“Fanta is eternal”: James Copeland on Content and Jon Leon
Over the weekend, I got together via email with James Copeland to talk about a new book series he is publishing. The series is called Content. It is being released this Friday. There is going to be a party. The first volume is devoted entirely to Jon Leon— “they call me an American poetry bad boy”—whose book The Malady of the Century is forthcoming from Futurepoem, and whose previous publications include The Hot Tub (Mal-O-Mar Editions, 2009), Hit Wave (Kitchen Press, 2008), Alexandra (Cosa Nostra Editions, 2008), and a number of limited edition artist books, among others things.
Leon’s inaugurating contribution to Content is Elizabeth Zoë Lindsay Drink Fanta. You will be surprised, confused, turned on, fascinated, and chastised. Skip all that if you want to and be interested because it is interesting and beautifully packaged. View the trailer here. Read Leon’s wall text here. And find some of his work online through his site.
TFT: What is Content?
JC: Content is a book series. The first volume is out now. It’s by Jon Leon and called Elizabeth Zoë Lindsay Drink Fanta. Future volumes will appear quarterly. The series has a few production constants. Each volume is 80 pages and is 4.75 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall. The cover features a geometrical design, the word Content, and the name of the contributing individual. The interior is printed in black and white. That’s basically it. Beyond that, the artists and writers I’ve asked to participate can do whatever they want.
TFT: The name also sounds a little sexy to me, as in “explicit content.” What was the process and reasoning behind the format?
JC: I haven’t thought about why it’s a book. I suppose it could have been something else, like a public access TV show, but I work with books, it’s what I’m familiar with. I’ve been in publishing for a couple years. I’ve been writing my own work as well. But I haven’t found myself submitting to magazines very much. By the time you hear back, the piece is finished and you’ve already lost interest, and also because rejection tends to be uninspiring. And you end up making a certain plea, or concession: here is work of the type that you print. As in: here’s the best that I got and I hope we can be together. So I don’t accept submissions to the series because the series isn’t there to be a pedestal, it’s there to be a rectangular space that an individual impulse can occupy for 80 pages. Within those pages, it’s up to them. That’s the deal. Could be writing, pictures, blank pages, works of imagination, theft, revelation, triviality.
TFT: As someone likely to be called a poet (though you have worked and collaborated in a variety of media including sound recording and film) and the managing director of a poetry press (albeit one engaged with the no-man’s-lands of genre) what makes you want to call attention to your function as publisher?
JC: I’m not sure. It’s just important that it stays interesting to me. Right now what’s interesting is that it’s unstable. I’m going to publish something and I don’t know what it is. So the author and I have a strange relationship. Or maybe it’s no relationship. I can’t really allow myself to have any preferences, any priority of taste, in what the book becomes. It’s pleasant to have no expectations.
JC: I met him at Family Bookstore on Fairfax Avenue. He announced that it was going to be his last reading ever. Then a group of us went to that deli across the street where Guns n Roses played shows early on. A few months after that, I made up my mind on the trim size of Content, and decided to contact him to contribute for the first volume. We hadn’t spoken at all but I’d gotten to know more through a bootleg copy of his work. He responded via email from a hotel in North Carolina called the Velvet Cloak. The next time I saw him was in Queens. He was giving a reading from a limited edition that he’d printed on letterhead from the Barbara Gladstone Gallery. The only time we actually had a sustained conversation was the day that Content came back from the printer and we had Indian food with Jennifer Krasinski. He told us the story of the tie-dye painter’s hat he was wearing, how he found it at an Army surplus store. A couple days afterward he signed it and put it for sale on his website.
TFT: What was the bootleg? What did you think of his writing? What do you see in it?
JC: Maybe bootleg isn’t the right word for a PDF. It was his chapbook Hit Wave, which includes the line, “We stopped smoking cigarettes so we could buy more penny stocks.” What I saw in it: relentless intelligence made useful through Miami Beach. The intuition is all sentence structure, but the effect is the madness of glamour. He delivers it in a beautiful balance.
