Poetry News

'An inefficient workman quarrels with his tools'

By Harriet Staff


When it comes to collaborative writing, we're huge fans of the dynamic duo that is Amanda Ackerman and Harold Abramowitz. Over at Jacket2, Amanda Ackerman talks about their collaborative publication venture they call eohippus labs. Ackerman goes into the pre-history of the press (starting about 50 million years ago with the eohippus or "dawn horse") and running up to the near-history that gave them the idea to start a press while students at CalArts:

The press started for a number of reasons. Harold and I were second-year students in the MFA writing program at CalArts. We were taking Matias Viegner’s experimental writing class, and Matias asked us to compose a theory of language.

I wrote a piece about how humans did not create language and how language is not a tool to be used by us. I was tired of hearing about the deficiencies and inadequacies and tyrannies and (un)deadness of language, as if somehow those were the faults of language, and not the faults of our own inadequacies and tyrannies and (un)deadness. I ignored all concern for logical fallacies, and claimed language to be sentient, living symbols (although language and humanity certainly share a contingent and co-evolutionary relationship). I said we need to talk with language and that writing can be a process of fanatical listening, human-language concurrence, and co-making. I called this piece “Theory of Language,” and Harold liked it. For his assignment, Harold wrote a piece about the eohippus. His piece had many permutations and repetitions, and it made language turn into aggregates of atmosphere. Sometimes humanity generated this atmosphere, sometimes we navigated it, and sometimes (as with state-tyranny) it was forcefully imposed on us. Sometimes, this atmosphere (as with state-tyranny) was trying to kill us or make us mechanistic or make us (un)dead, and sometimes this atmosphere encouraged us to thrive. Language felt time-specific, archaic, futuristic, and time-shattering all at once. In any case, I liked this piece of writing a lot. Harold also had a book of Nigerian pamphlets that we both liked called Life Turns Man Up and Down. These pamphlets were short, quickly produced, quickly circulated, and sold in an open-air market. They are described as “brief literary anomalies in all genres, written for entertainment, instruction, and moral guidance.” Harold and I began to talk about resuscitating the form of the pamphlet (although we have since given up on the idea of “quick” production and circulation – it’s hard to find time to run a press).

Lastly, Harold decided he wanted to start by publishing “Theory of Language” as a pamphlet, which he did, and he did all the work (layout, printing, stapling, folding, boxing up) solo. And then I joined him for all eohippus labs projects since.

Ackerman goes on to describe what the eohippus labs are all about and what they publish:

We say on our website that eohippus labs is interested in the “uncategorizable text.” However, were I to revise that idea, I’d say we are interested in the less recognizable text, or the text whose use of language and idea is less recognizable within more recognizable forms (like the pamphlet, the anthology, or the short story).

Right now, eohippus labs is subdivided into four series: eohippus tract (a pamphlet series), emohippus (small anthologies of emotional writing in the form of greeting cards – because conceptual writing is emotional), eohippus n°5 (innovative narrative, because we’d like to see more interesting prose being published, and because we don’t draw a huge distinction between poetry and prose), and stealth (which involves the covert circulation of texts with endlessly repetitive structures).

Everything we make comes from Harold’s living room.

For more of the story head to Jacket2!