I may have gone too far this time…

-me after creating a highly questionable book

The object I created to substitute for a standard modern book of poetry was a lightly-drowned poem that stands (or floats, more like) inside of a transparent tub full of water. I wrote a prose poem which regarded a question I have often found myself posing — What is the correlation, difference between living and breathing? — then drowned it. Simple as that.

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Uncovering meaning in a drowned poem can seem like a tedious task, but this book is more a representation of poetic meaning than a true manuscript that is meant to be read thoroughly. Light etchings of the drowned words remained when I first doused the parchment in milk tea before locking it in a ziploc bag, the manuscript still legible to some degree, but slowly, with every passing minute, the words began to fade away as the ink ran down the edges of the bag in a milky, liquidy mess. The poem was suffocating. It was suffocating inside the bag inside the water, yet it was more alive than ever before.

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The part of my project that most closely resembles a more conventional model of a book is the parchment on which I wrote the poem. The rest of my project resembles more of an “artists’ book” as Amaranth Borsuk mentions in The Book, correlating to a document that “[has] much to teach us about the changing nature of the book,” partly through “highlight[ing] the ‘idea’ by paradoxically drawing attention to the ‘object’ we have come to take for granted,” especially since the introduction of the more modern concept of mass-producing identical books. Picking up my book when it is drowned is much more interesting and symbolic than trying to read the parchment on its own.

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When reading, however, be cautious — don’t turn this book upside down; it will surprise you with a little spillage from the cracks between the lid and the container! Do not attempt to free the poem — the water suffocating it, encompassing it, gives it purpose, a true element, and without this mysterious aspect… the poem will truly die. Out in the open, the ziploc bag will lose its sheen, seemingly containing only a scrap of paper soaked in lifeless ink, lying drained and static and miserable on a dry surface.

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“The shape and style of … earlier manuscripts reflect the reading practices of their day and the needs they were designed to meet,” Borsuk wrote. “Reading was, in the manuscript era, a practice fundamentally different from the kind of private, meditative engagement we now experience.” So saying, the book I designed is meant to intrigue people, to cause them to contemplate and philosophize and feel, or, perhaps, to make people laugh or to entertain them. The audience I am aiming for is the overall community of poets, as I have found out that poets in particular often find poetry to be intriguing even in the strangest of forms. May this conceptual book reach out to those, who believe in the changing art form, the breaking of societal bounds, and so much more!


Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. (Boston: MIT Press, 2018).

All photos ©Irina Rusanova

3 thoughts on “Drowning(in)Words”

  1. Irina, I love this idea. I love thinking about the relationship between poetry and drowning. I love the fact that your book can spill on people. And I love your title for this post!


  2. I really like the description you give here! You give the words a personality by mentioning how they are drowning and suffocating. In terms of regular books, I guess the words are just squished together between pages that act like a rough blanket.


  3. Wow wow wow, Irina – this book is so cool. “..the words began to fade away as the ink ran down the edges of the bag in a milky, liquidy mess. The poem was suffocating. It was suffocating inside the bag inside the water, yet it was more alive than ever before.”
    I’m so moved by the beauty of your explanations–in particular, by how you embrace paradox. In your book, the poem needs the water that suffocates it…because its drowning is its “life,” as the ink washes away and the text melts and melds with its surrounds. Your soluble poem calls up, for me, the ravages of time—not only the way books erode in a physical sense the way languages change and contexts melt away.
    In terms of its relationship with the reader, the danger of “spillage” is very evocative. It reminds me of certain metaphors of transfer in translation, where the job of the translator is to carry the bucket from one language to another without spilling too much.


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