on the Sublime
Books Forthcoming from Barbarian Press
We are aware, as probably you are too, that this section on forthcoming books is always written with a certain determined wistfulness. Making books as we do, almost entirely by hand, and often with substantial texts, is an occupation haunted by haps and mishaps. While the books announced as under way are indeed in process, and will be finished, we have learned that projected dates are endlessly flexible – not because we wish them to be, but because those metaphysical bureaucrats, the Fates, become increasingly jocular as we get older. So we ask your patience, and invite your trust. The books will emerge. This, together with death and taxes, is sure.
Bordering on the Sublime: Ornamental Typography at the Curwen Press is under way, and the first complete gathering, comprising the Introduction and first section of David Jury’s section of the text, ‘Harold Curwen: Old Style Modernist’, is now printed and stored. Crispin is setting the second section, and the presswork continues.
Many of you will recall that in 2009, through the generosity of many of our subscribers and patrons, we acquired the entire Curwen Press collection of Monotype ornaments, together with well over a hundred standing borders used in their work for various clients, press proofs of those borders in use, and over a hundred packets of new ornaments still in the foundry wrappings. Bordering on the Sublime will reprint these borders, most in two colours, accompanied by essays by David Jury and Crispin Elsted on the Curwen Press’s history, its place in British and European printing and design between the wars, the press’s work with ornaments, and the use of ornaments generally in that period and later. The page devoted to the project has more information.
We were able to order the paper for the book in the fall of 2016, and for three and a half years it has been stacked on every available flat surface in the pressroom. In the spring of 2017 the type arrived from Michael and Winifred Bixler, together with a couple of hundred pounds of Monotype ornaments to refresh some of the holdings of the Curwen Press, all of which we now own.
Until September 2020, and while the setting and printing of the early pages of the book were in process, Crispin was continuing to research and write the second half of the book, which is growing to be considerably longer than we imagined at first. We have now been able to discover some solid information about Bert Smith, the compositor at Curwen who created most, if not all, of the borders, and may be able to find more. Thanks to the diligence of Bob Richardson at St. Bride Printing Museum in London, we know Bert’s full name [Bertie Elias Smith], his date and place of birth, the year he began his apprenticeship, and the names of his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, along with some other little tidbits of his life and interests, including his love of gardening and his purchase of an Adana press for hobby printing upon his retirement. He has begun to take human form beyond his reputation as a designer and compositor of distinctive decorative borders.
We estimate that Bordering on the Sublime will not be completed until 2022, at the earliest – and by ‘completed’ we refer to the completion of the presswork; after that must come the folding and collating of the books, and the binding, which is certain to take several months. This means that, if we are to survive, we must produce some smaller books while the Curwen project is ongoing. While working on two projects simultaneously might be seen as distracting attention from both, in practice this is not the case. It is certainly true that ‘multi-tasking’ is too often touted as a desirable and admired skill, when it is frequently an indulgent excuse for not paying sufficient attention to anything one is doing. However, we find that this sort of balance between a large and complex book and a smaller, more homogeneous one can be mutually illuminating, one acting as a counterpoint or descant to the other, and we enjoy working on every book we produce.
Since January of this year we have completed a collection of poems by Jan Zwicky with photographs by Robert Moody, Fifty-six Ontological Studies. Most of the books have now gone out to customers, with only a handful remaining for sale. See the page for Fifty-six Ontological Studies in the Books in Print section for further information.
Sudden Immobility: Selected Poems of Molly Holden
We are now well into work on another collection of poetry, this one a major selection of poems by Molly Holden (1927-81), an English poet whose work follows to some extent in the tradition of Edward Thomas, notably in the intensity of her perceptions and the way in which her senses engage with the essence of landscape and country, flower, bird, animal, and place. Robert Frost said of Edward Thomas, ‘His poetry is so very brave, so unconsciously brave.’ And Ted Hughes called him ‘The father of us all.’ If that is the case, then Molly Holden must be his favoured descendant. In 1961 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and over the next twenty years, as her disability increased, so her poetry deepened and clarified. Rather in the way that the metaphorical structures of Emily Dickinson’s poems grew out of her intense attention to the limited world of her house and garden, Molly Holden’s focuses on the everyday matters of her life, her view from a window, her memories of living a wider life.
