Emily Bilman: Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

  Dr. Emily Bilman

  Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

  and The Phenomenology of the Non-Self

Perhaps it should be mentioned that John Tranter, the editor of JPR, is not overly fond of Hill’s poetry

Paragraph One follows — 1:

The purpose of this introductory paper is to trace Geoffrey Hill’s poetic evolution and demonstrate one of Geoffrey Hill’s concepts of poetry as an action experienced and elaborated through his inner life and shaped by his poetical thought. I chose the chronological approach to his work in order to indicate the progression of his poetical thought based on his personal phenomenology. The close reading of his poems enabled me to analyze the changes in his poetic techniques and his poetic progression from a more concrete imagistic and moral stance to a more abstract, skeptical, and stoic one, characterized by his non-self that enabled him to objectify his perceptions while still maintaining his imagery and moral stance. Through his poems, I described his “non-self” that characterizes his later work to the point of self-censure and self-deprecation expressed mainly by archaic poetic techniques applied to actual poetics, referencing, oxymorons, irony, sarcasm, aphasia, negation, and inverse logic.


The Greek etymology of the word “poësis” implies a technique based on the act of shaping. In “Poetry as ‘Menace’ and ‘Atonement’”, Hill argues that we encounter both the menacing and atoning qualities of poetry within language and etymology. For Hill, as for T.S. Eliot, poetry is “… an exemplary instance of the at-one-ment of the ‘sense of language’ with the feeling for the ways of life.” Like Eliot, in “The Three Voices of Poetry”, Hill considers poetry to be a deed which, ought to be, but is not, necessarily, in accordance with our emotions. Compromises are needed. In “Poetry as Menace and Atonement”, Hill quotes the philosopher Rhush Rees to emphasize that utterance and active living are inseparable: “For we speak as others have spoken before us. And a sense of language is also a feeling for ways of living that have meant something.” (CCW, p. 13).


Hill’s concept of poetry as a deed is suggested in “Genesis”, the opening poem of his book, For the Unfallen (1959), in which the poet assumes a God-like persona and speaks as the world’s Creator.


/ = stressed syllable
\ = half-stressed syllable
u = unstressed syllable
(u) = a syllable missing from a metric form
| = divides the feet apart

| u / | u / | u / | u / |
Against the burly air I strode
| / u u | / u u | u / | (u) (u) |
Crying the miracles of God.


The strong rhythmic tetrameter of the first line, which accentuates the consonants, contains the oxymoron “burly air” that emphasizes the poet’s mixed feelings towards God’s miracles. “Burly” implies heft against the lightness of “air”. Furthermore, the poet takes on a moral weight, transcribed throughout the poem, through images of Nature’s fallen state that accentuate the animals’ precise, steel-like hunting instincts, despite their soft demeanors that are due to the poet’s personal projections.


And the third day I cried. ‘Beware
The soft-voiced owl, the ferret’s smile,
The hawk’s deliberate stoop in air,
Cold eyes, and bodies hooped in steel,
Forever bent upon the kill.’ (BH, p.3)


These images of Nature, driven by predation and bloodshed, transform the poem into a parody of the Genesis myth of creation. In his essay, “Common Weal, Common Woe”, Hill associates the deficiency of language with the fallibility of mankind. (CCW, p. 279, citing Newman). His belief in the Fall is also stated in “Poetry and Value” : “… attached as I am to a form of belief in Original Sin, one that is probably not too far removed from the orthodox…” (CCW, p. 479); for “There is no bloodless myth will hold.” (Genesis, BH, p. 3). Have the unbaptized not been baptized by the bloodshed in the world, Hill asks.


In “History as Poetry” which is contained in his next book, King Log (1968), Hill sees poetry as a Pentecostal feast referring both to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot and the instauration of , and to the Christian Pentecost when the Holy Spirit enlightened the souls of his disciples, followers, and martyrs. Hill also refers to the redemptive powers of poetry through the personification of Lazarus raised from the dead by Christ:


Unearths from among the speechless dead
Lazarus mystified, common man
Of death. (BH, p. 61)


According to Hill’s poetics, the act of poetry resurrects Lazarus and common man from death. Lazarus is, thus, mystified. Paradoxically, the process is both an act and a mystery for Hill. He implies that poetry is a secular and religious celebration for common man and the poet is Christ-like. Sarcastically, he associates history and its martyrs with his poetry.


In “September Song — born 19.6.32 — deported 24.9.42” from the same book, Hill harshly denounces the atrocities of the concentration camps with an antithetical historical allusion to the miraculous salvation of the Jewish children in Egypt “passed over at the proper time.” in stark contrast to the scientifically planned Nazi genocide of WWII.


As estimated, you died. Things marched,
Sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
Terror, so many routine cries. (BH, p.44)


Ironically, the poet protects himself from these atrocities by transforming his poem into an elegy. The elegy stands in contrast with the lyrical quality of the next stanza: “September fattens on the vines. Roses / Flake from the wall. The smoke / Of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.” And he, immediately, feels the weight of guilt : “This is plenty. This is more than enough.” (BH, p. 44). Hence, we see that the weight of the world makes the poet write about man’s fallenness, through original sin, as it is manifest through historical upheavals, martyrdoms, and the massacre of innocents whose awareness inflicts his super-ego with guilt.


Guilt, memory, and poetic language, expressed through Petrarch’s persona among others, are the main themes of The Triumph of Love (1998). For Hill, poetry as utterance and active virtue, are civic actions which must be used for the common good. In Section LXX, which has a conversational tone, the poet seeks “a noble vernacular” to reach common man through poetry.



Active virtue: that which shall contain
its own passion in the public weal —
do you follow? — or can you at least
take the drift of the thing? The struggle
for a noble vernacular: this
did not end with Petrarch. But where is it?
Where has it got us? Does it stop, in our case,
with Dryden, or, perhaps,
Milton’s political sonnets? — the cherished stock
hacked into ransom and ruin; the voices
of distinction, far back, indistinct.
Still, I’m convinced that shaping,
voicing, are types of civic action. Or, slightly
to refashion this, that Wordsworth’s two
Prefaces stand with his great tract
on the Convention of Cintra, witnessing
to the praesidium in the sacred name
of things betrayed. Intrinsic value
I am somewhat less sure of. It seems
implicate with active virtue but I cannot
say how, precisely. Partaking of both
fact and recognition, it must be, therefore,
in effect, at once agent and predicate:
imponderables brought home
to the brute mass and detail of the world;
there, by some, to be pondered. (LXX, BH, p. 259).


Hill supports his stance of committal in world-affairs by referencing Wordsworth’s two Prefaces to The Convention of Cintra, signed in August 30, 1808, which ended the Peninsular War between the French and the Anglo-Portuguese, allowing the former to be evacuated with their war-loot despite the Spanish protest. Wordsworth wrote a sonnet on the convention in which he stresses the importance of the innate freedom of the soul and the individual’s freedom of thought, influenced as he was by the French Revolution.


In Section LXX, Hill regrets that Milton’s political sonnets remain unread today. Yet, he strikes a satirical note by saying that the poem’s form does not correspond to its content as it once did in Milton’s time. The poet considers Wordsworth to be the “witness… of the praesidium in the sacred name / of things betrayed”. (LXX, BH, p. 259).


His implications are double-edged : the Anglo-Portuguese army’s action to evacuate the French army was considered to be “a betrayal” by the intellectuals of the time. Hill uses the predicate “betray” in the sense of “flawed”, implying, after Wordsworth and Byron, that the post-war diplomatic negotiations, the convention, and Sir Arthur Wellesley’s trial, the praesidium, were flawed by historical contingencies. Yet, the action and the diplomatic intervention served to stop the war. As such, it must have had “(the) sacred name” of peace.


In his essay “Poetry and Value”, Hill explains the relations between his concept of “intrinsic value” and poetic language with the metaphor of poetics as a ganglion of energy : “I am here presenting two interinvolved … categories … : questions related to the nature of language and questions related to poetics. … it is this latter ganglion of energy, techné, belief, and opinion that I have committed myself to address… ” (BH, p. 479).


In the poem, Hill hesitates to think that, perhaps, “active virtue” might be implicated by “intrinsic value”. He hesitates to know how. Finally, he recognises and concludes that “intrinsic value” is both the catalyst-agent and the predicate that drives men to action so that “the brute mass and detail of the world; / there, by some, (can) be pondered.” (LXX, BH, p. 259).


In Section CXLII of The Triumph of Love, Hill considers the classical rhetorical practice of ‘praise and vituperation’ as a formal poetic device applicable to The Triumph of Love (1998) and Speech! Speech! (2000).


