A Convergence Of Birds: Original Fiction And Poetry Inspired by Joseph Cornell

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9781891024306: A Convergence Of Birds: Original Fiction And Poetry Inspired by Joseph Cornell

This special limited edition of A Convergence of Birds follows the successful publication of the trade edition of this wonderful anthology of new fiction and poetry inspired by the art of Joseph Cornell. This book features writing from 22 of the best American writers working today; authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pinsky, Rick Moody, Howard Norman and Barry Lopez, all invited to participate by editor and contributor Jonathan Safran Foer. The limited edition of only 225 copies is linen-bound and slipcased, and signed by each author on individual sheets of vellum that are bound into the book at the beginning of their contributions. A wonderful and highly collectable edition that will be treasured by lovers of contemporary writing and fine books.

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From the Author:

1992 - The young woman's brother asked a friend (who would, years later, become a friend of mine) if he would help him sift through a roomful of boxes in an Upstate storage facility. It was time to save what was worth saving and part with the rest. He couldn't do it alone. When they came upon the poster, both were surprised: the friend because of the rare artifact of his favorite artist's life, the brother because above the two pieces of handwriting (Cornell's signature and the love note), was a third-in shaky blue ink: This belonged to Beatrice. He didn't know if it had been written by his father, or mother, or by his sister herself. And because he was alone-his parents having passed away the previous winter, within a month of each other there was no way to find out.

By the time I saw the poster-on an August, 1995 visit to my friend's studio-there was another text: this one, like the first two, of known origin. The brother had written: A gift of a gift of a gift. "He needed to get rid of it," my friend told me. "It was that kind of gift." My friend hid attached the poster to a large canvas, hoping to make good use of it in a painting he was working on for an upcoming show. In the brief conversation that ensued, I learned the history of the poster, and learned, for the first time, about Cornell, who was "not quite a Surrealist," and had "exhausted his medium, as all geniuses do."

That afternoon, following something between a whim and a premonition, I went to the New York Public Library and found the catalogue for MoMAs 1980 Cornell retrospective. On the withdraw card was a roster of names: those belonging to the eleven people who had already taken the book out that year I remember Elena Salter, and I remember Donald Franks. I remember a Henry, a Theresa, a Jennifer and a James. Each name was written in different script, each with a different pen, held by a different hand. I signed my name into the registry--as if the catalogue were a hotel, as if I expected to meet the eleven others in some metaphysical lobby-and took it home. My life began to change.

By the end of the summer, I was pursuing obscure references, tracking down essays about essays about essays. When the new school year began, I spent afternoons in the university art library, sifting through the precious few books that had Cornell images. I hunted for more images, more stories, and spent weekends in Manhattan's rare art book stores, flipping through the pages of limited edition gallery catalogues that I would never be able to afford. Of course I read Deborah Solomon's biography (dedicated to her husband, Kent Sepkowitz) when it came out in 1997, and even gave a copy of it to a girl I was then interested in. I love this, I wrote on the title page, and, You will love this. (What was the this? The biography? Cornell? The love of Cornell? Of gifts? Of inscriptions? The love of the beginning of love?) It wasn't until two years and hundreds of hours of research later-a quarter of a century after those first letters were sent outthat the seeds of the simple idea were !

planted: I must do something with my love-for Cornell, for my love of Cornell, for gifts, inscriptions and the beginning of love.

I began to write letters.

Dear Mr. Foer:

Your letter, which covers a whole page, contain, only one line about what you want. " . . . a story or poem that uses Joseph Cornell's bird boxes as the source of imaginative inspiration . . . (but) which need not make any explicit reference to either Cornell or the art itself . . . " Since I don't know what this means, since you mention no fee (is there one or not?), since the whole issue seems to be a question of getting contributions, for nothing, from various well-known people to suit your own ends (vague as they are), and since for some reason you seem to think I'd be "be as excited about this project as [you] are," how can 1 say yes, even with the very best of wills?

Please send me the product once it is completed. I do love those boxes.

This was one of the first responses I received. My father read it to me over the phone-I had given my permanent address in D.C., rather than my college address in New Jersey, thinking I could skirt at least the most obvious challenge to my legitimacy. I shook with excitement as he began the reading, and disgrace by the time he had finished. "What a jerk," he sighed, and I sighed: "Yeah." Although I wasn't sure just whom we were talking about.

The letter was troubling. Needlessly nasty; perhaps, but no less accurate for its tone. Sadly, I was inclined to agree with its author: my project was naive, ill-defined and blatantly unnecessary.

Naive in that I was completely unfamiliar with the publishing world and what it takes to put together a book. I had no agent, no prospective publisher, no notion of fees or photo permissions.