TFT: I’m interested in the marketing of material and immaterial things touched by Leon. I was actually introduced to his work through secondary literature–a series of Montevidayo blogposts written by Leon’s interlocutor and co-creative sibling Dan Hoy–which can seem as much a part of this artist’s project as his own original issuances. Hoy, in part, is writing about the way someone like Leon engages with his own identity in the way a marketing agency treats a brand. Can you talk a bit about Hoy’s terms: “the image-artist” and his fairly messianic and far more interesting subcategory “the pin-up artist”?
JC: To help fund the series Jon gave me an empty can of Fanta that he’d signed. As if I would sell it. The point of Dan’s phrases is, as I see it, not to become anything, which is time consuming and reduces clientele, but to be immediately in the penthouse. You could go about writing artist statements, or you could write the line, “I feel like dancing some so I dance some.” It’s very easy to get infected by this mentality, and to go off lip syncing into the rear view mirror of your imaginary S Class. It’s not like poets are immune to the demented power of the lights.
TFT: This book, Leon tells us in his blog post on Content, is the result of his intention “[t]o kill off the poems.” If Leon were treated as a visual artist working within the commercial framework of contemporary art, I’m not sure his stance would be read as so surprising or unique, though it would certainly stand it’s ground. So there is something very interesting about his escape from poetry and also the way we can read what he does as poems.
JC: Generally if you call something a poem, it is. Maybe because not that many people would care to. He has a book coming out next year from Futurepoem, so there you go. You could take a couple dozen screen captures of Lindsay Lohan and call it a sonnet sequence and nobody would object. Not that Jon’s doing that, using the word poetry, not in regard to Content. He might use it for his other works. A line like “I smoke crack because I’m Satan” is poetical enough.
TFT: I think something that links Leon to poetry, even where he moves beyond classification, is waste, or wastefulness, which has something to do with a French sensibility extending back to Bataille. I see a lot of Grand Theft Auto, Of Montreal, Dennis Cooper, and Bret Easton Ellis in his work too. These are some things I think about when I open to that first image in Elizabeth Zoë Lindsay Drink Fanta of Lohan telling us to fuck off.
JC: I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto. I’ve heard it’s best game ever because you can do anything. I don’t know if anything includes sitting around the house listening to Keith Jarrett but it sounds like a pretty good game. I’m also not too familiar with French intellectuals, but I read half of American Psycho before my roommate stole it back. In Kasmir, Jon writes, “I stole half my intellectual property from another intellectual.” He also writes, “I am the author of Kasmir. It is my highest grossing art.” It’s difficult to know how all this fits together. But it reads well in the meantime.
TFT: When I pick up the first issue of Content I have a very visceral reaction to the book as a whole, which makes me uncomfortable and excited, like reading Story of the Eye to the cancer ward. I do also have the impulse to read the book from cover to cover. How do you respond to the images?
JC: When he first sent me the pictures, I was at a party. I scrolled through them on my phone while nodding my head to some kind of aged techno. As a result I have good associations. For a short while the Angelika had midnight screenings of Showgirls and people would throw money at her during the same scene that Jon captures in this book. So far no one’s throwing money at the book, but then, this isn’t the 90s. By the way, someone told me that Elizabeth Berkeley has become an inspirational speaker for young girls. Lindsay Lohan was just part of something at the Venice Biennale. Zoë Lund OD’d in Paris in 1999.
TFT: And what has become of Fanta?
JC: Fanta is eternal. Mississippi Records just put this great record out.
TFT: When do we get to throw money at the book?
JC: This Friday in Bushwick. There’s going to be an event with music, books, video. It’s at 405 Johnson by the Morgan stop on the L. Come by in the evening time. There’s going to be DJ sets by Mirror Mirror and dDiiLLiiAaNn. And there’s a FB page for it.
TFT: What will you be wearing?
JC: Jeans and a t-shirt.
James Copeland is a poet and the Managing Director at Ugly Duckling Presse. He is the author of several limited edition chapbooks and a collaborator across media including vinyl recording and film. His most recent original print object is called Fax II and it is easily my favorite collection of the year. You can get your hands on some of his work here.
Visit Content online and order a copy at: http://www.contentseries.com/
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