I have introduced,
It is true, Laus et vituperatio
as a formality; still this formal thing
is less clear in situ. That —
possibly — is why I appeal to it. The Angels
of Sacral Equivocation, they now tell me,
are redundant: we have lost the Bloody Question.
(CXLII, BH, p. 283).


As seen in this section, The Triumph of Love is written in many voices, which enunciate even the rights of the dead victims who have fallen to inequity. The angels of equivocation, which make men speak differently than they think and feel, have ‘supposedly’ been made redundant. Yet, even today, we are still divided between our thoughts and actions. The angry poet thinks that we have lost the questions that can make us purge evil, yet these questions still remain to be answered. The answers wait [to] be joined in both utterance and act. As the discrepancy between world-events and the words needed to express them widens, Hill brings poetry to the public domain as a civil act of responsibility by questioning the contemporary use “in situ” of the classical rhetorical device. “Though you can count on there being some / bloody question or other, one does more / than merely survive.” (CXLII, BH, p. 284).


In a different context, Hill places the poet, as the speaker in the public domain, in Speech! Speech! (2000) which is confessional in tone yet, written in many voices, some of which are satirical. He bases this long poem on self-derision, sometimes turning it against himself, to the point of speechlessness. As the book opens, the poet, under the influence of lithium to calm his nerves, reduce his “mood- and mind-stress,” and his excitement, wonders whether he has any voice left at all to speak:


How is it to be named, how can it be un-
tuned, with lithium, this harp of nerves? Fare well
my daimon, inconstant
measures, mood- and mind-stress, heart’s rhythm
suspensive; earth-stalled the wings of suspension.
                    (3, BH, p. 290)


In Speech! Speech! Hill goes through a process of renunciation and self-denial to the point of reaching his “non-self” that I call the poet’s “virtual self” which I regard as one of the conditions of the poet’s creativity as well as of his empathy and nihilism. With his virtual self which is part of his creative self, the artist is able to objectify his perceptions in order to be able transcribe them into the media of art.


In the book, he uses street jargon, slang, puns, and cliché to denote his gradual descent into silent speechlessness. In Section 16, the poet’s memory-loss is equated with self-loss. The poet reaches the point of selflessness which, he thinks, is the condition of the self’s renewal. The last line in sequence 16 is also associated with the Christian paradox of deprivation, suffering, and redemption by the cross.


untranscribable, that which is wrests back
more than can be revived; inuring us
through deprivation, below and beyond life,
hard-come-by loss of self self’s restitution.
                    (16, BH, p. 296).


Yet, despite Hill’s occlusions and elliptical syntax, Speech! Speech! is written in an almost perfect pitch which, for Hill, is the hallmark of poetry because it transcribes the sound of music by the human voice. In his essay, “Translating Value”, he quotes Hopkins: “’Nothing else in nature comes near this unspeakable stress of pitch, distinctiveness, and selving, this selfbeing of my own.” (CCW, p. 391).


The discrepancy between the perfect pitch of poetry and an utter despair that plunges him into temporary nihilism, as he faces a fallen world, creates the tension inherent in Hill’s later poetry. In The Orchards of Syon (2002), he describes his perception of Elysium, feeling a sense of at-one-ness with his fellow-men.



Not all the orchards are for carols of death
and betrayal, the first the final
coupling, virgin fatality…
Goldengrove laid bare, becalmed,
lightly stretched in snow; peacock
and peahen treading in the white grass.
The Master of the Lost Fecundities
retraces leaf-spoor and hieroglyph,
makes equal atonement.
The hellebore, the Christmas rose, is crowned king.
Yes and we have gifts, at one with the Other.
Such tendernesses to our selves I mean,
Perennial, like the ilex. (BH, p. 377).


In Section XXVII, Hill thinks that man, regardless whether he is satisfied or not, survives his despair through freedom and determination, an idea that he expressed in an older version which was deleted from the present version. For Hill, every strife-driven and, at times, desperate common man, possibly symbolised by “The Master of the Lost Fecundities”, attains equal atonement. (Italics mine). The symbol also alludes to the myth of Osiris and man’s regeneration through the harvest. The poet feels an oceanic togetherness with his fellow men and a simultaneous tenderness, mixed with a need for protection, emotions he considers to be “perennial like the ilex.” The red berries of the ilex are toxic for humans although they can be digested by birds and propagated on an invasive scale. Yet, Hill wishes them to be perennial. “Bless poetics / if this is what they are.”


As in his many poems, in the following ekphrastic poem from his book, Without Title (2006), Hill enables us to see and feel the person behind the poem through the autobiographical elements in his verse. “The Jumping Boy” is based on a 1929 painting by the British artist Christopher Wood.




Here is the jumping boy, the boy
who jumps as I speak.

He is at home on the king’s highway,
in call of the tall house, its blind
gable end, the trees — I know this place.

The road, on broad contourings drawn out of sight,
stops — wherever — but not at Lyonnesse,
though from Lyonnesse I shall bring you,

through grimed orchards, across gorse-hummocked
old common land everywhere given back
to the future of memory.


He leaps because he has serious
joy in leaping. The girl’s
eyes no way allowed for, or else
she is close in covert and we
are to know that, not knowing how.
I’ll bet she worships his plebeian
bullet head, Hermes’ winged
plimsolls, the crinkled toy tin hat
held on by elastic. He is winning
a momentous and just war
with gravity.


This may be levitation. I
could do that. Give my remembrance
to his new body. These episodes recur.


Jump away, jumping boy; the boy I was
shouts go. (BH, p. 487)


This poem implies a graver introspection that transcends mere lyricism. Hill’s voice denotes a dédoublement which places the poet, in the past, with the young lad jumping in joy and, in the present, “I know this place”. The poet addresses the reader and himself, as a boy and as an adult. He deems it his determined duty to bring them back from the Arthurian legend that the poem is steeped in. The “old common (and native) land (would be) everywhere given back / to the future of (the boy’s, the poet’s, the reader’s) memory.”


The poet is torn between antithetical images of a legendary land and his own perception of the land, stretched from the past to the future, and expressed in the immediate imperative present of the poem. Through the use of oxymorons, the anticipating poet is liberated from the gravity of the reference to Tristan’s tragedy that weighs and will continue to weigh on him, through his future memory. (Italics mine).


The poem’s temporal ambiguity is further emphasized in the last two stanzas. Hill wants to remember the boy’s body in its lightness but also knows that it belongs to the past. “Jump away, jumping boy; the boy I was / shouts go.” In the last stanza, Hill leaves the reader hesitating to know whether he is willing to abandon his lyrical voice by shouting “go” or whether he will continue to write in his lyrical voice in the future. His ekphrastic poem, based on the poet’s perceptive experience of his life-story, transmits a double-edged, bittersweet message of déjà vu to the reader due to the poet’s repressed childhood feelings, aspirations, and memories.


Yet another poem from one of his later books, “A Treatise of Civil Power” (2007), contains an ekphrastic allusion to Blake’s painting, “The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan”, through which Hill, sardonically voices his opposition to British imperialism. The poem is called “On Reading Blake: Prophet Against Empire” and opens with Hill’s justification of adult cynicism that he compares with child-like innocence: the child loses his milk-teeth before he can pronounce words like “Quid” or even see things from an slant angle. In the second stanza, Hill identifies with Blake who was persecuted by the hazardous “Law’s dice-rattle” of his time for his unconventional religious practices. Yet, despite the discrimination that victimized him, instead of becoming an opportunist, Blake became nobler through a sublime chance.


Tongue-in-cheek, Hill continues to the third stanza: “As to the sublime, don’t take / my gloss on it. The Spiritual Form / of Nelson Guiding Leviathan: you behold / only the hero, the corpses, and the coils / of his victories, grandly weighed and spread. / For a long age you do not see the monster,” (BH, p. 569). The painting’s composition, with its bright colours and the nude figure of Nelson both as a classical Greek god and a haloed Christ-like figure, repelling the monster that holds the nations as prisoners in its coils, leads the beholder to experience grandeur and awe in the phenomenological sense. But the great poet, much like the painter, Hill implies, rejoices in the artifice of the artwork and that of the poem, and ignores the leviathan, the double allegorical symbol of war and the ambiguous emperor.


In William Blake, the poet-critic, Kathleen Raine, says that “… in 1809… it seems that Blake was a supporter of the national cause against Napoleon, if not in the conventional sense, at least in the prophetic region of spiritual causes. But ‘the happy country’ of which he called himself a citizen was the ‘Kingdom not of this world.’” Blake’s ideal world of Messianic peace, good will, and harmony would be brought by the Second Coming of Christ, and voiced in his poem Jerusalem through which, Hill, after Whitman, thinks, “he could / contradict and contain multitudes.” (BH, p. 569).


