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Book Making: Anne Carson’s new collection waves off conventional book packaging

(Photo: Erin McPhee)

(Photo: Erin McPhee)

It’s always something of a challenge to define the work of Anne Carson, and with her new collection, Float (published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart), the Canadian-born poet makes even the conventions of the physical book unconventional.

Float consists of 22 chapbooks “whose order is unfixed and whose topics are various,” housed in a clear PVC slipcase. According to Cassandra Pappas, senior designer for Penguin Random House in New York, both Carson and Robert Currie, her husband and longtime collaborator, were very involved during the two years it took to design and produce the physical object.

(Photo: Erin McPhee)

(Photo: Erin McPhee)

The visual concept of a “floating thread” originated from a sketchbook belonging to Carson and Currie. The chapbooks feature covers ranging in oceanic hues, including several dark-blue ones interspersed throughout the collection to avoid prescribing a sense of order. The contents and “performance notes” sections, which do not include any poems, are set apart in yellow. The covers are unified by the image of a single white thread literally floating in the bottom-left corner, and by the muted tone-on-tone texture, which Pappas says is intended to provoke
“a watery, atmospheric quality.”

Andy Hughes, senior vice-president of production and design for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, says the packaging meets Carson’s desire to have readers handle the chapbooks without worrying about putting them back in the right place. “The transparent slipcase also allows the book’s conceit of a floating white thread to always be visible,” says Hughes, “no matter which of the 20-plus chapbooks was removed and re-inserted.”