The Press

Books in Print


Press News





Barbarian Press
Past Publications

Wood engraving by Andy English
(from The Eve of St. Agnes, 2003)

Many of the titles published by Barbarian Press in the past are now out of print. Descriptions and publication details of some of those titles are available here for your perusal.

Please note that all of these books are

Cover scan

Click above
for additional images

The Blue Roofs of Japan

by Robert Bringhurst


In 1986 we published an edition of Robert Bringhurst’s The Blue Roofs of Japan: A Score for Interpenetrating Voices. Designing the book was one of the more fascinating jobs we had done up to that time.

Robert’s conception was essentially an oral one: the poem was meant to be spoken - hence the word ‘score’ in the subtitle. The problem was to find some visual reflection of that which would convey the voices overlapping and counterpointing one another, while allowing the text to be visually readable and the poem’s flow to be uninterrupted. Robert suggested overprinting with a black and a lighter-coloured ink, but when we tried that it was (as we had all anticipated) a muddy mess. We also experimented with various Japanese tissue papers, printing one voice’s part on the tissue, and the second on the page beneath, but that was equally unsatisfactory: the tissue, although strong, was nevertheless inclined to shift under the hand, and unless it were lying flat against the lower page the type beneath the tissue couldn’t be read.

Crispin was looking at some Japanese books one day and began to wonder about Japanese folding, the traditional method of using light-weight papers in a book, folding them at the foredge and stitching them at the spine. That way, one could write or print on one side of a sheet without the ink’s showing through: each page was in effect a double sheet. That provided the clue. We printed the two voices on facing pages in blue, and then printed the other voice’s part over the blue text, but in blind - that is, without using ink, but impressing the type into the page with some ‘bite’. Read in a normal raking light, both the printed text and the ‘blind’ one can be read: on the left hand pages the First Voice is in blue and the Second in blind, with the reverse on the right hand pages. This allows the reader to read one part while being conscious of the other voice’s movement beneath the words he is reading; he is also able to read the other voice in blind in areas where the main voice is saying nothing, to fascinating effect.

The design of the rest of the book flowed from that discovery. The title was printed from calligraphy by Tse Yim in blind and blue on the title page and on a half-title, and the whole was side-stabbed and block sewn with blue ribbon into wraps.

When we were readying the book for the press, we were approached by the late William Hoffer, a well-known Vancouver bookseller, who wondered if we would be interested in printing a separate edition of the book for inclusion in a series he was then publishing from his shop under his own imprint. Robert agreed to the idea, as did we, a deal was struck, and we ran a second state of the book from the same type, but with different paper and a different cover stock. The books were delivered to Hoffer, we were paid, and that was the last we heard for some time.

Bill Hoffer’s departure has left rather a gaping hole in the Canadian literary book world, for although he was a difficult man, he was also an enthusiast and a man of probity. His catalogues,  although sometimes vituperative and wrong-headed, are unfailingly entertaining and informative. He was a colourful and somewhat unpredictable character, and among his interesting qualities was his tendency to make an enemy of virtually anyone who had any dealings with him. We had no warning that we might be joining the ranks of the dispossessed beyond one rather terse call, when Bill complained about our having retained some archival proof copies of his edition. We explained that we were keeping a few copies for our own collection and archives, and had no intention of selling them - and that (we thought) was that. Bill had unfortunately died by the time we discovered that he had excoriated us in one of his last catalogues as having behaved unworthily. We never had a chance to talk to him or to try to put it right - although it must be said that implacable resentment was one of his less appealing characteristics, so it would probably have done no good.

Hoffer apparently told some people that he had destroyed the edition we had printed for him without selling any copies. Certainly to this day we have never heard of anyone who owns one, and we accepted the story. Recently, however, our friend Stephen Lunsford, another Vancouver bookseller, told us that he had come across a box of copies of the edition which had apparently escaped the fire, and generously offered them to us. We are able to offer them for sale here.

This William Hoffer edition of The Blue Roofs of Japan is item A14b in our bibliography. A14a, the Barbarian Press edition, is one of the scarcer items in our bibliography: we haven’t seen a copy available for sale in many years, and as far as we know few, if any, of Hoffer’s edition ever reached the public. This is an opportunity for those interested in Bringhurst’s work to acquire a copy of this important poem, the first major essay in Bringhurst’s continuing fascination with polyphonal (and now polyglottal) writing for voices. The text is otherwise available only in the MacClelland & Stewart edition of his selected poems, The Calling, now long out of print; there it is presented in the overprinted version which is, by general consent, not very effective.

Please note that the edition we offer here bears the imprint “William Hoffer, Vancouver, 1986” on the title page. It was, however, printed from the same type as the Barbarian Press edition, and at the same time.

40 copies available of an edition of 150 printed for the late William Hoffer in blue, black, and blind from Spectrum types on Mohawk Superfine, stabbed and side-stitched into Canson mi-teintes bleu roi cover, with a cancel title page. 11¼ by 7 5/8 inches. 32 pages. Signed and numbered by the poet.
C$125 / US$108     OUT OF PRINT