Blake transposes his idealistic view of Jerusalem to England to assure people’s unity and simultaneously, contradict the “satanic mills” of the the Industrial Revolution that mechanized human relations. Through Blake’s persona, whom he identifies with Christ’s, and through his own unconscious identification with both of these personae, Hill assumes a poetic persona associated with the Anglo-Catholic Trinity. Through his identification with Christ, whose suffering and martyrdom leading to his cruxifiction, neutralised him to the point of defying death, Hill like Blake, attains the marriage of contraries to attain a non-self or a state in which “Terror is opportune as is relief from terror.” (Stanza I, BH, p. 569).


Thus, for Hill, working with language and poetry signifies that “From the depths of the self we rise to a concurrence with that which is not-self.” (CCW, p. 4). The co-existence and/or the co-operation of the self with the non-self implies a process of thought and interiorization, in the Piagetian sense, that leads the poet to deal with abstractions like faith, justice, truth, virtue etc.


In “Poetry and Value”, Hill refers to Coleridge’s chapter, called “Prudential Aphorisms” in the second edition of Aids to Reflection, to explain the role of the moral philosopher. He comments on the misuse of abstractions, more specifically, the misuse of the word “reflection” by laymen. Coleridge, like Jean Piaget, wrote on “reflection” or “thought” as a “’co-instantaneous yet reciprocal action’. Coleridge linked language with individual will and an empowering law. He, like Hill, thought of “’THE WORD, as informing; and THE SPIRIT, as actuating.’” (CCW, p. 448). Hill, after Coleridge, thinks that words inform us while the spirit or the mind actuates language that is the basis of thought. As such, we see the interrelations between Hill’s reference, Coleridge’s idea of reflection, and the Piagetian paradigms.


At the end of Prophet Against Empire, having referenced Blake’s metaphysics, the poet finds himself in a state of “mere amazement” for his “dumbness” which causes a state of aphasia. Through irony, double negation, and inverse logic, Hill says that his “dumbness” does not correspond to the dumbness assumed by the republic (res public : public matters); and can not even clash with it except in matters of public utility like money or imported gas that are the “… tyrants / of unaccountable error”. (BH, p. 570) due to economic exploitation, market policies, and the constant abuse of power.


The last two stanzas (VIII & IX) are voiced in the tone of Beckettian indifference by an aging poet, exhausted by his incapacity to repair a world that has almost turned absurd. Hill uses the metaphor of the “baffle-plates” to symbolise man’s inner world, his defences, emotions, passions and aspirations, which are built “with the dexterity of a lifetime” but “dutifully” relinquished as death approaches through exhaustion, ire and/or wrath. Man and the poet, nearing death, ignore the flames behind the screen, a symbol of the intermediary realm between language and inexpressible metaphysical entities. In a sardonic comment of social satire, Hill says that man avoids the danger of combustious sights and old people. Finally, the aged man, nearing death, is left with the sole organ of orality, speech, and survival — his “mouth working.” The poet seems to know about death before it occurs.


One dies dutifully, of fearful exhaustion,
Or of one’s wrathful self, self’s baffle-plates
Contrived with the dexterity of a lifetime.
Nobody listens or contradicts the screen
Though, homeward bound, some find combustious
Sights to be stepped aside from — an old body
Its mouth working.


“Broken Hierarchies”, which is also the title poem of his collected poems (1952-2012), is a pastoral about a post-hierarchical fallow-world that had been broken by war, anarchy, injustice, and inequity. The chalk hills are geological structures formed by subsidence, sea-floor spreading, and consequent elevation at the time of the Alpine orogenesis in the Cretaceous period (145-66 mya) characterised by mass extinction of life on earth.


In the first four stanzas of the poem, Hill uses the metaphor of the British chalk cliffs “ — heavy rain — … / chalk-white yet with the chalk translucent;” (BH, p. 516) that had been broken by orogeny, then erosion, to make a satirical social commentary on the degradation of our social cohesion, symbolised by “the holding burden of wistaria / drape amid drape, the sodden / copia of all things flashing and drying:” Yet, Hill attains a sacred quality through the superimposed images of the butterflies in a personified oxymoron “a babble of silent tongues” and the personification of “the flint church also choiring / into dazzle”. The secular pastoral becomes a sacred song. The oxymoron “a babble silent tongues” could also be an ironic reference to the poet’s internalised poetic activity.


Most of the images of the second section could refer to the distorted effects of human existence that require “… a wild patience” / “replete with loss”. The implications of a perverse sexuality, symbolised by “the twankled dulcimer”, denotes a degenerate phenomenology denoting the broken hierarchies. Hill further emphasises these through the combined metaphor of the non-working male bee that fertilises the queen in the bees’ social colony and the hummingbird that settles in from another continent while the albatross wanders in from a foreign ocean “ranging-in” to his native shore that it fails to recognise. Hill’s implications are all negative at this stage.


The second four stanzas of the poem are antithetical to the pastoral first part made up of five stanzas, an asymmetry through which, Hill also hints at the broken hierarchies. As a possible reading, the referential images of the second section can be read as negative counterparts of the first section : aureate stark sounds versus heavy translucent rain; the tw(a)nkled or tw(i)nkling dulcimer versus the choiring church; the foreign humming bird against the probing native butterflies; and finally, the alien shore versus the brightness of the flint church. The overlapping oxymorons, the mixed metaphors, and the stark contrast between these two sections all serve to demonstrate the broken hierarchies.


Yet, there is a tone of stoic acceptance of these hierarchical breaches that give a lyrical unity to the whole poem. It is interesting to note that, in the CD-recorded poetry reading he gave on the 1st of February 2006, in Oxford, Hill read “Broken Hierarchies” as a continuous poem without stopping between the two parts as was indicated by an ellipsis, marking a change, in tone and intention, in the written text of the poem. In the written text, the poem is tied to an elliptical poetic syntax and to a reader-oriented, extensible temporality. This discrepancy could be due to the urgent and compelling immediacy of the poet’s time-bound oral reading.


This introductory paper to Hill’s poetry tried to demostrate that through his poetic techniques and shifting poetic personae, Hill uses words as a moral philosopher to emphasize his awareness and civic responsibility in front of history’s heft based on his phenomenology. The implication for the reader is to study history, linked with linguistics, in order to re-evaluate historical facts and political contingencies, and re-shape them in written form which, for Hill, constitute the foundations of civic action. The poet’s awareness of the weight of the world, through the Piagetian processes of internalised abstract thought from which his values emanate, allows him to write about the impending weight of the world.


Through his identification with and internalization of the historical or political contingencies that are, at first, exterior to the self, Hill attains a state of transcendent no-thingness that is the “non-self” allowing him to purify himself of guilt and become non-judgmental. He is, then, able to carry the weight of the world with his words and his shifting poetic persona(e). As he writes in sequence 20 of “The Argument of the Masque” in Scenes from Comus (2005): “That weight of the world, weight of the word, is. / Not wholly irreconciliable. Almost. / Almost we cannot pull free; almost we escape… .” (BH, p. 430) through poetry.


As seen in Section LXX of The Triumph of Love, for Hill, the intrinsic value of words, through their etymology and historical usage, can be both agent and predicate, leading us to action for the common weal. Hill is, thus, able to transcend his deep-seated scepticism through a leap of faith that is linked with his interaction with the different layers of language and etymology.


In his later poetry and in Speech! Speech! the poet moves from a stance of consciousness of man’s fallibility which fills him with guilt to an objectified state of guiltless “non-self”, devoid of passion and guilt, that allows him to think, imagine, empathize, write, and criticize the world’s atrocities which he writes about in “September Song” “On Reading Blake: Prophet Against Empire” and “Broken Hierarchies.” As Hill progresses to a state of “non-self” in his later work, it is to be noted that he does not abandon the use of his poetic techniques and imagery but continues to use them despite his renunciation. In theological terms, he attains atonement from sin through self-sacrifice and the negation of the self’s egotism, a process of iinteriorization, through which Hill, as everyman, attains communion and compassion.


He states in “Poetry as ‘Menace’ and ‘Atonement’” : “Ideally, … my theme would be simple… that the technical perfecting of a poem is an act of atonement, in the radical etymological sense — an act of at-one-ment, a setting at one, a bringing into concord, a reconciling, a uniting in harmony… ” (CCW, p. 4). For Hill, words are the world.


In “Poetry and Value”, he further emphasizes his deep conviction: “… ‘intrinsic value’ is a form of technical integrity that is itself a form of common honesty.” (CCW, p. 481). Hill thinks that words are the mediators between linguistic technicalities, like Hopkins’ instress and inscape, and the poet’s internal values that spring from the cognitive processes of his reciprocal thinking. In the above essay, Hill refers to the second edition of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection to ascertain that language does not emanate from reflection but is inherent within the activity of reflection itself. As Coleridge wrote: “’For if words are not THINGS, they are LIVING POWERS, by which the things of the most importance to mankind are actuated, combined, and humanized.’” (CCW, pp. 488-489).