Molly Holden published five books of verse. The first two were only small pamphlets, but the last three were collections in the ‘Living Poets’ series of Chatto & Windus, and received fine reviews. Knowing that we wanted to publish a book of Holden’s poetry, we contacted her daughter Nicola Carpenter and son Gerard Holden to ask permission. They were delighted, and have given us a great deal of help in these early stages, including giving us copies of their mother’s first two privately printed chapbooks, and providing us with several poems which have either never appeared in book form, or remain unpublished even in magazines. We had been considering wood engraved illustrations for the book for some time, and knowing that Andy English loves poetry and the English countryside, we asked him if he would consider it. As always, he surprised us: it emerged that he already knew and admired Molly Holden’s work, and he agreed at once. The selection comprises almost 200 poems, including the unpublished poems provided by her adult children in addition to all those previously published. Crispin has designed the book and will hand-set some of the poems, as a counterpoint (see above) to setting the long prose chapters of the Curwen book; Apollonia is setting the rest, and the presswork is being divided between her and Jan. Sudden Immobility will also provide Polly with the opportunity to learn the finest techniques of printing engravings from Jan, who is now, after thirty-five years, one of the most experienced printers of engravings presently working. We will aim to publish the book early in 2021.
The third book of the ‘Curwen companions’ we anticipate will be published later in 2021. Pastoral Elegies will comprise two of the great poems of 18th century England: Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ and Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village.’ This is a pair of poems we have long wanted to publish as a continuation of our ongoing project to re-introduce great poems from the canon in beautifully illustrated editions. These have so far included Shakespeare (twice), Keats (twice), Spenser, Clare, and Clough – and (why not?) the Reverend R. H. Barham (a.k.a. Thomas Ingoldsby). These are the first from the Augustan mob, and we have future plans for more Clare, and possibly Tennyson.
These two poems of course beg for engravings to illustrate them, and we are very happy to have engaged Christopher Wormell to provide them. His work as an engraver is widely known, though perhaps not always recognized. Among other things, the new design for the arms of the Royal Opera House is his, and he has provided jacket illustrations for many Penguin Books, including some for Philip Pullman’s novels; visitors to Hampton Court will have seen his engravings marking the kitchens, wine cellars, and other areas, while supporters of Aston Villa F. C. will have toasted his version of the team’s Lion; more to the present point, he has illustrated several books from the Folio Society, notably Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. It was this last, in fact, which inspired us to ask him to illustrate Pastoral Elegies.
. . . and coming later . . .
Other projects are in the early planning stages, but at this point we have only limited information about them. Nevertheless, here is a taste of three of them:
True North: The Art of Eric Bergman
We have firm plans with the family of Eric Bergman, the brilliant German-Canadian engraver and block-printmaker of the mid-century, to publish a major book on his work, which we have long admired. This will include over 80 engravings printed from the original blocks, which have been carefully preserved by his grand-daughters, Karen Paul and Norma Bergman. Eric Bergman was a close friend of the painter and printmaker W. J. Phillips, who is well known as an engraver, but who is also credited with introducing the Japanese-style colour woodcut into the Canadian art scene between the wars. Bergman learned this technique from Phillips, and our book will include a number of examples of his colour woodcuts, which will be printed from inks applied with brushes to blocks and hand-rubbed in the Ukiyo-e style by Sean McLachlan, a young printer from Winnipeg who is studying Ukiyo-e methods, and is a friend of the Bergman family. We hope that Sean will come to the press and work in our studio with us. Karen Paul and Norma Bergman will provide a biographical essay on their grandfather. There will also be a critical appraisal of Bergman’s work by Patricia Bovey, and plates of other works and photographs. Discussions and plans for this are ongoing, and it will go into the press immediately following the publication of Bordering on the Sublime.
The Shepherd’s Calendar
We have long wanted to publish an edition of John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, to be illustrated with engravings by Andy English. Andy has long wanted to illustrate this jewel of pastoral and romantic poetry, and the project has been the subject of many conversations over the past ten years. This will certainly come along in the future, but at the moment we have no more details to offer.
Ovid – Englished by Arthur Golding
And of course – beyond all these there looms, tantalizingly, our planned edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the 1567 ‘Englishing’ of Arthur Golding, with engravings by Peter Lazarov, about which we – and Peter – are very excited. This will be another major work in at least two volumes. The text is fascinating, written in high style in ‘fourteeners’, a favourite largely pre-Shakespearean meter. As fourteeners are difficult for a modern reader to sound out without galumphing, we intend gathering a group of professional actors to record several of the best known stories from the Metamorphoses in Golding’s version. These will probably include Daphne and Apollo, Echo and Narcissus, Pyramus and Thisbe(!), Actaeon and Artemis, and one or two others. We imagine this will inspire readers of the book to read the poem for themselves with greater ease and subtlety.
We have had several conversations already with Peter Lazarov about the illustrations, and anticipate extraordinary results.
We will continue to post news of ongoing developments here, with the hope that something irresistible will catch the unsuspecting eye.