Practice 2 Four Monologues: Studio Research

Practice 2
Studio Research from the Center for Book and Paper Arts
Four Monologues:
A New Publication Series Begins
Cover illustration for Four Monologues.
Below, the opened book showing the pouch
armature with the individual monologues
As a class project, students in Clifton Meador’s fall 2011 MFA Print Media
class were given an unpublished manuscript of four monologues from a play called
The Laws of Light, by Aram Saroyan, which they were to design, print, bind and
publish in an edition. The project culminated in 300 copies of a carefully designed
and engineered codex book structure, the main feature of which was a laser-cut
armature of four pouches, each containing a monologue. The Center for Book and
Paper Arts has published Four Monologues under its Epicenter imprint. As a satellite
project, four student actors from the Columbia College Theatre Department, under the direction of Professor Brian Shaw, performed the monologues on January
25, 2012, at the Poetry Foundation auditorium in downtown Chicago. The author
met with students, introduced the performance, and delivered a lecture as part of a
visit to Columbia College. This document describes the stages and outcomes of the
Four Monologues project.
Center for Book and Paper Arts
May, 2012
From the Series Editor
I’ve always believed that an essential part of a poet’s
education is to become a publisher. My own first work was
published in two chapbooks that I designed and printed
many years ago, assisted by a very bemused print shop
employee in Providence, Rhode Island, who taught me
about paper size, binding, typesetting, and much else.
When every syllable of a poem — and each extravagance
of the imagination — costs you money, and you don’t
have a lot of money, you learn something tactile and real
about Pound’s slogan, “dichten = condensare”—”to compose poetry is to condense.” I got an ISBN number, called
myself The Smoke Shop Press (because I lived then above
a smoke shop), and the rest was not history.
But I learned a lot. And when I cut my editorial teeth
later on at such places as Partisan Review, Salamander, and
Harvard Review, what I knew about layout and printing
gave embodiment to such fantasies I had about being an
editor, let alone being a writer. Then, too, that phrase
about how New Directions books were “published for
James Laughlin” lingered deliciously.
Poetry has a staff of five people to put out a monthly
literary magazine, and we still design, copyedit, proofread, and typeset the thing by ourselves. But obviously
the mechanics of literary publishing have come a long
Jenny Garnett proudly shows off a completed cover enclosure, accompanied
by fellow MFA candidates Elizabeth Gilder, Chris Saclolo, and Michelle
Graves during the hand-binding process.
way since I spent those many hours in the back room of
a small shop with a printing press in front of me and ink
all over my hands and clothes: we have all kinds of online systems to take us far away from ink, Xacto blades,
paste, and dangerous machinery. Yet paper and ink, at
present, is still with us, and the romance lingers. And
it’s not enough to live your life behind a computer screen
and think of poems as consisting of printed out sheets of
word-processed documents.
Not long ago, through poetry, a shared love of Artie
Shaw, and having a publisher in common, Aram Saroyan
— one of my heroes! — and I became friends. He let me
see a work entitled Four Monologues, which he called exfoliations on the relationships among Boris Pasternak,
Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Nahdezda
Mandelstam. The monologues, along with a translation
of Mandelstam’s poem on Stalin, are from a play called
The Laws of Light. It kindled something in me, and I don’t
mean Kindle — I instantly knew I wanted to see this
work into the world.
I talked to my ingenious colleague Fred Sasaki, who
connected me with our Printers’ Ball collaborators at the
Columbia College Chicago Center for Book & Paper Arts.
When I brought the monologues to the legendary Steve
Woodall and Clifton Meador, it was just a great notion. But the next thing I
knew we had a project to involve their talents and those of their brilliant students to design and produce a book. Everybody went away to think for a while.
And with Aram’s extremely generous blessing, the students came up with
something unaccountably apt and beautiful: a hand-printed, hand-sewn book
consisting of four pockets, bound together, holding each piece of the work. The
book makes tangible, as does Aram’s piece, the poignant fact that these four
writers were both brought together by writing and the printed page and separated tragically by the events of history.