Ford, James L. and Mary K. eds. Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902), or www.bartleby.com/297/483/html

Hill, Geoffrey. Collected Critical Writings, ed. Kenneth Haynes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Hill, Geoffrey. Broken Hierarchies, Poems 1952-2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Raine, Kathleen. William Blake (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2014)


Dr. Emily Bilman is London’s Poetry Society Stanza representative and hosts poetry meetings in her home in Geneva. She earned her PhD from East Anglia U where she taught literature. Her dissertation entitled, The Psychodynamics of Poetry, was published in 2010. Modern Ekphrasis, dealing with the poetry-painting analogy from Plato to Derrida, was published by Peter Lang, Switzerland in 2013. Her ms. Melville’s Metaphysics and The Ambiguity of Good and Evil is still unpublished. Her poems are published in The London Magazine, The Linnet’s Wings, Hunger Mountain, Offshoots VII & XII, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Iodine, Aois 21, The Battersea Review, San Diego Poetry Annual in America, and The Inspired Heart Vols. 1, 2, & 3, Ygdrasil, Tuck Magazine, Snob.ru, The Journal of Poetics Research, and www.ekphrastic.net in Canada. She writes for and edits the digital publication www.paintedpoetry.org. Her poetry books, A Woman By A Well and Resilience, are published by Matador, UK. She was recently awarded the first prize for ‘The Tear-Catcher’ by The New York Literary Magazine and her poems were broadcast on Bashani Radio, New York. She blogs on http://www.emiliebilman.wix.com/emily-bilman

  Author Photo

Dr Emily Bilman


Arpine Konyalian Grenier: 2 poems

  Arpine Konyalian Grenier

  2 poems

  from Willed Capital

Contouring Will

Ah the temper of mainstays and noodling minds thinking
it’s not what all it was meant to be but
it is something

some music thing cuddling fear unto death
enacting responsibilities for ground
the pull non-material for example

non-matter labelled spiritual lacks definition
morphs into interrupted recitative meter
blocks my domain

the ontic that I am faces non-utilitarian rules
harnesses restrains to hold all
for some better use as if

                beauty is automated justice

inversions sprout beholden to need
give me the story you say
there is no story

freedom shuns the algebraic we hold
in childhood ways and reversibility

insignificance dulled passion

I abstract away with no path or order I say
I’m not the highest manifestation of will
nor self-replicating surveyor
one succumbs to

I insist on cloud space to study agency and subsets
song and sobs and sinew stamp me inevitable
the politic of language intercedes
one-liners and former lives
foreseen consequence
                                        the accidental natural

what and who come up as irrational or non-utilitarian
plethora of potential mistaken for violation
non-applicability contours fact
colors it
                bleeding continues

how the intended turns utilitarian then
the notion to act or not widens
omission related
                                narrows scope.

Claiming G, the Pull

What is motive is suspect when a world is bleeding in rage
distance and time revolve doors I knowingly go through
after undoing the delusions imposed on me
necessarily redundant

                but we love you they say

asymmetries cancel one another
regional experience mirrors
silicon drifts
                                hence tongue hence words

you and I had signed up for more however
how emotion informs and deforms
Gauss meter Coulomb all

                irresponsible bullets

          proof pending

nothing will make what’s unclaimed disappear
names we assign make me curious
what’s hidden is but impasse
implicate denied
                                particle withdrawal

bleeding continues decidedly
emotion inexorably paled
the new real hue
                                hence still

I we you quark to proton to black hole
shredding away expression
repeatedly reformed

did that star lose its hydrogen shield or what?
are dark holes spinning power modules?

the Universe may not be 83% dark matter after all
XNA may be the RNA for some other life
grotto peaks out there surrender to

                          put together love says

language evolving bullet by bullet as pace and position rephrase
hierarchy the indelible corruptively or corrupted
a question of put together lives
shifty and amorphous

limits chance its staging the framing and nostalgia
genotype to phenotype reels new and true
in and out of mutilated content

dulled beaks and armors beyond some
carp and kerosene hierarchy
hence fleeting hence still
hence tear
                        de la tête

we may be scalar fields or multi-colored energy
some small but heavy origin of mass begs for
hide for endurance potential or reverie
after a life a collective’s detail

bitten off pace and position to keenly be in
a cloudy space collapsing into star
primed and disposed

persistently disappearing to reappear
            roaring flashing sputtering sound

neither because nor product of darkened bone
a conventional something making news
indicating undone symmetries
but maybe not

the computational space of experience
language empathy and all part of
or because or does it matter?

yes it does but
does it



Arpine Konyalian Grenier is an independent scholar and poet, author of four collections: St. Gregory’s Daughter; Whores from Samarkand; Part, Part, Euphrates; The Concession Stand: Exaptation at the Margins. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.


Michael Witts: Two deaths; and two poems

  Michael Witts

  Two deaths
 and two poems


a better story
Frank O’Hara dying
hit by a dune buggy
as he lay in the sand
on that beat on Fire Island
nude and lubed
so much explained
love declared but unexplored
24 July 1966

the prose truth    bleak
like your Long Island funeral
run down by a Jeep
driven by Mr Ruzicka
late at night
as you stood    by yourself
in the darkness    next
to the stranded vehicle with a thrown tyre
on that beach

shattered legs and ruptured liver

no charges laid

the poetry of his death
James Dean
imagined like the end of that scene in
Rebel without a Cause
who stops before the cliff is chicken
his end foretold
in the movie    then unreleased
the beauty of everything he did
30 September 1955

in truth your Porsche Spyder
slammed at speed
into the turning Ford Tudor
driven by Mr Turnupseed

no elegance
your remains
locked in the wreck

no charges laid

with your beauty it was
no wonder Frank loved you

Two Poems:

 Camera Obscura: Hockney
shots of light
mesmerizing the surface of the pool

his LA exile
looking like bad photography

surfaces bisected
by light and shade and colour
a flat pack world

not as you might imagine
unlimited blue water
reflecting the vast sky

a static take
on that vibrant splash

his real interest
the intersection of that boy
with this water
the way the white bottom bobs

the barbarians are still needed
a century on
Xenophobia justifying itself

his journey began
looking into the eyes of old men
and ended with the splendidly oiled body
of that remembered youth
a trip without end
as if that were the meaning
Alexandria a way point
to exile Ithaka an ideal

loss and longing

(his Fourteen Poems illustrated with
line drawings by Hockney)


Simon Collings on British poet Roy Fisher

  Simon Collings

  Making the Cut:

  Roy Fisher and Language poetry

Paragraph One follows: 1:

The American literary critic Marjorie Perloff, in an essay first published in 1999, laments the critical neglect of Roy Fisher’s ambitious long poem ‘The Cut Pages’, a work written in 1970 at a time when Fisher was producing some of his most innovative poetry.[1] ,[2] Perloff describes the work as both ‘remarkable’ and ‘ahead of its time.’

The Cut Pages, cover image. From Jacket 01.


She draws specific attention to the way Fisher’s poem shares some of the characteristics of Language poetry, a ‘school’ which emerged in the USA in the 1970s, and which places emphasis on language itself and the reader’s role in creating meaning. Fisher’s writing, Perloff argues, adopts some of the same procedures Ron Silliman, an influential member of the Language poetry network, discusses in his seminal book The New Sentence (1987).[3] She describes this as ‘uncanny’ and ‘inadvertently anticipating’ developments in the USA, identifying Fisher as an ‘unwitting precursor’ of Language poetry.


Perloff’s championing of Fisher’s ‘experimental’ work is important given her influential status and the relative lack of critical attention that Fisher has received.


Fisher is one of a number of poets associated with what has become known as the ‘British poetry revival,’ a period in the 1960s and early 1970s when a new generation of British writers, influenced by US and European modernism, created work radically different from that of the ‘establishment’ culture. Much of this work was published in obscure magazines, and by small presses, and part of the reason for the critical neglect of poets like Fisher in the past was the result of their work being difficult to obtain.


Perloff sees Fisher’s work as ‘unwittingly’ anticipating Language poetry. But Fisher has himself said that he knew what he was doing, when he wrote ‘The Cut Pages’.[4]  So can a case be made that the British poet was consciously engaged in a writing practice which had more than an ‘unwitting’ relationship to aspects of Language poetry? Fisher shares influences in common with many of the Language poets.


