedia, surprise. Buy a copy of the book if you want to follow along closely. I promise it won’t feel like being stuck on a brokedown bus at a rest stop in Connecticut. There are poems that feel like that, but not in this book. Here’s a list of who’s coming at you: Matt Bollinger, Ed Park, Bianca Stone, John Cotter, Melissa Broder, Eric Amling, Elisa Gabbert, Jonathan Marshall, Amy Lawless, Sommer Browning, and Jared White.
WHO IS SAMPSON STARKWEATHER ANYWAY, IS HE THAT GUY WHO DID THAT THING GUYS DO: The reason a lot of people want to share and talk about Sam’s huge ass tree-killer is because he and his work (which are impossible to unspoon from each other, which is how it should be) is like getting the best high five of your life from Teen Wolf. He is loved and easy to love and easy to mistake in rural supermarkets for Javier Bardem. He’s a longhaired poet surfer with a heart of messy pizza and manic kindness. Thank the exhausted fucking stars he is with us and with poetry. Enjoy STARK WEEK.
HOW DOES STARK WEEK BEGIN: To begin STARK WEEK, I talked to Starkweather:
1) Hi Sam. Welcome to Stark Week. This is how it starts, with an interview of you. Our interview starts with the “who is Sampson Starkweather and what’s going on, what is this stuff all over my arms, is this sap” portion of the interview. So let’s start at the start. Four books? Why? Why buck the prevailing model of slim little precious supermodel books? More importantly, why buck it in this beautifully thunking doorstop fashion?
Sorry about the sap “this forest / is unusually horny.”
In the end it came down to precisely the opposite of your question: “Why not?” Why not 4 books in 1? Why not a 328 page monster poetry collection that sounds like a seminal lifetime work by some famous, award-winning, about-to-die poet who now tends a garden, published by some big-ass conglomerate press like Penguin, but is actually by some dude with a ridiculous name that no one has heard of (and sounds like a character from Game of Thrones) and has yet to publish a full-length book, on a small indie poetry press that, oh yeah, he just happens to be a publisher/founding-editor of? It seemed ridiculous, audacious, absurd, unheard of, taboo, laughable—in other words, perfect.
July 15th, 2013 / 1:28 pm