The Sunday Poem: Jen Bervin





From The Desert



Excerpt from The Desert, Poetry




About Jen Bervin

Jen Bervin’s work brings together text and textile in a practice that encompasses poetry, archival research, artist books, and large-scale art works.

The Desert is a poem Bervin wrote by sewing row by row, line by line, across 130 pages of John Van Dyke’s, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances (1901). She used atmospheric fields of pale blue zigzag stitching to construct a poem “narrated by the air”— “so clear that one can see the breaks.”

Each quietly monumental book in the edition of 40 was machine-sewn with over five thousand yards of pale blue thread. Thinking of the artist James Turrell, for whom the poem was first composed for a reading at Roden Crater, Bervin wrote: “The great get on with the least possible and suggest everything by light.”

"The Desert" by Jen Bervin, Granary Books 2008


"The Desert" by Jen Bervin, Granary Books 2008, open view.



Bervin’s books include The Dickinson Composites (2010) and The Desert (2008) from Granary Books, and The Silver Book (2010), A Non- Breaking Space (2005), and Nets (2004, fifth printing 2010) from Ugly Duckling Presse. Her next book is forthcoming from Granary Books in February 2012.

Her work has been published in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (Northwestern University Press 2011), La Familia Americana (Spain: Antonio Machado Libros, 2010), The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (UK: Reality Street Editions, 2008), and is forthcoming in a German anthology on appropriation literature (Luxbooks), I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues Press), READ (1913 Press), and Figuring Color (ICA Boston/ Hatje Cantz).

Recent exhibitions include: “Jen Bervin: Weaving” at Gridspace in Brooklyn; “The Wildest Word We Consign to Language” at Poets House in New York; and the group show “Telefone Sem Fio: Word-Things of Augusto de Campos Revisited” at EFA Project Space in New York.

Jen Bervin (Photo by Khashayar Naderehvandi)


In "Nets" Bervin stripped Shakespeare's sonnets bare to the "nets" to make the space of the poems open, porous, possible—a divergent elsewhere. "When we write poems," says Bervin, the history of poetry is with us, pre-inscribed in the white of the page; when we read or write poems, we do it with or against this palimpsest."


"Nets" by Jen Bervin, (2004, fifth printing 2010), Ugly Duckling Presse, cover view

Bervin has received fellowships in art and writing from The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, Centrum, The MacDowell Colony, Visual Studies Workshop, The Center for Book Arts, and The Camargo Foundation.

Her work is in more than thirty collections including The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Walker Art Center, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, Stanford University, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the British Library.

She curated the New York exhibition, “Emily Dickinson at Poets House: Manuscripts from the Donald and Patricia Oresman Collection”—a rare selection of the poet Emily Dickinson’s original manuscripts.

Bervin teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’ll be the Von Hess Visiting Artist at the Borowsky Center for Publication Arts at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2012. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

To learn more about Jen Bervin and to explore her poetry, artist books, and visual art, please visit her website.

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Text and images from The Desert and Nets © Jen Bervin and were reprinted with permission from the author.


By | 2016-11-11T21:53:38+00:00 12.10.11|Greatest Hits, Images, The Sunday Poem, Words|2 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Sigrun December 4, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Beautiful! I have never heard of Jen Bervin, SO happy for the introduction – thank you!

  2. Sharon Creech December 4, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Love this – thanks for posting.

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