Silliman, for example, says he was inspired at the start of his career by the poets included in Donald Allen’s New American Poetry, a highly influential anthology published in 1960.[5]  The aesthetic preoccupations of the poets featured by Allen —
writers like Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, and Frank O’Hara — also informed Fisher’s work in the 1960s. So it would not be surprising if Fisher’s work at times exhibited similarities with Silliman and his peers.


In this essay I will argue that similarities with some features of Language poetry do exist in Fisher’s work, and not just in ‘The Cut Pages’. Fisher was and is an innovative poet whose outlook has been shaped in part by the same intellectual currents which were important to Language poetry.


But Fisher’s experimental work of the 1970s has its own distinct context which also needs to be understood. Fisher was writing out of an immediate psychological need, but in creating ‘The Cut Pages’ he drew on what he had learned from his earlier poems. He applied the same processes in other work from the 1970s.

Poet Gael Turnbull, left, and Laurie Duggan, Lakes District, May 1987. Photo by Jill Turnbull, courtesy Laurie Duggan.


William Carlos Williams, one of the early modernist innovators in US poetry, is a critical influence shared by Fisher and some of the Language poets. Gael Turnbull, a British-born poet who lived for a period in the USA, first introduced Fisher to the work of Williams, Olson, and Creeley in the 1950s, and it was the ‘seriousness of the aesthetic concerns’ of these poets which impressed him.[6]


Life in post-war Birmingham, the city in central England (the English Midlands) where Fisher grew up, was as far from the idea of ‘culture’ espoused by T.S. Eliot as was the daily reality of Rutherford, New Jersey, for Williams. It was Williams’ search for a way of responding to his experience, and his opposition to establishment culture and traditional poetic form, which Fisher found energising. The impulse he took from Williams led not to imitation but to experimentation and the search for a poetics appropriate to his experience of the English Midlands.


Perloff argues that Fisher’s work lacks the ‘extraordinary precision’ of Williams’ writing, quoting passages from Fisher’s ‘Seven Attempted Moves’ and ‘Matrix’ to illustrate this. The examples she gives support her argument, though it is possible to point to other poems which are closer to Williams’ style. But to focus only on stylistic issues misses the wider importance of Williams for Fisher.

Photo of Roy Fisher copyright © Claire McNamee,
courtesy Bloodaxe Publishers. Claire has photographed
many poets, novelists, playwrights and screenwriters
over the years. You can visit her site


In The New Sentence Ron Silliman comments on the way Williams was assimilated into mainstream poetry culture, at the expense of what Language poets found most vital in his work. In the 1950s the question poets asked, Silliman says, was ‘have you read Williams’. By 1985 the question was ‘which Williams do you read?’


Charles Bernstein, another major figure in Language poetry, in an essay marking the centenary of Williams’ birth, warned that Williams’ acceptance in the wider poetry world was ‘at the expense of so decontextualizing and neutralizing his work that it will be unrecognizable on its own terms.’ US poet and critic Hank Lazer’s essay ‘Language Writing; or, Literary History and the Strange Case of the Two Dr Williamses’ also takes up this theme.[7]


Lazer contrasts the way the ‘establishment’ poet Louis Simpson ‘reads’ Williams with the approach of more radical poets like Silliman and Bernstein. Fisher is aligned with Silliman, Bernstein, and other Language poets in reading Williams as an oppositional writer. In his poem ‘The Poetry of Place’ (1990) Fisher writes wittily of the way Williams’ dictum ‘no ideas but in things’ has been debased in the hands of later poets and readers. An old, red wheelbarrow is for sale in Rutherford, ‘at collector’s price’.[8]  It has been badly re-painted by the owner, a ‘hasty reader’. The poem ends:


Whoever buys it
gets to see the room where the original
things with ideas in them are.


Perloff’s detailed analysis of ‘The Cut Pages’ is often perceptive, but as with her underestimation of the importance of Williams as an influence on Fisher generally, she sometimes misreads the poem in ways which are significant. The two major areas where she misunderstands the poem are first in seeing the work as a ‘diary of demoralisation,’ and second in the suggestion that there is a ‘volta’, or turning point midway through the poem, based on her hypothesising a sonnet-like structure for the text.


These views, as I will demonstrate, cannot be sustained when the history of the poem’s writing and publication is understood. The ‘volta’ theory also ignores the obvious lack of dramatic development in the work.


Fisher wrote ‘The Cut Pages’ at a point when he was coming out of a four-year period of crisis during which he had been unable to write. In a 1982 interview with British poet and critic Robert Sheppard, Roy Fisher describes the genesis of the work as follows:


I had a year’s sabbatical —
and started off by typing up all my old unpublished work, quite a bit of which has since been published, and looking at what it was —
just getting into myself. Then I wrote quite quickly ‘Glenthorne Poems’, I think I wrote those in a few days. I said: this year, 1970, I will write…Then ‘The Cut Pages’.


I just did an exercise in self-permission., assuming there was no reader, there was no critic, no monitor. I’ve got, as it says in the book, a journal and general notebook. I’d had a really grisly year or two of my life and had written a good deal about the grisliness of my life at that point.

UK poet Roy Fisher, by Caroline Forbes, pre 2008.


And had really been at my wit’s end. And I was feeling rather better but was still within the confines of this bound notebook. And I didn’t enjoy turning the pages which had unhappy things on them to get to the blank paper, which is always a pleasant sight.


So I cut the blank pages out with a razor and wrote on them freely. The equation was quite simple: that I’d written in the earlier parts of the book what life demanded that I should attend to —
heavy matters —
and I did the converse in the other one. I wrote what there was no constraint upon.



Later in the same interview he tells Sheppard that he had Williams’ Kora in Hell: Improvisations in mind, though ‘not directly’. He describes ‘The Cut Pages’ as an ‘unblocker’ and ‘very automatic’. Williams published Kora in Hell in 1918, breaking radically with the kind of poetry he had written up to that date. The book consists of a sequence of prose paragraphs, the sense often obscure, with explanatory notes provided for some passages. Williams explains his purpose in a lengthy preface where, among other things, he writes about the Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle (HD) criticising one of his poems.


Williams rejects HD’s claim that poetry is ‘sacred’, declaring: ‘I’ll write whatever I damn please, whenever I damn please and as I damn please…’[10] One can imagine Fisher drawing courage from Williams’ determination to make his own way. A fear of what other people would think of his work was one of the sources of Fisher’s block in the late 1960s.


Later, in Spring and All (published in 1923), Williams says of Kora: ‘I let the imagination have its own way to see if it could save itself. Something very definite came out of it. I found myself alleviated but most important I began there and then to revalue experience, to understand what I was at.’


‘The Cut Pages’ is a very different work from Kora, but arguably represents a similarly cathartic moment in the development of Fisher’s writing. The British academic and poet David Wheatley has described ‘The Cut Pages’ as Fisher’s ‘Tennis Court Oaths’ moment, a reference to the mould-breaking American poet John Ashbery’s radical second book of poems.[11] A ‘Kora’ moment might be a more apposite analogy, though this risks losing sight of ‘The Cut Pages’ being for Fisher essentially a private conversation with himself. It was an act of personal ‘unblocking’, not a public broadside.


Fisher was asked in 1998 by the British academic and poet Peter Robinson if he saw ‘The Cut Pages’ ‘as a text which sets out to disrupt, undercut, undermine, and all that?’ Fisher’s response was that such motives sounded ‘a bit social, a bit interventionist’, and were at odds with his ‘introversion’.[12]  Fisher did not create the work in order to challenge what Charles Bernstein calls ‘official verse culture’, but out of personal need.


‘The Cut Pages’ was first published by Fulcrum Press in 1971, in a collection of the same name, and reissued by Shearsman in 1986. In the introduction to the Shearsman edition Fisher describes the journal from which he cut the blank pages as a ‘diary of demoralization’.


Perloff mistakenly reads Fisher’s comments about the diary as a description of the poem itself. She says: ‘No doubt, at one level, The Cut Pages constitute a coded account of Fisher’s mid-life crisis…The man in the crowd, the claustrophobia of urban life, the inability to make contact with others: these are the sequence’s ‘themes’.’


This leads Perloff to isolate three sets of ‘verbal clusters’ in the work: images of containment, references to change, and images relating to vision and the obscuring of vision. The poem certainly contains these kinds of images but, as Fisher has explained, ‘The Cut Pages’ is a series of permissive statements, not a sequence of coded references to crisis. The poem consists of a series of assertions of ‘what there was no constraint upon’.


There is one flung out. On that one the light is sharp. There is no half-light; only the grace of diffusing what is full

Why travel heavy when you can travel light?