We decided to use the imprint at the Center that also publishes such notable
things as the Journal of Artists’ Books: Epicenter. And now the first copies in an
edition of 300 have been assembled and are selling all over the country. Photos
alone, as they say, cannot do the book, or Aram’s writing, justice. I hope anybody reading this will locate a copy of the book, in which so many dreams have
been fulfilled.
I want to thank Fred, Steve, Clifton, and the gifted, dedicated crew who put
their skills to work on the project: Jenny Garnett, Boo Gilder, Michelle Graves,
Hannah King, Jackie McGill, Jenna Rodriguez, Christopher Saclolo, and Claire
Sammons. I’m grateful to all of them for letting me be their catalyst in bringing
poetry, printing, theater, and history together.
Above all, of course, it’s history that counts. As explained in the introduction to the book, Mandelstam was arrested in Moscow in 1934 for writing that
poem denouncing Stalin.
“Barely avoiding execution — thanks in large part to the efforts on his behalf of Boris Pasternak and a number of others — he was exiled to Voronezh. In
1937, he was allowed to return to Moscow; then in 1938 he was rearrested and
was last seen in December of that year, feeding off the garbage heap of a transit
camp near Vladivostok at the far eastern end of Russia.”
We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches…
But in books, we remember.
—Don Share, Senior Editor, Poetry magazine
Monologue folios: Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Nadezhda Mandelstam.
Assembled pieces slowly come together to create the complete work.
The group of artists, CCC students, faculty, curator,
and organizers in Caracas.
Introduction to Four Monologues
During the years when Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union, Boris Pasternak, the poet and author of the epic
novel Doctor Zhivago, lived a hard life,
though not as hard as the lives of the
three comparable poets of his day—
Osip Mandelstam, who died during
the purge year of 1937 while still in
his forties; Anna Akhmatova, who survived the murder of her husband and
the imprisonment of her son to live to
the relatively old age of 76; and Marina Tsvetaeva, who went into exile and
then returned on the eve of the Second
World War, only to hang herself a few
months after her repatriation.
Pasternak was a man who seemed
by a benign destiny that eludOsip Mandelstam, circa 1934
ed the other three. “Leave that cloud
dweller alone,” Stalin is supposed to have decreed vis à vis Pasternak to his underlings, who went about making hell
and havoc for anyone else who dared to keep the artist’s penchant for equivocation, ambiguity, irresolution, and in
essence the delicacy of a pre-revolutionary self alive. Socialist realism, the art that would implant the proper ideals
and ambitions in the Russian people en masse, was the usual travesty that ensues when government decides to dictate
consciousness. Imagine if Jesse Helms had instructed Bernard Malamud or John Updike on how to write. Unfortunately, the scene seems less remote than one might hope. But in Russia it happened programatically and with lethal
repercussions for disobeying orders or, perhaps more accurately, for not falling into proper psychological alignment.
In the year 1926, before Stalin had both hands on the wheel of state, Tsvetaeva and Pasternak and Rainer Maria
Rilke were in ecstatic three-way correspondence. As a young woman Akhmatova had lived in Paris where she sat for
a Modigliani drawing. Later she allied herself with Mandelstam and the poetic school of acmeism, an antidote to
symbolism not unlike the imagism Pound found in the work of his former University of Pennsylvania classmate, H.D.
[Hilda Doolittle]. Here were the true Russian modernists of their generation—but the curve of history lay directly in
their paths, and how they dealt with it is one of the central dramas of the age.
