When Andy Warhol’s a, A Novel was first published in 1968, The New York Times Book Review declared it “pornographic.” Yet more than four decades later, a, A Novel continues to be an essential documentation of Warhol’s seminal Factory scene. And though the book offers a pop art snapshot of 1960s Manhattan that only Warhol could capture, it remains a challenging read. Comprised entirely of unedited transcripts of recorded conversations taped in and around the Warhol Factory, the original book’s tone varies from frenetic to fascinating; unintelligible to poetic.
No Work Finished Here: Rewriting Andy Warhol by Liz Worth attempts to change that, by appropriating the original text and turning each page into a unique poem. In remixing a, A Novel into poetry using only words and phrases from each piece’s specified page, Worth sets the scene for the reader, not unlike eavesdropping in a 24-hour diner, with poetry full of voices competing to be heard, hoping for just a sliver of attention at the end of a long, desperate night.
True to Worth’s style, the poems in this collection hiss and pop with confessional whispers while maintaining the raw, distorted qualities originally captured on tape and documented in a, A Novel. Warhol fans, archivists, and academics – as well as readers of confessional and conceptual poetry and fiction – will jump at the chance to be a part of the Factory in-crowd in No Work Finished Here: Rewriting Andy Warhol.
Could you talk about the embryonic stages of your Warhol project?
This book really has two different beginnings. I first read Andy Warhol’s a, A Novel when I was in college. I was deeply fascinated by the Warhol Factory at the time, along with early punk history and subcultures of the ’60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. I found Warhol particularly inspiring, despite his controversial reputation, because he seemed to be the nucleus for so much of the music and fashion and ideology I had come to be shaped by.
When I was reading a I was starting my second year of journalism school, but was starting to get honest with myself about the fact that I really would rather be a poet than a journalist. I was working part-time on top of a full-time course load, though, so I have very little time to write. I would read on the bus, and when I was reading Warhol’s “novel” I would pull out little lines from it and play around with the language, practicing my own poems with that text. I didn’t know at the time that I was experimenting with found poetry. I was just getting really inspired by this book and using it as a way to push myself as a writer, because there are some beautifully confessional, surreal uses of language in there.
But it’s also a highly unreadable book for the most part, so all of these little phrases were like buried treasure. Every time I found something interesting it made me want to read more. I never thought of turning it into a book, though.
Once I finished reading it I put all my notes away and didn’t really think much about it again until about nine years later when my dad died. I was between projects at the time and I really wanted something creative to focus on after his passing. I was getting really inspired by the conceptual work that Jacqueline Valencia of Toronto was doing and I started getting more and more into other authors who were using borrowed texts, and so I decided to pull out a again to see if it was as I remembered it. It was, and so I decided to just do it as an online project – a daily poetry blog where I would write a couple of poems and post them to keep myself accountable to the project.
What was the catalyst for you turning this project into a full fledged 400-page book?
I didn’t really think about the length when I started it. I was really just seeing it as something that I could do a day at a time, and I think that made it feel a lot less overwhelming. I started doing just one poem a day, and then I upped that to two because I was actually enjoying the process quite a bit.
So I finished it within a year because I just kept at it and I didn’t let myself miss a day. I even wrote Warhol poems on Christmas Day. But I never thought of it being a book. To me it was just a blog, and I was going to let it live online forever. My agent was the one who got me seeing that I was actually writing a book.
What was the process like putting the book together with BookThug?
Amazing. BookThug has been great to work with right from the start. They definitely have a vision for the types of books they want to see in the world, and they work hard to get them out there. Authors need more people like them.
Would you classify Warhol’s original novel as anti-literature?
That’s interesting. It really is not a novel at all. It’s over 400 pages of unedited transcripts from people who around at the Factory. Which could have been an interesting foundation to work from if you wanted to build a piece of fiction from that, but it’s all real and all ugly and all true, so to call it a “novel” is a bit funny, but that’s also what I like about Warhol. He just did things his own way.
It’s a very conceptual piece of work, but is it writing? No. Transcribing is a lot of work, and documenting is important — this book is a key document to the Warhol Factory, absolutely — but neither of them are very literary acts on their own. There is no craft here, though I don’t know if I would call it anti-literature because it wasn’t political. It wasn’t protesting literature or trying to go against it some way. It was just Warhol’s own interpretation of what a novel could be. He was always making things his own, which is part of what makes this book so interesting.
What is your all time favorite piece of Warhol art?
I think the Warhol Factory is my favorite piece of art. Even though it’s not art in the literal sense, I think Warhol’s mastery was in creating an entire scene, an entire history that continues to influence so much of the culture we consume today.