Traces. So much isn’t the railroad, so little is. We dot by traces

Free our spread

Decorated. The light falls through the dirtiest air in the world

The orders haven’t been given. The orders that could be given just don’t exist

It needs nothing. It can have what it likes


Where restraint is mentioned the lines often enact a release from confining beliefs and forms. ‘Tumbled. Strewn. Built. Grown. Allowed’ is a progression towards possibility. Similar sequences appear elsewhere in the poem, for example: ‘Gone into a detail. A forked detail. A cluster. A generality’, or ‘Rigid. Cloven. Branched.’


None of the lines in ‘The Cut Pages’ ends with a full stop, leaving the text open to possibility —
a ‘line’ being sometimes a single word, sometimes several sentences. Further on the statement ‘Spread. By close proliferation so instantaneous, no more than a tight rustle, it seems pre-existent. Nothing could move. Nothing should want to’ is followed by:


Three smiles

Three smiles from the same

Three smiles from different people

All footways lead up from this bollard


The text again moves towards potentiality and opportunity. Here is another example:


Past a simple shed

On to blue bricks, flat

Against blue bricks, standing

A flight of domes below


The poem is an extended improvisation on this central theme, sustained until the cut pages are filled.


Confronted with a series of apparently disconnected statements in a poem a reader will look for patterns and structures, and in ‘The Cut Pages’ there are frequent repetitions of words and images which provide the poem with structure. There are many references to tracks, and to light and shade, as Perloff mentions. Particular images recur.


In the eighth section of the poem, in the Fulcrum edition, we have: ‘Nobody has to have a face. Nobody who has a face can keep it.’ A few pages further on, at the end of section 9, we have: ‘Faces, never.’, and in section 10: ‘What faces there are are jailed.’


Similarly, references to ‘price’ in the seventh section are echoed later by ‘It pays’ in section 11. Some of the lines in the poem appear to refer to the decaying industrial landscape Fisher writes about in other poems, creating a tone which also helps to provide a degree of consistency to the text.


Fisher says that the poem, as with his earlier book-length poem published in 1966 ‘The Ship’s Orchestra’, is a ‘composed’ work, meaning that both poems ‘stand as they were composed,’ or ‘if you’d seen them before they were finished you would have found them as they are (except the closing pages, which were unwritten,).’[13] So any patterning is a result not of editing but is created in the process of composition.


Fisher also says of ‘The Cut Pages’: ‘I think there are tracks of it which don’t address themselves to any particular direction.’[14] Given the nature of the work, and the rapid, ‘automatic’ manner of its writing, it would be a mistake to look for total coherence.


The fourteen ‘sections’ into which the poem was divided when first published create another apparent type of ‘structure’. In the interview with Jed Rasula mentioned above Fisher says of ‘The Cut Pages’ that he knew what it was going to do ‘as if I were writing a Petrarchan sonnet’.[15]  This statement, along with the division of the poem into sections, is taken by Perloff as implying that there is a controlling structural schema.


She sees Fisher’s analogy with Petrarch as ‘by no means coincidental’ and goes on to posit a sonnet-like structure in the work. This seems on the face of it to be an interesting possibility. Unfortunately Fisher’s reference to a sonnet is entirely incidental to the poem.

Joyce & Roy Fisher, Earl Sterndale, Summer 1992. Photo by Laurie Duggan.


In a recent private exchange with Peter Robinson and me, Fisher explained that the fourteen section breaks were introduced by Stuart Montgomery, the publisher at Fulcrum, who felt the reader needed respite from the relentlessly rebarbative text. The Shearsman edition of the poem was a facsimile of the original, carrying over the sections. The section breaks are not then a structural schema for ‘The Cut Pages’, which was written as a continuous text.


The right / left justification of the text which Perloff also makes much of was also simply a function of the way Montgomery typeset the text. In the version of ‘The Cut Pages’ published in The Long and the Short of It the sections have disappeared and the format of the poem on the page is completely different. This is not a result of the publisher, Bloodaxe, squeezing the poem to save space. Fisher has said he is perfectly happy with the way the poem appears in The Long and the Short of It.[16] 


Even without this knowledge, the idea of the text containing a ‘volta’ would be unlikely given remarks Fisher made towards the end of the conversation with Jed Rasula. The interviewer says:


It’s occurred to us that The Ship’s Orchestra, The Cut Pages, most of ‘City’ and Matrix are unmodulated. That is, in contrast to many of the poems in Collected Poems, your work doesn’t generally rely on highs and lows, or peaks and climactic points, any sort of catharsis…your work…moves along on a level at which each part, each detail, is just as important as any other.[17]


Fisher’s response is: ‘I don’t know if I can make that relation, but it is enormously important to me that there shall be a levelling, that there is a levelling in language.’ Section 9 of ‘The Cut Pages’ (in the Fulcrum edition), where in a Petrarchan sonnet one would expect the ‘turn’ to come, oddly enough does start with the word ‘turning’, but this is entirely coincidental. The poem was not composed with a sonnet structure in mind, and there is no ‘volta’.


But what of the parallels with Language poetry? In what way can Fisher’s exercise in unblocking, this series of improvised permissive statements reflecting inner mental states and processes, be viewed as a precursor to Language writing?


Perloff offers a passage from Silliman’s 1992 poem ‘Demo’ in support of her argument of a relationship. In Silliman’s text, the unit of composition is a sentence ending in a full stop. Sentences in much of Silliman’s work are organised into paragraphs which Silliman calls units of ‘quantity’ rather than logic.[18] In ‘Demo’ Silliman gives each sentence a line to itself so that, apart from the use of full stops, the text resembles visually ‘The Cut Pages’ in its layout.


Perloff says: ‘Here is the phrasal structure with justified left and right ‘prose’ margins of ‘The Cut Pages’. Silliman’s use of specific procedural (counting) devices to govern construction accords with Fisher’s parodic allusion to the fourteen-line sonnet.’ Since Perloff wrote her essay Silliman has gone on to publish works where the sentences do not have a full point at the end, making the ‘phrasal structure’ perhaps even more similar.


Fisher’s comments on ‘levelling’ the language are pertinent here. In The New Sentence, Silliman describes a writing practice which he identifies as having emerged more or less at the same time in the work of a number of US poets, including in his own writing. The work he is commenting on is in prose form, and he identifies eight characteristics common to these writers, including: ‘The limiting of syllogistic movement at or very close to the level of language, that is most often at the sentence level or below.’ In other words, what these writers have in common is a method of working which avoids obvious progression, ‘highs and lows’, holding the reader’s attention at the level of the sentence ‘or below’.


Perloff quotes Silliman on the ‘new sentence’ in her essay on Fisher, and goes on to make a series of apposite comments on the procedural similarities between Silliman’s poem and Fisher’s. Interestingly Silliman says: ‘The sole precedent I can find for the new sentence is Kora in Hell: Improvisations…’, though he adds that this is ‘far-fetched.’[19] Silliman is deliberately ‘limiting syllogistic movement’ in ‘Demo’ and other poems, as are other Language poets in their work. The disjunction we experience in Fisher’s work results from the sequence of statements being largely unconnected, or only related at an emotional and gestural level. ‘There is no process. There are many changes’ as Fisher says in the poem. The motivation is different, but the resulting text does have stylistic similarities with some Language writing.


A parallel case can be made for connections between some of Fisher’s other work and Language writing. The Ship’s Orchestra (1966) employs a similar ‘levelling of language’. Here the work is written in sentences organised into paragraphs which serve as the ‘unit of quantity’, though each section of the work, unlike a typical Language text, is describing, however obliquely, a particular ‘scene’.


In his 1982 interview with Robert Sheppard, Fisher describes The Ship’s Orchestra as ‘somewhat Wittgensteinian in a way. You couldn’t quite put Wittgensteinian numbering on that —
no you couldn’t, but it has that spirit; it’s a parody, in a way…’[20] Earlier in the same interview Fisher speaks of Wittgenstein having been an important stylistic influence, leading him to employ lineation ‘in a conceptual rather than a metrical sense.’


The breakthrough came with ‘Interiors with Various Figures’ (1966) which Fisher describes as ‘a great liberation in which I was just making forms with remarks which, if written tightly, were my units.’ He points particularly to the shorter poems in the sequence: ‘The Steam Crane’, and ‘The Billiard Table’. The former of these reads:


Before breakfast you drew down the blind.

Soon it will be afternoon outside. Hear the steam crane start up again

deep in the world.

You sprawl with no shoes wet with something from the floor you didn’t see in the dark.

Black skirt. Black hair. Nothing troubles you, you big shadow. Much time has fallen away.

Wearing a blanket I sit in a hard armchair, a jug at my feet.

There is nothing I can give you as beautiful as the flowers on the wallpaper.