One aspect of the story is how these poets, all with Jewish origins, variously embraced Christianity. Fated to walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, they seemed to find as much or more in the religion banished by
the Communist state than in their own, which had never been welcomed
in their country. Here is a striking passage of dialogue from an early page of
Doctor Zhivago:
…Now what is history? It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle
of death, with a view to overcoming death. That’s why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that’s why they write symphonies. Now,
you can’t advance in this direction without a certain faith. You can’t make such
discoveries without spiritual equipment. And the basic elements of this equipment are in the Gospels. What are they? To begin with, love of one’s neighbor,
which is the supreme form of vital energy. Once it fills the heart of man it has to
overflow and spend itself. And then the two basic ideals of modern man—without them he is unthinkable—the idea of free personality and the idea of life as
sacrifice. Mind you, all this is still extraordinarily new. There was no history in
this sense among the ancients. They had blood and beastliness and cruelty and
pockmarked Caligulas who had no idea of how inferior the system of slavery is.
They had the boastful dead eternity of bronze monuments and marble columns.
It was not until after the coming of Christ that time and man could breathe freely. It was not until after Him that men began to live toward the future. Man does
not die in a ditch like a dog—but at home in history, while the work toward the
conquest of death is in full swing; he dies sharing in this work. Ouf! I got quite
worked up, didn’t I? But I might as well be talking to a blank wall.
So the character, a minor one in the narrative, pulls himself up short, but
in the meantime one can’t help harboring the suspicion that one has been
eavesdropping on the poet Pasternak in a striking ventriloquil episode.
Zhivago wasn’t a character to everyone’s liking—by some he was considered
a bit passive—but the book as a whole effectively broke the cold war’s Iron
Curtain. People all over the world fell in love with the massive ensemble
of players with their myriad intertwined destinies, and perhaps even
more with the Russian landscape, evoked even in translation with touches of
unmistakable genius.
Here was a great modernist writer who effectively abandoned modernism to
write a huge nineteenth century-style novel and simultaneously poems which
put aside a natural gift for the striking image for an even more satisfying accuracy. The natural object itself is always the adequate symbol, so Ezra Pound
and William Carlos Williams had instructed. And Pasternak in remote Russia
seemed to hear them more clearly than anyone else. When the Weather Clears,
Pasternak’s last poems, was about exactly that, a clearing after a storm—and
also about the thaw that occurred when Khrushchev replaced Stalin and, in
the final years of his life, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.
During the same period I read Doctor Zhivago I came across Amanda Haight’s
groundbreaking and, in its own terms, unsurpassable literary biography, Anna
Akhmatova. I was never engaged by Akhmatova’s writing to the same degree as
I was by Pasternak’s, but she has emerged through memoirs as the most lovable
of the quartet, and lines she has uttered in conversation, recalled by memoirists, have the indelible ring of psychological and historical benchmarks. “How
Mandelstam’s poem on Stalin.
Saroyan at the Columbia College Chicago
Theatre Department’s open rehearsal for
Four Monologues.
can you argue with your own biography?” she said. And:
“Only someone who has listened to the radio in Russia
for the last 25 years really understands Communism.”
Both Pasternak and Ahkmatova, it should be said,
along with Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva, had been in their
pre-revolutionary youth the equivalent of rock stars.
Their readings took place in huge venues and were sold
out. Akhamatova had been a slender aristocratic beauty
who wrote clipped, cryptic love lyrics that have a parallel
of sorts in H.D.’s early work. She cut a figure, both physically and poetically.
Two decades later, standing in the freezing cold in
a long line of people at the gates of Lubianka prison
waiting to get packages to their imprisoned loved ones,
Akhmatova, who was waiting to get a package to her imprisoned son, was recognized by a woman ahead of her in
the line who turned around to face her.
“Can you write this?” the woman asked.
“I can,” Akhmatova said.
Probably we can date her transformation to that direct commission from an anonymous Russian woman
on behalf of all the people suffering through wave after
wave of Stalinist terror, which would result in her epic
“Requiem.” By the time her young protégé Joseph Brodsky knew her, Akhmatova retained only her aristocratic
nose. The rest of her had turned into a rotund peasant
woman, albeit with a face full of the candor and light of
one who knew the worst and still delighted in people.
