This project is part of Container's Multitudes series, which invites writers and artists to transform the same object into works of visual and literary art. In this series, participants were invited to interpret a 500-card Rolodex.
To create On Suspicion that Windmills are Books, a book-object in the form of a Rolodex, I used a Trodat Professional 5253 Heavy Duty Self-Inking Do-It-Yourself Custom Stamp to make unique impressions on the Rolodex cards. The Trodat stamp set came with three and four millimeter rubber type that—with the help of a pair of plastic tweezers—could be set into the stamp’s text plate, which measures about two inches wide and one inch tall. With each stamped impression, I could print a brief poetic fragment—up to five or six lines with about two or three words per line. It seemed the perfect writing implement for the miniature landscape of the 4 x 2 ¼ in. Rolodex cards. At the same time, it seemed the worst implement possible: a self-inking stamp, the Trodat 5253 is, of course, best suited to imprint many copies of the same text. For example, one of the sample texts displayed on the stamp’s box reads as follows:
DELL’S HOT DOGS
7 YORKSHIRE AVE.
ANYTOWN, USA 12345
OPEN 24 HOURS
Setting the type piece by rubber piece, from right to left, was painstaking enough but to remove the type and return it to its 4 x 1 ½ in. plastic tray only to start the process again was a truly perverse exercise, a deliberate use of a technology against the grain.
Then again, I wanted to combine composing, designing, typesetting, and printing into one single ensemble of activities, a glacially slow process that could allow for a maximum amount of meditative deliberation. Like illuminating a medieval manuscript. Like trimming a bonsai tree. In other words, if I was going to print a text, I would need to be fully committed to it given the amount of time and labor required to typeset it. I wanted a poetics of care antithetical to President Trump’s ill-advised “cofveve.”
I got the idea to use the Trodat stamp from the Chilean fiction writer Matías Celedón, whose novella La filial
(Alquimia Ediciones, 2012) takes the form of a stamped ledger (Melville House released an English version in 2016). Whenever I encounter a rigorous technique—in any medium—I often think, “How could that be applied to poetry?”
Trodat Professional 5253 Heavy Duty Self-Inking Do-It-Yourself Custom Stamp, Kes'pon Guard Your ID Stamp Mini Roller
Michael Leong's most recent books of poetry are Cutting Time with a Knife
(Black Square Editions, 2012) and Words on Edge
(Black Square Editions, forthcoming). An electronic book, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?
, a digital presentation based on some of the master prints of On Suspicion that Windmills are Books
is forthcoming from Fence Digital. His critical writing has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as A Contracorriente: A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America, Contemporary Literature
, Modern Language Studies
, and Journal of Modern Literature
. With Ignacio Infante, he is translating the Chilean avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro; portions of this translation project have been published in Asymptote
and the Boston Review
. A former NEA Literature Translation Fellow, he is Assistant Professor of English at the University at Albany, SUNY, where he teaches creative writing and literary study.