Saturday, January 31, 2015

one's library's hidden depths

there are books on my shelves that I have (almost) never opened, books that have been there for years, even decades, without my attention becoming directed to their pages - one such is William Carlos Williams's Paterson, Books I - V, (London, MacGibbon & Kee, 1964) - not because I made any sort of decision against it, but simply, with my incredibly slow reading speed and along with more other books than I feel comfortable about, I haven't got around to it - Paterson of course is one of the primary modernist works, even if Charles Olson did give it a hard time, and ought to have been in my consciousness a long time before now - so, I open it at random, and here it is on page 65, in Book II - 

Without invention nothing is well spaced,
unless the mind change, unless
the stars are new measured, according
to their relative positions, the
line will not change, the necessity
will not matriculate: unless there is
a new mind there cannot be a new
line, the old will go on
repeating itself with recurring
deadliness. . . 

and I am perk'd up, straight away, knowing that this is not just a view for then, but for now, and for me - how I have over the years invented fresh forms, knowing that without fresh form there is no fresh content - if I can put Robert Creeley's great phrase - 

form is never more than an extension of content

alongside another which says -

content is always an expression of form

tho the replacement of 'extension' with 'expression' poses its own difficulties, I am prick'd again by ageing's wish for comfort (in my case, anyway, I just wanna sit down), to realise I have still to keep alert to new inventions (John Cage said he invented rather than created, and I deeply respect that) - Williams's Paterson was a great invention, still is, even to having lines angled on the page - and the mix of poetry & prose, the shifting layers of space within & between the lines, and flight of punctuation, like stars from the centre of the universe, all with multiple voices & voicings that constitute a city and a person - I suspect Williams knew more about a city than Olson did, but then all of us know something more about something than others do - the answer to the question What do I know? is always both 'nothing' and 'everything', all-at-once, all-the-time - 

Friday, January 30, 2015

(a)stray not(h)ings

as Miriam is away in Europe visiting family for a few weeks, this blog will lack images, but I can say a few things - a new limited edition of my poems, In Autumn, is due out from Sabine Golde's Carivari in Leipzig - it is the first time a collection of mine has been translated into another language, in this case German, and the book is in both English & German - I don't have the details of size, materials or price yet, but I'll post them as soon as I can - 

another edition, this time from Richard Wagener's Mixolydian Editions (California) is also due out - titled Vestige, it is a development from the earlier Loom published by David Pascoe's Nawakum Press (California) - Richard, interviewed by Edwin Dobb in the latest Book Club of California's Quarterly News-Letter, said about Vestige : '. . . grew out of a special print for Loom. It's more painterly than Loom, with five engravings of tightly woven threads, somewhat distressed, and brushstroke-like gestures, against a subtle color background. Alan wrote another poem to accompany the engravings' - again, once I get the prospectus, I'll post the details - 

In Autumn, Loom and Vestige will all be shown at the CODEX V Book Fair in February - 

to add too to an earlier post about a series of Broadsides issuing from Electio this year, I can now say that the poets in the series will be Marion May Campbell, Ruark Lewis, Robert Wood, Ross Brighton, and Jennifer Harrison, tho this may not be the order in which they appear - 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

on the critical/limited edition

thinking more about Sebastian Carter's Beckett I noted a few days ago, brings to mind a possibility for the fine press book that is perhaps too little expressed, which is a critical edition of a small text - the vast majority of critical editions tend to be of major authors or complete works, go to a few hundred pages & require offset or digital printing - but most poets never get such treatment, they never reach that level of 'importance', & after all, it is a significant undertaking of time & money on the level of the oeuvre - but on the level of the individual poem or, as in Carter's Beckett, a short prose work, a hand-printed critical limited edition might well be able to illuminate both the writer's practice and the passage of a particular work towards some sort of 'completion', even if it turns out that completion, or a definitive version, is not really possible to assert - I wanted, during my time at The Holloway Press at the University of Auckland, to make such editions part of our normal publishing process, and the books that issued from that impulse were three : Robin Hyde's The Victory Hymn, Kendrick Smithyman's Tomarata, & Annie & Harold Beauchamp's A Shipboard Diary, tho I suspect that only The Victory Hymn comes closest to a genuine critical edition - 

