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Five Oceans in a Teaspoon is an innovative, beautiful and moving collection of short visual poems written by muckraking journalist/poet Dennis J Bernstein, visualized by pioneer designer/author Warren Lehrer.
In 1979, Bernstein and Lehrer began working on a book of poems, originally titled Stretch Marks. Instead of completing that book, they leapt into writing their first play together, and over the intervening years they collaborated on three books, including French Fries, considered a classic in visual literature and expressive typography. A few years ago, they began collaborating again on a book of visual poetry. Bernstein’s words. Lehrer’s typographic visualizations. Now, on the 40th anniversary of their original effort and at the height of their creative powers, the two have completed Five Oceans in a Teaspoon. This first edition—published by Paper Crown Press (September 2019)—is sure to become a classic and collector’s item itself.
As with his journalism, Bernstein’s poems reflect the struggle of everyday people trying to survive in the face of adversity. Divided into eight chapters, Five Oceans in a Teaspoon reads like a memoir in poems. It spans a lifetime: growing up confused by dyslexia and a parental gambling addiction; graced by pogo sticks, boxing lessons and a mother’s compassion; becoming a frontline witness to war and its aftermaths, prison, street life, poverty, love and loss, open heart surgery, caring for aging parents and visitations from them after they’re gone. Lehrer’s typographic compositions give form to the interior, emotional and metaphorical underpinnings of the poems. Together, the writing and visuals create a new whole that engages the reader to become an active participant in the navigation, discovery, and experience of each poem.
ADVANCE PRAISE for Five Oceans in a Teaspoon:
“Brilliant and beautiful. I love it! Thank you for bringing in the new.” Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author of The Color Purple
“Bernstein and Lehrer—the Lennon and McCartney of viz-lit—have reunited at the height of their creative powers. Five Oceans in a Teaspoon speaks to the madness, vulnerability, aspiration and language of our time. The gutsiness and raw emotion of the writing, revelatory appeal of the visual compositions, and brevity of the form creates an intensely moving experiential journey.” Steven Heller, design and visual culture historian, author, Visuals column, New York Times Book Review
“Imagine Portnoy’s Complaint rendered into Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes and you get some idea of the surprising combination of rich recollections and graphic scoring that animate the pages of Five Oceans in a Teaspoon. This completely virtuosic work pairs two perfectly matched talents: Bernstein’s detailed descriptions of childhood, family, love, life and death, and Lehrer’s typographic compositions combine in a wonderfully rich, broad, truly moving work that embodies precisely what it means to figure the word and render the multiple dimensions of human experience. In the long history of graphic word works, few, if any, have this range and repleteness.” Johanna Drucker, foremost visual literature scholar and Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, UCLA
“From a kidnap note for a world held hostage by an A-bomb, to a Holocaust survivor’s tattooed arms where the numbers just don’t add up, Five Oceans in a Teaspoon re-envisions a poetry memoir via a textual kaleidoscope… Bernstein and Lehrer are the Rodgers and Hart of Visual Poetry.” Bob Holman, poet, poetry activist and chronicler, founder Bowery Poetry Club
Written by Dennis J Bernstein. Visualizations by Warren Lehrer.
Introduction by Steven Heller.
6.75” x 6.6” x 300 pages. Hardcover, quarter cloth binding, smythe sewn, full color cover with embossed type, metallic foil. Black and white interior. Printed on archival paper.