Ill-defined in that I knew I wanted to assemble a book of writing inspired by Cornell's bird boxes, but little else. Would the book be literature, art, or some combination of the two? Should the pieces be of approximately the same length? How many images would be reproduced, and how would such a book be designed?

Unnecessary in that there have been many excellent books about Cornell. Granted, none like the kind I had in mind, but non-existence is not sufficient grounds for creating something. Without knowing exactly what distinguished the book I was envisioning from those already published-save for the obvious: that mine would be fiction and poetry from a variety of sources-I couldn't well answer what should have been my original question: Why?

And yes, who the hell was I-unpublished college student, self educated in art history, uneducated in book publishing-to ask for things from people I didn't know, with nothing to offer in exchange? The jerk was me.

And yet, when I somewhat reluctantly called in for messages the next day, my father said, "I have some good news." And there were two more pieces of good news the day after that, and two the following day. By the end of the week, seven waters had agreed--quite enthusiastically-to be part of the still-forming project, and within half a year, I had a nearly completed manuscript. Were those eager writers jerks?

No. They were believers. But not in me and my maladroit proposal. It wasn't my supplication they were responding to, it was Cornell's-not even Cornell's, but that of his boxes. The boxes called the writers in from great distances; they demanded the attention of those who had no attention to spare. "I'm going to be in Tunisia for the next few months," one author responded, "but I'd like to give this my best shot." Another wrote his story on note cards as he traveled through the Spanish countryside by train. Another while she was preparing for an Italian sabbatical.

The boxes moved questions of logistics to the backdrop. No one-save for that early respondent-asked about fees or agents or publishers. They didn't ask about these things because they weren't responding to me. Their responses predated my call. I was just lucky enough to intercept them.

Many of Cornell's most brilliant boxes were not intended for the museums in which they now reside. They were gifts, tokens of affection-1 love this. You will love this. He had them delivered to his favorite movie stars and authors. He handed them, personally, to his most loved ballerinas. And they were almost uniformly sent back. He was rejected, laughed at, and, in one unfortunate case, tackled.

But the boxes themselves-not his hopelessly romantic supplication-survived. More than survived, they became some of the most important works of twentieth-century art. Their call beckoned, and continues to beckon, curators, museum-Boers, and so many artists and writers. Their call, not Cornell's. They became gifts of gifts of gifts of gifts-a cascade of gifts without fixed givers or receivers.

So what is it about Cornell's boxes that made him a world-famous artist, and allowed my inept proposal to take flight? The answer, of course, is inexhaustible-it changes with each viewing. I hope that a few of the many answers are in this book, which is neither an homage nor a festschrift, but an assemblage of letters. Other answers are with you. When you read these pages, imagine the letter that you would write. How would it begin? Who would be the characters? What images would come to the fore? What feelings? What colors and shapes? And as the imaginative cloud begins to open itself over your head, ask yourself: To whom would you address such a letter? And what would you use as the return address?

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER Jackson Heights, New York September 2000

From the Inside Flap:

The book you are holding in your hands is the result of the passion of a young writer, Jonathan Safran Foer, for the work of the 20th century American assemblage artist Joseph Cornell. Inspired by the avian themed boxes made by Cornell, and intuitively knowing that they required a literary response, Foer embarked on a project to collect fiction and poetry inspired by these boxes. The response he received from luminaries of American writing was nothing short of astounding. From Joyce Carol Oates to Robert Pinsky, Lydia Davis to Howard Norman, 22 writers have written original pieces for this collection. Accompanied by tipped in plates, this volume is a beautiful tribute to the work of Joseph Cornell.

"Joseph Cornell's magic is a hard act to follow, except with one's own magic. I can only applaud the wit and ingenuity and freedom of so many splendid, high-stepping American writers who followed a fancy and converged to make this dazzling book." --Susan Sontag

"Joseph Cornell, as seen through the eyes of some of our best writers-shining, ever shining, in a great dazzle of particulars..." --Paul Auster

"A Convergence of Birds is a wondeful improvisation upon an improvisation, a gathering of birds not necessarily of a feather who nevertheless soar together. It's involving, amusing, sad and funny. Cornell's spirit is very much alive, and this collection offers him (and us) a sincere embrace and a covert wink. Have a good time: read it." --Ann Beattie

"How many writers have felt, on first discovery of Joseph Cornell boxes, that they were looking at a mirror of their own minds? With A Convergence of Birds, some of America's best writers have been given the chance to prove it. In both design and content, this is a gorgeous, captivating book." --Madison Smartt Bell

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