The Convict Bird is William T. Vollmann’s first book, self-published in 1987 by his own CoTangent Press. The book was presented in an edition of 100 signed and numbered copies, 10 of which were a collaborative production between Vollmann and sculptor Matt Heckert featuring a binding of studded black steel, hinges, and a padlock. Per the colophon, these 10 steel-editions featured a bookmark made from a street prostitute’s hair.
This is one of the 90 regular editions, featuring a hand-sewn binding. My copy, mysteriously, is unsigned, although the edition calls for it. Maybe if Vollmann’s The Dying Grass tour sends him out to New York I can bring it to him.
The book itself is about a friend of Vollmann’s serving a life sentence in prison and is written in the manner of a children’s rhyme. It’s illustrated with Vollmann’s drawings and, at only sixteen pages, is a deeply eerie piece. Some further research reveals that Vollmann’s friend is Veronica Compton, a “groupie” of The Hillside Strangler duo. Compton formed an intimate relationship with one of the killers, Kenneth Bianchi, while he was behind bars. Bianchi convinced Compton to try and murder someone in the style of The Hillside Strangler in an effort to convince authorities that the real killers will still at large. Compton failed, and her attempted copycat murder put her behind bars.
Here’s a quote from Vollmann on the book’s creation:
“The Convict Bird is about a friend of mine who is serving a life sentence in prison. I did it partly to raise a little bit of money for her, which I guess goes against this fallacy that somehow you can help people with books. I knew no one else would publish this poem in the way I wanted it to be published, so I decided I should do it myself. And since I was going to do it myself, I decided might as well go whole hog and make it exactly the way I wanted it.”
The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
Currently listening to:
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Loin des Hommes