But in the hands of the organizers of editors and contributors of the newly published "Corona," a journal of arts and ideas based at Montana State University, the usual is turned inside out until it is transformed into the unexpected.
The 30-year-old periodical, which was dormant for many years after the publication of four previous issues, has now become more than a journal, even something more than a book.
"We wanted to do something that embodied theoretical problems of text and image," said Michael Sexson, an MSU English professor who was one of the founders of the original "Corona" in 1980. Sexson remains one of three editors of the publication. Others are Lynda Sexson, professor of religious studies, and Carla Nappi, a professor of history, both in MSU's Department of History and Philosophy,
"Every piece that is included is multilayered and used in very different ways to teach and to engage," he said. "Everything is multisensory."
The publication is assembled in a box about the size of "half a pizza box," as Lynda Sexson explains it. Inside are 18 contributions from writers, poets and artists from across the country who explored the meanings of text, image and stretching the definition of books in inventive ways and demonstrating the fluidity of the borders of different types of media.
For instance, a stunning essay on the map by the writer David Quammen plays with the idea of maps. A tiny haiku alphabet primer by Greg Keeler, a poet and professor of English at MSU, is cleverly bound with a piece of number two pencil in a piece designed by Stephanie Newman, professor of design at MSU. A small clay tablet explores the significance of place in a contribution by farmer, political activist, and artist, Trudy Laas Skari. A traditional story of a California Indian tribe that is about baskets, is interpreted by MSU President Geoff Gamble, who is a scholar of disappearing Native American languages when not running the university. The piece is displayed in a piece of paper that folds neatly to suggest a basket.
That's one of the reasons that it took two years to publish "Corona," and also explains why each one of the 1,000 limited editions will be sold for $80, Lynda Sexson said. Any profits will be used to fund future "Corona" projects.
"Many elements were done by hand, including stamping and sewing, reversing, or commenting on, the history of the book and mechanical and electronic reproduction," she said.
While the contributions are playful and clever, so were the editorial meetings that led to its preparation, according to Nappi, who will be leaving MSU soon for a position at the University of British Columbia.
"When I came here two years ago, the ("Corona") crew adopted me and our meetings have been the highlight of my week," said Nappi, who also contributed a piece about the Chinese symbols for body, which are printed on puzzle pieces that fit into a beautifully rendered shape of a body.
Not only was it fun, it was immensely educational, according to Sadie Tynes, a senior from Simms with majors in English and history/religious studies who served as the student editor on the project. Tynes said working with the professors, contributors and other students and volunteers on "Corona" was the most educational experience she had at MSU. She believes it was a big reason why she was recently accepted into the University of Chicago Divinity School.
"I've had two years of wonderful interactions with Lynda and Carla," Tynes said. "Not many undergraduate students get the opportunity to have interactions of that quality with their professors and to have an experience like this."
Susan Torre, a junior majoring in graphic design from Hamilton, said the opportunity to design pieces for "Corona" added a new layer to the way she sees her work. Most of her other design studies are solutions for commercial projects, and the "Corona" work was nearly spiritual, she said.
"It definitely opened up new doors of thinking," said Torre, who among other things designed a custom cigar band with the image of the noted poet Anna Rabinowitz for the two poems she contributed.
Tynes said students and community volunteers ebbed and flowed during the two years of twice weekly meetings. Meekyung MacMurdie, a recent graduate in history and religious studies from Whitehall, was also a student editor. She will be attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying art history and visual studies. Art directors included Tandy Riddle and Linda Knox, both volunteers from the community.
Other noted writers who contributed pieces to the journal included artist David Kirk, Northwest poet James Bertolino, Alabama-based artist Mary Ann Sampson, poet and Frederick Turner, author of epic poems and books about Shakespeare, as well as Arizona-based artist Julie Comnick, among others.
"Each piece is meant to be evocative and playful, so that the reader extends, responds to, the work," Lynda Sexson said. "Was it Twyla Tharp who said, 'Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box?' The process of thinking about everything from design to theory was very refreshing and so much fun."
Copies of Corona may be purchased at http://www.montana.edu/corona/.
Lynda Sexson (406) 994-4200, firstname.lastname@example.org or
Michael Sexson, 994-5189