Saroyan: Coffee Coffee

Aram Saroyan
Coffee Coffee
New York: 0 to 9 Books, 1967.

4to.; illustrated throughout in black and white; staple bound printed wrappers;  some wear to covers; very good.

Other than co-founders Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer, Aram Saroyan was the most frequent contributor to 0 to 9. This legendary periodical formed a link between the language-based works of such New York Conceptual artists as Sol Lewitt, Adrian Piper, Dan Graham, and Lawrence Weiner and the mimeograph-printed poetry journals of the 60s that printed the work of John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Ed Sanders and other New York School poets. Aside from its regular issues, several artists’ books appeared with the 0 to 9 imprint, among them Saroyan's most iconic publication, Coffee Coffee. Saroyan’s poems consist of a single word (sometimes repeated) placed in the center of the page. These works, which carry the minimalist impulse to its furthest possible point,  were controversial even among readers of avant-garde poetry and were openly derided by outside commentators (most famously by Ronald Reagan whose statements opposing government funding of the arts regularly cited the $500 Saroyan received when his poem “Lighght” was selected for a NEA-sponsored poetry anthology), but for artists who made work in a Conceptual,  Minimal or Performance-based mode, Saroyan was an aethetic fellow-traveler. He achieved startling effects using only  repetition, a starkly minimal approach to page design, and   an extraordinarily compressed vocabulary. Saroyan's work treats printed words as having a sculptural presence and this acknowledges the physicality of the objects named while implying the performative aspect of repetitive routine actions. Unlike Acconci, who stopped writing and became an artist, Saroyan never stopped thinking of his work as poetry. His greatest influence, however has been in the art world where Coffee Coffee is regarded as an iconic demonstration of the conceptual potential of language.