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If the illustrated book for adults can, when the illustrations are undertaken by a hand less sophisticated than those of the author, produce an effect on the reader of distrust of the whole, the handmade book is one which aspires to, and regularly manages to, exalt the ideal of the book. Not that long ago, all books were handmade; now, most of the work is performed by armies of cleverly machined presses and binderies. Lost, in that consumptive progression, is not the beautiful book–for many special books made by machine do manage to be beautiful objects that function well. Lost is the ordinary book being routinely beautiful.
If the art of the handmade book is less available to the common reader, we must content ourselves with the uncommon pleasures it presents when we find them. Letterpress type is beautiful not merely because it is an expression of the earliest products of movable type, but because type that has been pressed into paper is often, to my eyes, more readable than text made up of ink applied to it or sprayed on it (much less the boondoggle of e-ink and its alleged readability). Several MFA programs across the country still teach the old art of movable type–and the making of paper, and the art of sewing books in signatures so that the pages of a beloved book don’t–as your favorite hardcovers of late do–fall out after two readings.
University of Iowa’s Center for the Book (UICB) has been minting, of late, graduate students who go on to to do beautiful work, as I recently learned. Talented book and print maker Lucy Brank produced, as her first handmade book as a student a small and lovely creature called Rimbaud/Verlaine, Marine/Seascape. Twelve pages long and printed, as Brank says in her colophon, “on a mysterious, unidentifiable Fabriano paper anonymously donated to UICB”, the book unites, for the first time, two poems of the same title by friends Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.
Brank begins studiously, with facing pages of French and English versions of each poet’s poem, using hand-set Bembo type.
As the translator of this version of “Marine,” Rimbaud’s little poem from his Illuminations, I find it an unusual pleasure to see the poem vividly set …
…and then reset so vividly as to make its translator not reproach its fidelity to the original (for once — translations are never fully satisfying to anyone, not least to their translators):
Fabulous fun though such crafty scruple is for the eye, Brank is up to more, in her Rimbaud/Verlaine, than rare clarity. She also has an artful ambition to make of two poems something more still, as one finds upon turning further:
Where we see the poem’s atoms begin to degrade, rising out of place and into space:
More fun still is the way Brank marries Verlaine and Rimbaud’s two poems on facing pages, producing a kind of typo-poetical cross-polination, a collision of not two but three artists’ visions. Faced with such beauty and rare industry, one can only look forward to more of Brank’s creations.
More from Wyatt Mason:
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Rank of Detroit among major U.S. cities whose residents give the largest portion of their income to charity:
A South Dakota researcher concluded that only scant blood spatter results when chain saws are used to dismember pigs.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature