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Letters from Russia / development notes, sketches, drafts

Letters from Russia, mixed-media epistolary literature project, 2004

In 2004, I created a mixed-media creative writing project called “Letters from Russia” which was meant to be a series of well,… *obviously* letters written from Russia from the point of view of a cobbler in Napoleon’s army to his lover in France. All in all an unlikely and complicated conceit conceived as was a way to discuss various topics around love and war.

Appropriately, was written/crafted as part of a program at Evergreen State College called “Poets and Philosophers Discuss Love and War” which was my final “seminar” (at Evergreen, you don’t take courses and classes, rather programs and seminars and independent contracts and other non-traditional interdisciplinary learning contexts). This program involved going to Lake Crescent on Olympic Peninsula with three faculty members with different specialties – philosophy, history and poetry/creative writing – staying in cabins, doing the Evergreen-ubiquitous group projects and assignments of various kinds but also working on an individual big project amidst mediation.

Unsurprisingly, I was keen to do something “big” to finish off my hard won Bachelor of Arts degree which spanned 17 years and four or five colleges/universities depending on how you count them. A “capstone” of a sort. {digression: previously thought a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing was my path and with that would come a big project/thesis or whatever, since that wasn’t going to happen, wanted to do something that felt like similar for personal satisfaction}

So, at the idyllic lakefront surrounding, i diligently worked along on this complicated house of cards – in between long stretches of partying, drinking racks of beer, usual herbs, one guy brought a motorboat and a gun – I mean none of it made sense.

I did a few of the assigned assignments (writing something about explaining peace to a banana slug or other contrived drudgery) while putting this project together in my head. I could imagine the finished product: wanted an “artifact” with tactility and vague sense of authenticity despite it being completely fictional.

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sparks of inspiration and outline

The finished result was series of letters written on different pieces of paper stock from my suitcase stationery stash, compiled to create the feeling that the protagonist “Henri” (all the characters were named after French Canadian hockey players) was with the army, scavenging any kind of paper he could find, and using different sorts of writing materials. Then I added a series of illustrations, paintings, other visual expressions in various medium and styles (and worked in the character of an Italian conscript with his unit who is a painter as an excuse to include these paintings).

let’s write in cursive with inky fountain pens on handmade paper, such authentic-ness

I wrote some test letters (readers may notice original drafts used a different name for the recipient of the letters) to try out some different papers, handwriting styles, pens and to find my rhythm. Once I found my rhythm it all came together very quickly but finding that vibe and materials and to start was a real challenge.

Continue reading Letters from Russia / development notes, sketches, drafts

“Letters from Russia” serialized in Exode periodical

"Letters from Russia" dossier (wood, hemp, paper etc) by Dave Thorvald Olson, as photographed by Carla Bergman at Northern Voice conference, 2008
“Letters from Russia” dossier (wood, hemp, paper etc) by Dave Thorvald Olson, as photographed by Carla Bergman at Northern Voice conference, 2008

My work of fictional epistolary literature project “Letters from Russia” is serialized in the writing & essays section in Exode.ca — a new online magazine whose mission described thusly: By showcasing and diffusing creative work on the web, we seek to give artists the exposure and recognition that their work merits.

Letters from Russia is a mixed media work including hand-written letters, paintings, sketches, and book crafts. The version in Exode contains just the text narrative done up in charming design.

As of this writing Letter One and Letter Two are posted — with another dozen letters to follow weekly.

The gist: Letters From Russia offers hilosophical discourse on war and love written as letters from a cobbler with Napoleon’s army in Russia, to his fiance in Paris. The letters chronicle the logistics of the protagonists’ journey plus observations about all manner of conundrums related to international trade, diplomacy, physiology of war, and individual liberty versus requirements of society.

Plenty of more background including prezo videos, downloadable .pdfs and interviews are scattered amidst this journal for your perusal, including: