M. Yankilevich’s A Boris by the Sea

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 10.23.43 AMIn the liner notes to Miles Davis’ legendary album Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans writes that

There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. . . . These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

A similar aesthetic is as work within M. Yankelevich’s chapbook, A Boris by the Sea. The material of the chapbook’s construction is noteworthy, and brings a unique temporal aspect into the work. The original and only copy of the chapbook—indicated on the back cover with a dry “1/1”—was constructed of cardboard rectangles bound together with thick twine. There is a section of paper laid (perhaps pasted) on each cardboard “page”—the paper sections have typewritten words on them, as well as occasional drawings of flowers and other plant life, and frequent spots or lines of black watercolor ink.

While the ink splotches are enough to invoke Evans’ description (“an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment”), the nature of the chapbook is also one that relies on principles of spontaneity and cannot be revised or recreated. The original artifact cannot be exactly recreated and, if it still exists at all, is still made of less durable materials than traditionally printed and bound books. The reader is conscious of reading a scanned and digitally reproduced version of the original art object. This mediation of the chapbook is further commentary on its limited temporality; just as the ink patches and lines cannot be revised once the ink has touched the paper, so the chapbook-as-artifact cannot be altered from its original instantiation.

The plot of A Boris by the Sea has a similar effect—the entirety of the text could be reproduced within a single paragraph, and the brief narrative revolves around water: a substance whose nature is to dissipate and evaporate. Within the character Boris’ journey, in which he tries unsuccessfully to quench his thirst, numerous unsuccessful attempts are made before Boris alters his approach in a manner that cannot be returned from. The chapbook concludes:

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 10.21.10 AM

Having tried to relieve his thirst via watering his plants, watering sand, and watering the sea, Boris abandons his desire for a watery solution and instead gives his body over to the earth, becoming dirty. This is a temporal solution in addition to a material solution: dirt will not evaporate and, once a body has been dirtied, it cannot be cleaned again but with water, which is the element Boris rejects as incapable of solving his problem. “Dirty” is a permanent state, unlike those states associated with water’s material and evaporation. Boris has found a permanent solution to the problem of thirst via abandoning the temporally limited and embracing an embodied permanence.

In this way, both Yankelevich’s sparse narrative about Boris and the material construction of the chapbook (coupled with the nature of ink stains on the paper sheets), concern themselves with temporality and the ways in which we as readers encounter it. In both Boris’ abandonment of water and self-immersion in dirt and the chapbook’s presentation as a digital copy of a flimsy cardboard original, there is an aesthetic of the permanently temporary. This is what Yankelevich’s chapbook values in its narrative and its construction: the presentation of the temporary, made permanent by a material change. Like Evans’ presentation of Kind of Blue, this aesthetic is one that disallows revision or change—it preserves its temporal moment of creation, a moment that its readers know is limited and irreversible.

A Boris by the Sea is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

Connor Fisher was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He has an MA in English Literature from the University of Denver and is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing—Poetry from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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