At one point Brodsky, this outspoken poet who professed himself a non-believer, refers to Akhmatova as an
exemplary Christian. Indeed, it’s as if these poets under
siege by Stalin found in their own self-styled Christianity a kind of physics of emotional and psychological survival. Or so we might say, anyway, of the two survivors,
Pasternak and Akhmatova.
Terrorism of this vintage seemed to work in a relatively simple and recognizable way. The mise en scene
usually requires a tipping over of standard practices in
the matter of human dignity—murder on the one hand,
severe cruelty and humiliation on the other—to serve as
a reminder to everyone in the drill that the terrorist is
not to be defied. A refinement is that the terrorist could
be quirky and irrational. We see this in Stalin’s case in
the instance of Pasternak, who practiced his own quirky
defiance of the dictator’s inhuman posture. When Stalin’s wife died, there were rumors that he had murdered
her, and Pasternak, eschewing the public statement of
sympathy issued by the Writers Union, sent Stalin a personal message in which he made ominous mention of
having somehow witnessed the scene. What one catches
a glimpse of here seems less an act of irrational bravery
on Pasternak’s part than a delicate issuance of empathy
for the gruesome contorted figure of Russia’s long nightmare. In the face of the Stalinist terror, Pasternak simply refused to stop being himself, which is the terrorist’s
first requirement. If Stalin was a paranoid psychotic who
wouldn’t hesitate to murder when he sniffed out even a
whiff of defiance, that inclination to murder gave him
the power to duplicate his own unbalanced state of mind
in the rank and file of the Soviet Union at large, writers
and artists included. You’re a family man, with a wife you
love and children you love, and you witness an act of defiance that would be anathema to the great leader. Or perhaps you’re not positive whether it was or wasn’t an act of
defiance. Still, if it was, and you don’t report it, you and
your family could suffer severe consequences, perhaps
even be executed. What do you do? The greatest power of
the terrorist, in the end, may be the ease by which he is
able to clone himself in his subjects, his paranoia on the
one hand and his cruelty on the other.
What one sees in these four poets is an inability to
rally to the cause and be cloned. More or less in spite
of themselves, there was something almost sleepily autonomous about their nervous systems and the way they
went on being interested in the usual things: the trees
in spring, a beautiful melody, falling in love. It was literally death defying, their continuing to be human in the
Stalinist state. And for two of the four, the consequences
were in fact lethal.
—Aram Saroyan
Open rehearsal with (left to right) Ben Peterson, Robert Francis Curtis, Kathryn Acosta, and Professor Brian Shaw.
The Chicago Performance of Four Monologues
The strangeness of objects, I’d suggest, rises from the jarring sense that they are inert
matter that seems to serve as individual witness of distant places, far gone events.
They are there, present, but they are also holding, in some sense, the absent sites they
come from.
­—Alice Rayner,
Ghosts: Death’s Double and the Phenomena of Theatre
the first time I laid eyes on, and felt the physical structure of this book,
I knew the pockets into which each piece of text were inserted would find resonance in the actions of the performers. The structure of the book itself was
evocative of the relationship one often feels with text: a private relationship
with words on paper. Words to be carried on the body. Words to be pulled out
and savored through a physical embrace of hand, arm, eye, mind, and memory.
My first experience with the text therefore was visual and tactile.
Reading the text reinforced these visual and tactile impressions. Each character in Four Monologues is a well-known Russian writer. Within the monologues, they speak directly about seeking expression through language. Anna
Ahkmatova claims, “If you find a form, the subject reveals itself.” As I read
through the text, it struck me that some of the language felt too crafted to be
delivered as if it was being said for the first time. There was language in each
monologue that had clearly seen a strong editorial hand; the language had been
shaped by powerful literary minds seeking a precise linguistic expression of
thought, feeling, and experience. And so I went through the text with each actor to identify where language may be emerging in the moment, and where language had been previously crafted and was being delivered by a strong literary
voice. We then cut the monologues into sections. The actors memorized certain
portions of the text and delivered them as if they were speaking in the present
moment. And they carried certain portions of the text on their bodies, pulling
Above: Alyssa Thordarson as Anna
Akhmatova. Below: Robert Francis Curtis
as Boris Pasternak.
through each other’s memories. The period of time they
lived and worked through was infused with death. Stalin’s purges of the late 1930’s killed millions (including
Osip Mandelstam), and was followed by the carnage of
WWII. It was an era in which the individual—and especially the Russian individual—could be quickly and completely erased. But within the enormity of this historical period, each of these characters navigated an intense
personal and creative life. Essentially, each character
seems to be asking the following in relation to the era
they lived in:
Did I show courage?
