Monday, April 14, 2014

Getting the Max out of Maxims in Richard Kostelanetz’ new book

Richard  Kostelanz

Getting the Max out of Maxims in Richard Kostelanetz’ new book

by Michael Todd Steffen

In her recently published biography e.e. cummings: a life, Susan Cheever writes, “In the twenty-first century…we are all inundated with information and given no time to wonder what it means or where it comes from.”

Against that overwhelming grain and fact of every writer’s life in our time, Adastra Press, recognized for its hand crafted chapbooks, edited, published and printed by poet and critic Gary Metras, early this year has brought out a book of aphorisms by Richard Kostelanetz, noted artist, writer and defender of the avant-garde.

It is a 4 x 6 paper (“80 lb. Neenah Environmental Felt text, recycled and acid free”) cover book with a card in-leaf, entitled Mini Maxims, “composing…aphorisms” in “a long tradition, from Ecclesiastes to Erasmus and Pascal” (February 2014 press release).

Kostelanetz’ actual text runs 14 pages, including 41 lines, 164 words.

Blogger James Geary notes, “Because aphorisms are short, each word counts.”

To open a beautifully printed book on quality paper, with so much page space surrounding the sparse text makes for a refreshing reader’s experience in itself, well worth the $18 (postage included) for purchasing the book, provided the buyer so appreciates the experience of reading from bound paper. (I do.)

The writing itself demonstrates varying intentions by Kostelanetz, from pin’s-drop contemporary observation vaporized by abstract language, as in the book’s incipient line,

            Ignorance inhibits ethical discrimination (p. 7)

to some rather lite, pop-psy word play:

            Whoever indulges eventually bulges (p. 13)

which, timely as it is, tells us nothing we don’t know already, though has fun doing so. Kostelanetz, however, is aware that he is juxtaposing weightier pronouncements against lighter ones, as the lines on page 8 demonstrate:
            Aphorisms shape spontaneous intelligence.

            Every lover knows it.

That is traditionally a writer’s way of creating relief, a smile, a “space” where continously lined print doesn’t include the physical spacing. But Kostelanetz streams in the vein of the avant-garde where space in print on so much given page space can only be unexpectedly more interesting. It’s effect is like the shift of a chameleon in foliage.

Not to be judged, by its cover, but every page, Kostelanetz’ Mini Maxims, admirably produced by Metras, has uniquely altered my permanent book shelf. When there’s so much up for grabs, the small, quiet, well-made keepsakes that draw attention to what’s in our hands do weigh, pleasantly, meaningfully.

Mini Maxims by Richard Kostelanetz
is available for $18 (US postage paid)
from Adastra Press
16 Reservation Road
Easthampton, MA 01027
contact Gary Metras 413-527-3324

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