Under the wallpaper, plaster bonded with black hairs.[21] 



Here Fisher is doing something which is similar to ‘the new sentence’ poetics of Silliman and his peers, using a procedure which in some ways anticipates ‘The Cut Pages’. The fragmentary references to an external, observed environment recall Silliman’s manner of documenting the world around him. Here’s part of the passage Perloff quotes from ‘Demo’:


Friends are perpetually ‘going to get it together,’ jobwise

the coast is altered one quarter inch.

Just like that.

The window conceived as a form of torture, through which

a century is expressed (blue hands, the chartreuse of a tennis

ball): dobermans of delight crowd the sun.

Met against metaphor (I want white rooms): the cast is clear

Up against the woolite, desire for narrative condemns mil-

lions — French bread hard as a rock.


That Wittgenstein should be one of the inspirations behind Fisher’s writing in the 1960s provides a clear connection with Language poetry. In Wittgenstein’s Ladder (1999) Perloff charts the influence of the Austrian-born philosopher on Language poets, devoting chapters to Silliman, Hejinian and Rosmarie Waldrop (all significant Language poets).[22] These poets have all read Wittgenstein with close attention, and they have in their different ways clearly been influenced by his ideas; for example Silliman’s The Chinese Notebook with its 223 numbered statements, or Rosmarie Waldrop’s Lawn of Excluded Middle (the title is a pun on the ‘law of excluded middle’ in classical logic), or Hejinian’s philosophical poem-essay Happily.


Wittgenstein is a major influence on other Language poets too. Charles Bernstein wrote his doctoral thesis on Wittgenstein. But Wittgenstein is more than an intellectual influence. The work of these poets, like Fisher’s, also makes pragmatic use of Wittgenstein’s style, in part because it is integral to the philosophy. In Wittgenstein’s Ladder, Perloff quotes the British literary critic Terry Eagleton saying: ‘Like all good artists Wittgenstein is selling us less a set of doctrines than a style of seeing, and that style cannot be abstracted from the feints and ruses of his language…’


Fisher has often stressed that he is a ‘pragmatic’ rather than a ‘theoretical’ poet, and has claimed he has ‘many interests but no scholarship’.[23] But Fisher is less of an intellectual slouch than he likes to pretend. In the conversation with the academic and poet John Kerrigan referred to above, Fisher describes himself as having had ‘a reasonable undergraduate training’ in philology. He mentions the influential linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, and says he ‘got the point of the mutability of language and its relation to the world.’


He goes on to say that in his twenties he read ‘considerably’ in psychoanalysis, that in his late twenties he acquainted himself with ‘the ur-texts and instances of classic modernism’, and he mentions the radical American composer John Cage. In the 1960s, he says, he kept ‘sharp company in linguistics’.


These are cultural influences Language poets also draw upon. Hejinian for instance quotes Whorf’s theories of language in her essay ‘The Rejection of Closure’, and Silliman describes Cage’s music as having had a major influence on him.[24], [25] In his interview with the critic and poet Eric Mottram in 1973 Fisher says: I’ve never written anything…that was a straight reaction to an event, anything in the world; poems are meant to be just poems…that means when I do writing, the writings are of writing rather than of the world.’[26]


Fisher enjoys playing games with words. His poem ‘The Trace’, written in 1977, is a clever piece of artifice, sustained through the length of 28 couplets, the subject of the poem remaining mysterious to the end.[
 This is a deliberate exercise in creating an illusion, a poem which is all surface.


Although at first it was single
and silver

it travelled as ink falls
through cold water

and gleamed in a vein
out of a darkness


It is interesting to compare this with US poet Bernadette Mayer’s ‘It Moves Across’, written more than ten years earlier.28 Mayer’s poem starts:


It moves across and over
across the ground
it moves across over the ground
under (by the bridge) the moss
over the moss
across the grass
the grass moves across crossing the
blades of grass
into larger fields


Mayer’s poem, in its use of simple vocabulary and repetition, owes something to the influence of Gertrude Stein. Fisher’s poem uses a much wider range of vocabulary and more complex syntax, but ‘The Trace’ is as much a game of language as is the Mayer poem. Both rely on repetition of ‘it’ to sustain the momentum and the mystery.


Another poem in which Fisher is playing with language is ‘107 Poems’ written in 1972 for Eric Mottram, then editor of the important British journal Poetry Review.[28] Mottram, in jest, challenged Fisher to write ‘in iambics’ and ‘107 Poems’ is the result. The poem has 107 lines, implying that each line is a ‘poem’. It is written predominantly in iambic meter, and organised into irregular stanzas. Here is the opening stanza:


A scraping in the coke house. One red car.
Imperfect science weakens assurances
but swallowing hard brings confidence: fall soft
through to a sunlit verge. Another vision:
stretched out like one expecting autopsy
or showers of sparks across a polished hall.


The punctuation invites us to read this as a series of sentences running over the line breaks, but the extreme disjunction between lines, and the paratactic sentences which result, raise questions about whether the lines do in fact have anything to do with each other. Is this actually a collage of lines in iambic meter cleverly arranged to create nonsensical syntactic units? The fifth line of the stanza suggests a parody of Eliot’s ‘like a patient etherized upon a table.’ The third stanza reads:


Sepia slippers in a sepia print,
venerable truth again: it comes direct
and broadens as it comes, is beautiful
if truth is what you want; lies in the blood
and lives on without taint. Magnificent
gorges at sunset! They knew how to live.
They draw us in their footsteps, double-tongued.


Here Wordsworth is the poet being parodied, with the reference to ‘felt in the blood and felt along the heart’ (from ‘Tintern Abbey’). The ‘romantic’ landscape becomes a picture postcard, and the idea of the poet’s exalted experience is mocked. Elevated language is mixed with cliché in a hilarious sequence of unconnected assertions throughout the text. The whole poem is a burlesque, ending with the line: ‘some idea / of what tradition numbers like these are benched in’.


We can find parallels for this kind of parodying of the ‘tradition’ in Language poetry. Charles Bernstein’s poem ‘From Lines of Swinburne’ reads like a cut-and-paste of phrases from the Victorian poet.[29] Here is the first stanza:



s a voice in a vision that’s vanished
Perjured dark and barer accusation
Song of a pole congealed
Whose soul a mark lost in the whirling snow
The soft ken, pliant
Pierced and rung for us
These murmurs a nearer voice, known and smeared
Mute as mouthed.


As with Fisher’s ‘107 Poems’ the punctuation invites the reader to see the stanza as a sentence, but the sentence does not make grammatical sense. Lines can be read as running over the line break, but equally may actually have nothing to do with the lines which precede or follow them. Other poems in Bernstein’s collection The Sophist also bear comparison to ‘107 Poems’, for example ‘Hitch World’.


Procedural form is a crucial element of much Language writing. US academic David Huntsperger, in Procedural Form in Postmodern American Poetry, argues that the use of procedure by many Language poets is a response to the way mainstream poetic practice tends to hide the ‘work’ involved in making a poem.[30] It is also part of a project to ‘disassemble the notion of an organic, self-sufficient individual’, which conventional verse form tends to instantiate.


Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, which first appeared in 1980 when the poet was 37, consisted of 37 sections each composed of 37 sentences.[31] A revised version published in 1987 had 45 sections each containing 45 sentences. In Tjianting, Silliman uses the Fibonacci sequence as an organising principle.[32] Poems which show ‘process’, Huntsperger argues, foreground their materiality as objects of language. He draws a distinction between received form, which acts as a ‘container’ for the poet’s thoughts, and procedural form, which is generative of content.


The use of process by these poets has a parallel in Fisher’s use of process and procedure, a topic he discusses in the 1973 interview with Eric Mottram.[33] As we have already seen, ‘The Cut Pages’ has a procedure, the writing of permissive statements which are the opposite of the statements in his personal journal. The Ship’s Orchestra also uses procedure —
‘self-generating, self-branching forms’ as Fisher describes them. His long poem A Furnace, composed 1984–85, uses procedure, in this case a double helix.

Cover image of Roy Fisher’s book of poetry “A Furnace”.


But the similarities with Language writing can be pushed too far. Fisher says, in his exchange with Mottram, that he considers process secondary to his ‘state at the time’, in other words it is a method for producing work, not an object in itself.


One final area where Fisher shares affinities with Language poetry is in the privacy of some of his work. While the text of Hejinian’s My Life clearly makes allusion to events in the writer’s life, this is far from conventional autobiography. There is a general progression in the work from events of early childhood, through youth to maturity, but there is no coherent narrative of ‘a life’. The book instead aims to suggest how our lives are actually experienced and recalled: disjointed, contradictory, impossible to grasp.


