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Lord Carnarvon & the Death of the Flyer

By Micah Ballard

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A few months ago I was asked to contribute some Auguste Press books for Luke Daly’s small press library he’s building at The Annex in Chicago. After an hour of searching for the books in my closet I started to imagine I was in the antechamber of Tutankhamen’s tomb. There was no white lotus chalice or leopard’s head, but I did find a golden baby chair for our daughter Lorca, as well as various boxes that looked like painted caskets and portable chests.

By the time I got to the back of the closet I had opened several boxes, most of which contained random stacks of postcards and flyers for readings. Prone to superstition, I didn’t want to disturb the stacks for fear that an interruption would alter whatever magic had been building there. It’s one thing to enter the tomb; to disturb what’s inside is another story.

I began to think of the “curse” of Tutankhamen, specifically those from Howard Carter’s entourage who mysteriously died. Lord Carnarvon stands out in my mind. I’m not sure what did him in (really, shaving off a mosquito bite?), yet I like to think the power of phrases, or spells written on objects might have had some effect. After all, he did fund the excavation, and as usual it’s the money’s fault.

During my excavation I found flyers for readings to be of a peculiar cartography. Not only are they maps and invitations to a ceremony, they are inventories of poetic lineage. They are broadsides, covers to books never printed, and a table of contents for imaginary magazines. They are annunciations and collaborations, communiqués for a chronicle of voices. They are so many other things and I appreciate their presence as I do my favorite books or records.

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Holding a flyer from years back can instantly conjure all the particulars of one’s life at that time and serve as a portal to relive or envision an experience. I feel like I’ve been to so many readings in the 60’s and 70’s simply by staring at Joe Brainard’s flyers. I wouldn’t say dreaming of a reading is comparable to being there. But I can say that I’ve seen enough bands play and wished the flyer hadn’t been so alluring. I’m not speaking of Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag or Sonic Youth flyers, more so the hazards of the hunt.

There’s something to be said about tangible objects (ephemera) versus those that aren’t. I’m speaking about the digital world versus something that’s printed and physically held in the hands. Not one magic over the other, but I’m with the latter. I’d much rather receive a flyer in the mail or see one in a bookstore window than receive an email or an invite from some social media network that tracks the attendance before the actual occurrence. I recognize the uses, but let me sneak out of that labyrinth while I can still breathe.

I was thinking about flyers for readings and when is it that they started to disappear? We know the obvious source – technology and its impact on how we communicate (not out of the labyrinth yet!), but why did they stop being so primary? I’ve always thought of them as an extension of the poem, a visual coda in terms of creation, and the act of making them provided the same rush as writing collaborations or printing a book. In my closet the latest flyer is from 2009 and after that they are few and far between.

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The bulk of them are by Will Yackulic. I should write an essay on his flyers and book covers alone. I’ll save that for later. I realize this isn’t about the flyer in as much as it’s probably about the death of printed matter. I don’t think the page is going to become extinct, though the rate at which books and bookstores are disappearing, it seems foreign if one’s not alarmed.

I suggest next time there’s a reading (hell, even a picnic), why not take the time to create a flyer? Better yet, why not print a limited edition book or broadside? It’s a great excuse to do something both on and off the page. Plus, you might actually get to hold a pen and practice your cursive, almost like we did in grade school.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Thursday, April 18th, 2013 by Micah Ballard.