one book that influenced me greatly over a long time was Phaidros: A Search for the Typographic Form of Plato's Phaedrus, compiled by Jack W Stauffacher, with an exchange of letters between Stauffacher and book & type designer Charles Bigelow about how that 'typographic form' might be realised - Stauffacher's search involved a series of possible typographic layouts for the dialogic form of Phaedrus, based on variants of the fairly small number of historical precedents, the books that had already been published, from Aldus in 1513 to Penguin in 1975 - the discussion in the letters turned around the question of how the dialogue could be treated as two 'separate' texts while living in a design which was nevertheless a harmonious whole - Stauffacher's final result bore almost no resemblance to his initial experiments, and involved a kind of leap into a typographic scheme that owed nothing to his historical antecedents - one of the options proposed (by Charles Bigelow) tho rejected was that the voices in the dialogue be divided into two colors, black for Socrates and blue for Phaedrus -  here's Bigelow on it : "The second color insures that we always know who is speaking. Unambiguous separation of the voices by chroma (timbre). This solves the signal problem. Calm pervasive differentiations." - and this prospect stayed with me for many years (received Jack's book in 1988 & printed The Victory Hymn in 1995) - 

the design/typographic problem for The Victory Hymn was : how to show eight versions of the poem, each of which had about 80 lines, in which only 14 lines were common to all versions - Robin Hyde's MSS and typescripts showed her trying out a lot of different options, not only in the language of the poem, but also in its punctuation - interestingly, the lines of the poem thruout were very much maintained, and the poet's changes were within the lines rather than lines being dropped or added - the solution I came to was to print the 14 common lines in blue - as a kind of ghostly presence or reminder/remainder in the shifting lines of the rest of the poem - as if the lightness of the blue alongside the assertiveness of the black ink suggested that even these lines might recede, might fade as a trace does, might withdraw from the poem in the very act of its production - a 'calm pervasive differentiation' - of course, the paradox here is that the lines that have received repeated alteration are printed in black, the strongest color, the color that, of all the colors, most resists confusion or instability of image on the page - perhaps the 14 common lines of the poem should have been in black & the other 66 lines in blue - there are arguments for both options - perhaps a 'calm, pervasive, ever-changing differentiation' - 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

my week's favorite poem

my friend Tony Green sent me this poem by email, and I can't resist putting it up here - some may recall I printed his Sourdough a year or so ago (now out of print) - I like the simple technique of adding layers of static & interference, thru which almost any reading takes place these days with the barrage of data that is always streaming in, like it or not, want it or not etc - as I say, the static being part of the very fabric of the poem - yet we can read it, and can read it aloud (the visual here is the red-herring) - always multiple threads in Green's weavings, a poetry of signs & truncated narratives - if your parachute doesn't open what does it matter what color the thing is - highlighting to what purpose - yet, to deliver the poem at a 'poetry reading' would obscure the experience that is elaborated on the page - to print it on the handpress would be possible if one's capacity for high quality registration was up to it - and while it's probably fair to say that it is the computer that makes composition at this complexity possible,  I have a typewriter with a double black&red ribbon, and a set of colored highlighting pens (which I don't have) could certainly make making such a poem possible - and contemporary digital printing would reproduce the poem as is in its colors very well, suggesting something I have occasionally mentioned in the past that, some poems, by their structure, should be reproduced by printing (as an image is) rather than reset by the usual editorial processes - the poet out to 'drive     hard     bargain' with 'hand-brake     on' - 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

another sidetrack

it appears that the search for the fabled golden honeycomb has met the proverbial brick wall - an intriguing sidetrack for a while, but 1) no one seems to know who actually commissioned it, 2) no one has any information on whether Sir Edmund Hillary knew anything about it, 3) no one seems to know where it is - there is yet a fair amount of writing about it, and who made it and even about some of the processes - yet I cannot find anything concrete online about the goldsmith John Donald - I give up - 

I remember back in the 1960s when I was a proofreader at The Dominion newspaper in New Zealand, another reader at the paper was about to return to England on a particular passenger ship, when he inserted a small and definitely unauthorised paragraph into the Shipping News (these were the days when passenger liners were regularly in & out of the Port of Wellington) in which he noted that some of the facilities on board the luxury liner were of a poor standard, and the toilet facilities in particular were a bit nasty - over the next few days, the Captain & several members of the crew were interviewed about the toilets on board, as were some of the illustrious passengers - even the then prime minister (or, it might have been the governor-general) who had been taken on a tour of the ship was asked by industrious reporters what they (unremembered gender) thought about the toilets - no one, as I recall, enquired about the origin of the story - one can only marvel at how wonderfully gullible we can be about what we read - 

meanwhile, back at the bookshelf, here is a spread from the Rampant Lions edition of Samuel Beckett's As the story was told - the line of narrative running thru the middle of the pages does that for the whole book, and is set in 24pt Albertus Light, a bunch of which I expect to receive soon from Offizin Parnassia - the texts in red above the story line are either bits of related material from other Beckett writings or accounts of such connections by critics, and the texts below the story line are bibliographical notations showing textual variations from all the versions of the work - it's a lovely way of having a kind of solid, unvarying base for the book as a whole, which can then carry a great deal of typographical variation from spread to spread - one of my favourite books, designed & printed of course by Sebastian Carter - 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the craft in art