Did I act honorably?
Could I have done otherwise?
Will my work survive?
each segment out and reading it as a considered expression of thought. Each actor was tasked with the choice of
where these segments would lie on their body, and how
they would pull them from those locations: front pocket,
breast pocket, back pocket, etc.
The monologues were performed as a combination
of the written word and the remembered word. In this
way, the physical structure of the book was given representation in performance. The slips of paper the actors
read from held the “absent site” of the book that had
been created.
Just as the physicality of the book provided inspiration for the gesture of the performance, the performance
space at the Poetry Foundation provided inspiration for
the shape of the performance. A simple walkway behind
the glass walls of the theater created a space in which
characters could be seen at a remove from the presence
of audience and performer inside the theater itself.
(We called this insulating walkway “the thermos”.) This
offered the opportunity to stage the monologues as a
simple ghost story.
And these characters haunt each other. They orbit
And they look to each other as they ponder the answers to these questions.
For Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam becomes in
the years after his death, a “bold spur to thought, a vivid
For Nadezhda Mandelstam, she “hung on in memory
and dreams to Osip’s voice, his curious look, his power to
seize upon something with the fervor of his whole soul…”
For Anna Ahkmatova, she acknowledged that Pasternak “fell in love under Stalin”, and in doing so, “he defeated the terror with that simple act, and then transposed
the emotion into a great story…”
For Osip Mandelstam, he discovered that “only in loss
do we men finally seem to fathom the simple joy of knowing this creature we married whose pilgrimage was tenderness.”
Mandelstam leaves us with a final ghostly image of
his wife and Anna Ahkmatova sitting together in a tiny
room in a boarding house in the middle of the madness of
World War II: Stalin stopping Hitler. What do you make
of two great souls sitting quietly together in a room, in a
As Pasternak says, “Nobody dies. Nobody who was
alive to you for a moment in your life.”
I would like to thank Kathryn Acosta, Robert Curtis,
Ben Peterson, and Alyssa Thordarson for their hard work
and excellent performances.
—Brian Shaw, Professor
Columbia College Chicago Department of Theatre
The cast, from left to right: Ben Peterson as Osip
Mandelstam; Kathryn Acosta as Nadezhda Mandelstam;
Alyssa Thordarson as Anna Akhmatova; Robert Francis Curtis
as Boris Pasternak.
The Joy of Community: The Four Monologues Project
Last spring, as part of Clifton Meador’s Print Media class, my classmates and
I began a collaborative project working with Don Share, Senior Editor of Poetry
The text was Four Monologues by poet Aram Saroyan. In the piece, Saroyan
writes from the perspective of four different Russian writers/poets: Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Nahdezda Mandelstam. Our
task was to take the text and create a physical receptacle for it. These four writers lived during the Russian Revolution, some witnessing the rise of the Soviet
Union. Their work was often done in secret, transferred and transmitted orally
as much as on the page. The realities of the historical context in which these
writers lived became very important to us as we began to design the book. That
the content of the writing and the history of the speakers be reflected in the
creative structure of the book was crucial.
So, we spent months making mock-ups, through the spring semester and
into the summer. We discussed many options and finally, out of a lot different
ideas, the design was born. It would have four pockets, one for each writer.
The reader would have to extract the monologues from the pockets to read
the text. We made a mock-up and waited expectantly for the approval of both
the writer and Don Share. When it was approved, we began production on an
edition of 300 books. The structure was not simple. Four pockets would make
up the interior of the book, and an additional folio would wrap around them
displaying the introduction to the monologues as well as our colophon. Our
book required offset and letterpress printing, the use of a laser cutter, and
hours upon hours of binding—folding and hand sewing each book. It took us
almost an entire year to finish the edition.
The assembly in process.
The laser cutter in action on a different project, cutting out script lettering.
Having the project completed was a wonderful feeling.
But it was the events that surrounded the release of the
book that truly brought both the writing and the process
of constructing the book to life. These events involved
not only the Center for Book and Paper Arts, but also
the Poetry Foundation and the Theater Department at
Columbia College Chicago, not to mention Aram Saroyan
On the night the book debuted at the Poetry
Foundation, Aram Saroyan gave a fascinating talk about
the origins of his idea and what led him to write Four
Monologues, and four actors from the Columbia College
Theater Department performed. As they began their
recitations, I watched as they pulled pieces of paper from
the pockets of their clothes, reading from these small
slivers and returning them to the pockets and pulling out
more. It was an incredible experience to see the bodily,
performative manifestation of our book.
The best part about this project was the collaboration
and community involvement—not just the collaboration
of students but of the Chicago community and our
Columbia College Chicago community at large. Each
year this process will be repeated with a new text for a
new group of Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts and
Arts and Media students. And each year there will be a
new collaboration with the Poetry Foundation and the
potential for further engagement across disciplines,
multiple processes informing and building upon each
other in an extraordinary way.
—Hannah E. King
MFA candidate Maria Virginia Rodriguez
Four Monologues—
Digital Edition
The Center for Book and Paper Arts has received an
Arts in Media grant from the National Endowment for
the Arts (NEA) to produce mobile tablet apps representing existing artists’ books, and to commission new works
in digital media with material counterparts.
For this project, Expanded Artists’ Books: Envisioning
the Future of the Book, the Center has designated Four
Monologues as the project’s first book to extend into the
digital realm. With a focus on transferring the book’s
dynamic physical structure onto a tablet platform, the
digital version will feature media and interactive touch
Launching summer of 2012, Expanded Artists’ Books
aims to widen the audience for the artist’s book, while
encouraging new forms of the genre in electronic media.
For more information, please go to:
Next in the Publication Series
The second book in this series will be The Dark Threw
Patches Down Upon Me Also, by Ben Lerner. Lerner’s recent novel Leaving the Atocha Station has garnered
enthusiastic reviews from The New Yorker, Bookforum,
and many other publications. Produced by Book and
Paper Print Media students under the direction of Inge
Bruggeman, the book will appear later this year.
Epicenter Literary Series Editor
Don Share
Senior Editor, Poetry magazine
Four Monologues Design + Production
Clifton Meador
Interdisciplinary MFA in Book and Paper
Columbia College Chicago
MFA Book and Paper Candidates:
Jenny Garnett
Elizabeth Gilder
Michelle Graves
Hannah King
Jackie McGill
Jenna Rodriguez
Christopher Saclolo
Claire Sammons
Four Monologues Staged Reading
Brian Shaw
Professor, Department of Theatre
Columbia College Chicago
Kathryn Acosta as Nadezhda Mandelstam
Robert Francis Curtis as Boris Pasternak
Ben Peterson as Osip Mandelstam
Alyssa Thordarson as Anna Akhmatova
Additional Four Monologues production and
distribution support from Gina Ordaz and
Tracey Drobot.
Practice 2 was edited by Jessica Cochran
and Steve Woodall; template design by Clifton
Meador; production design by Kathi Beste.
Photography by Kathi Beste, Inge Bruggeman,
and Jackie McGill.
Practice is available for download at www.
founded in 191 2
Gallery of photographs from the open rehearsal of Four Monologues:
Above, left to right: Ben Peterson, with Robert Francis Curtis in the background; Kathryn
Acosta. Below, left to right: Christina Colosimo and Nina Liewehr in discussion with author
and poet Aram Saroyan. For more images, please visit