trying to find out more about the location & fate of Michael Ayrton's golden honeycomb sculpture (above) seems to become less as I go on - from both Sir Edmund Hillary's son and from a long-time & experienced person in the art scene in New Zealand, the view is that Hillary's involvement in the matter is apocryphal, and further literature suggests that it was not Hillary who commissioned the work but another unnamed 'New Zealand patron' - it appears then that Guy Davenport has tripped on a false story (which I would expect to be very rare for him) - the picture above (with bees!) has been filched from an online story about the making of this sculpture & the centrality of a craftsman goldsmith (John Donald) who was mainly responsible for the prospect of being able to make the work at all (for the picture and the story alluded to, by Kenneth Blakemore, read this - 

Mr Blakemore also proposes 'Dedalus' as a real character, which is also problematic - and the place to check that out is Daidalos and the origins of Greek art, Sarah P Morris, Princeton University Press 1992 - in which she demonstrates that the term 'daidalos' was a range of adverbs & adverbial phrases meaning something like 'well-wrought' or 'decorated' or 'well made' long before the capital letter was introduced and a kind of proto-artist was postulated as the originator of the well-crafted object, 'a wonder to behold' etc - 

in any case, the artwork was made possible by the art of the craftsman, a goldsmith, and many book people will surely recognise in this pattern the situation where the work of a bookbinder has made someone's 'artist's book' possible, and in such a way as that the work of the binder is far more interesting and 'full of art' than the material between the covers - 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

new year resolve, not resolution

to shift the balance, from print more than write to write more than print - to enrol in Ancient Greek I at Melbourne University, after years of procrastination - to pull out the Greek typewriter I bought a few months ago from an Italian who calls himself Tom the Typewriter Man, whose shop is in, wait for it, Elgin Street - and to record a bit more of what I'm reading, e.g. Guy Davenport, who had a flair for placing perhaps unrelated but somehow apt bits of apparently stray information into his narratives, like this, to start his essay on Wittgenstein - 

      Like the gentle Anton Bruckner, who counted leaves on trees to while away a Sunday  afternoon, Ludwig Wittgenstein in odd moments calculated the height of trees by pacing off from the trunk etc -

Bruckner is not named in the rest of the essay, but the memory of his leaf-counting remains - and where does 'gentle' come from, Davenport would have had his reason(s) - and in The House that Jack Built (traversing Ruskin, Joyce, Pound & labyrinthine resonance & reference) - is an aside that touches this ex-pat New Zealander - 

      The English artist Michael Ayrton, disciple of Wyndham Lewis and a sculptor who specialized in Minotaurs and who wrote a novel about Daedalus, was commissioned a few years ago by the mountain-climber and bee-keeper Sir Edmund Hillary to see if he could discover how Daedalus made a honeycomb of gold. The lost-wax process, perhaps its very invention, was obviously involved. Michael Ayrton proceeded to make a golden honeycomb. Moreover, when Sir Edmund put it in his garden in New Zealand as a gleaming piece of sculpture, bees came, accepted it as a hive, and filled it with honey and their young.  - The Geography of the Imagination, Pantheon Books, NY & SF, no date but after 1981, p.19

I was 13 years old when the news came thru of Hillary's climbing (they called it a 'conquest' but that seems just too hubric a notion to repeat) of the previously unscalable Mt Everest - later in that year Queen Elizabeth was touring the country and on christmas eve the worst railway disaster in the nation's history took place at Tangiwai (a Maori word, meaning something like 'river of tears') when 151 people died, including a friend of mine & his mother, and I've written on that in my The Falling : a memoir (AUP, Auckland 2001) - a book officially out of print, but copies can be had from the author - in any event, Hillary had read James Joyce, and knew enough to commission Michael Ayrton, a name that very few New Zealanders would have known, and I certainly had no idea that Hillary was also a bee-keeper - I doubt we know enough about the connections made by New Zealanders with their northern colleagues, like poet/printer Denis Glover's friendship with Oxford University Press printer Dr John Johnson (Glover said he had slept on the premises) & sd Johnson 'taught me more about printing and typography than I had ever learned' - and private press printer Bob Gormack (Nag's Head Press in Christchurch) also went to London & lunched with Beatrice Warde in 1955 (the year I left school & launched myself into a world I found & find unintelligible, with no idea that poetry would become the primary place where that 'collision' (a term coined by Gig Ryan, Melbourne poet & critic, in reviewing my Fragmenta nova in The Age newspaper) would be registered over the succeeding decades -