The result is text which, as with ‘The Cut Pages’, is oblique and mysterious. As Douglas Messerli, editor of the landmark ‘Language Poetries: An Anthology’, says: ‘Hejinian’s poetry often presents a linguistic self so private that it forces the reader to enter the poem and (re)construct meaning.’[34] Similar practices can be observed in some of Bernstein’s poetry. In the essay ‘Thought’s Measure’ Bernstein writes:


To speak intimately is to be free to speak as one will, not as one should. Confusion, contradiction, obsessiveness, associative reasoning, etc., are given free(er) play. A semblance of coherence —
or strength or control —
drops away. In contrast to this, or taking the idea further, the private can also seem to be the incommunicable. As if I had these private sensations (or thoughts or feelings) that no one can truly know as I know them.[35]


The intense privacy of ‘The Cut Pages’, its associative reasoning and free play, might be seen as an example of just the kind of writing Bernstein discusses in the passage above. Fisher describes his own work of the 1960s and 1970s as the product of a ‘phobic personality’. But the sensibilities Hejinian, Silliman and Bernstein bring to their work are no less ‘felt’, and Fisher’s attempts to find a language practice consistent with his experience was informed by many of the same intellectual currents which underpin Language writing. Fisher later became more comfortable with using ‘I’ in his work, though the presentations of experience and memory remain largely fragmentary.


In conclusion then, it is clear that ‘The Cut Pages’ is not an isolated work that is unlike anything else Fisher wrote. The processes adopted in the making of the poem have parallels in earlier poems. Perloff was right to call attention to similarities with aspects of Language poetry, including the use of formal procedures to generate content, though she was misled on the use of supposed ‘sonnet form’ in the poem.

Cover of The Dow Low Drop — New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, cover painting ‘The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin)’ by R.B.Kitaj (1972–73)
Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art, London.


Fisher’s work often indulges in a playful foregrounding of language, and ‘The Cut Pages’ and other poems exhibit the extreme privacy characteristic of some Language poetry. Rather than being an ‘unwitting’ foreshadowing of Language poetry Fisher’s ‘The Cut Pages’ should be understood as a consciously motivated work, remarkable for its time and for the context of its writing, a text which can stand alongside the work of Silliman, Hejinian and Bernstein on its own terms.


[1] Perloff, Marjorie, Roy Fisher’s ‘Language Book’, included in The Thing About Roy Fisher: Critical Essays on the Poetry of Roy Fisher, edited by Robinson, Peter, and Kerrigan, John, Liverpool University Press, 2000.

[2] For the text of the poem see Fisher, Roy, The Long and the Short of It, expanded edition, Bloodaxe, 2012, pp.88–104.

[3] Silliman, Ron, The New Sentence, Roof Books, New York, 1987.

[4] See interview with Jed Rasula in Frazer, Tony (ed.) Roy Fisher: Interviews Through Time, Shearsman, revised edition, 2013, p.47

[5] Allen, Donald, The New American Poetry, Grove Press, 1960.

[6] Interview with John Tranter from 1989, in Frazer, Tony (ed.) Roy Fisher: Interviews Through Time, Shearsman, revised edition, 2013, p.23.

[7] In Lazer, Hank, Opposing Poetries, Volume 2: Readings, Northwestern University Press, 1996, pp.19-28.

[8] Fisher, Roy, The Long and the Short of It, expanded edition, Bloodaxe, 2012, p.147.

[9] Interview with Robert Sheppard, in Frazer, op. cit., p.66.

[10] Williams, William Carlos, Kora in Hell: Improvisations, The Four Seas Company, 1920, p.16.

[11] Wheatley, David, ‘Exposed to the open at all events’, Poetry Ireland, no.77, 2003.

[12] Interview with Peter Robinson, in Frazer, op.cit., p.94.

[13] From an interview with Jed Rasula and Mike Erwin, in Frazer, Tony (ed.) Roy Fisher: Interviews Through Time, Shearsman, revised edition, 2013, p.48.

[14] Interview with Robert Sheppard in Fraser, op. cit., p.67.

[15] Ibid., p.47.

[16] Email exchange between Roy Fisher, Peter Robinson, and the author in May 2016.

[17] Fraser, op. cit., p.50.

[18] http://ronsilliman.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/ive-always-found-critical-writing-to-be.html

[19] Silliman, Ron, The New Sentence, Roof Books, New York, 1987, p.63.

UK Poet Roy Fisher, photo by John Tranter, 1997.

[20] Fraser, op. cit., p.65.

[21] Fisher, Roy, The Long and the Short of It, expanded edition, Bloodaxe, 2012, p.263.

[22] Perloff, Marjorie, Wittgenstein’s Ladder: poetic language and the strangeness of the ordinary. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

[23] Interviews with Robert Sheppard, and John Kerrigan, in Fraser, op. cit.

[24] ​ Hejinian, Lyn, The Language of Inquiry, University of California Press, 2001.

[25] Discussion during the Kelly Writers House Fellows Program, March 20, 2012. http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Silliman.php

[26] Fraser, op. cit., p.26.

[27] Fisher, Roy, The Long and the Short of It, expanded edition, Bloodaxe, 2012, p.384.

[28] http://phillysound.blogspot.co.uk/2006/06/more-from-bernadette-mayer-reader.html

[29] Fisher, op. cit., p.319.

[30] Bernstein, Charles, The Sophist, Sun & Moon Press, 1987.

[31] Huntsperger, David, Procedural Form in Postmodern American Poetry, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

[32] Hejinian, Lyn, My Life, Burning Deck, 1980; revised and updated, Sun & Moon Press, 1987.

[33] Silliman, Ron, Tjanting, The Figures, 1981; new edition, Salt Publishing, 2002.

[34] Fraser, op. cit., pp.25-26.

[35] Introduction to Messerli, Douglas, ed. ‘Language‘ Poetries: An Anthology, New Directions, 1987.

[36] Bernstein, Charles, Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984, Sun & Moon Press, 1986.


Norman MacAfee: Afghanistan and the Effects of War on Men

  Norman MacAfee

  and the Effects of War on Men


first use
fits my sister
born 1939
the year
war begins.

I am conceived
the night
Churchill enters FDR’s
White House.

My birth year
we are
winning the war.
Dad bursts into
‘O What a
Beautiful Morning!’
out that year

After the war
on the beach
dirigible looms
as Alice runs
to shield me.

After war
we look at
‘A hundred
miles away’
I say;
she says.

After war
our cousin returns
from Battle of
the Bulge.

he pins me
to the floor.
I am five.
He says,
‘Now I’m
going to take
off your shirt…’
No, I say
and he obeys.

Elementary school
chorus sings
in something
thrilling I never
heard live:
two-part harmony:
‘Walk on
walk on
with hope…’

At Baldwin School
Bryn Mawr
Victorian castle
by Frank Furness
greatest Philadelphia
architect starchitect

before Louis Kahn
whom Alice
when at Penn
will adore
from afar
and who will die
alone in that
horror new
Penn Station

but his Four
Freedoms Park
for FDR
sails ever to
Eleanor’s UN
our distant
cousins —

in 1957
at Baldwin
Alice writes
two papers


author of
All Quiet on
the Western Front


that land of
Bamiyan Buddhas
graveyard of empires.

Those papers
as alas
does Alice
1939 to 1987
so I write this poem
with their titles
‘Afghanistan’ and
‘The Effects of War
on Men’
oh prescient Alice.

Alice calls it
draft dodging
but when I say
I am resisting
she sees a little.

tabloid headline.
Democrat I
Republican she
telegram LBJ
to honor King
with ceasefire.

A little tipsy
she says she
loves me very
very much.
Vectoring her
toward ‘meeting
people’ as she wants
and soon will
I alas reply
‘That is a
cross I bear.’
She rises to
weep in the
ladies room.
I shock
myself covered
in shame.

Alice alas
keeps smoking
when all about
are losing theirs
cigarets as I
life as Dad
and she.

Skinny black
homeless man
weaves through
subway car singing
‘When you
walk through
a storm’
reducing us
to tears.

makes Soviets
pay for Poland
by giving them
their own

overthrow Soviets’
only good
president ever.


or do I mean

Tom Savage
NY Buddhist
goes there
in the sixties
in the new
in the East
Village writes
a great poem
which begins
‘We are
or were
the Bamiyan

power equations of
China & Japan
I have a hunch
sister Alice.

I go to world
wide web
for exact
measurements of
surface areas of

I’m right!
China and Japan!
Earth and moon!
Area ratios
are the same!

Twenty-five to one:
China and Japan.
Twenty-five to one:
Earth and moon!

Oh China!
Oh Japan!
Oh Alice!
Oh moon!
Oh Earth!

Why should I
write a little
oh my dear
epic begun
three million
years ago
with our
first mother
in Africa


Copyright © 2016, Norman MacAfee and Miguel Cervantes-Cervantes


Norman McAfee at seven, in 1950.
Norman MacAfee at seven, in 1950.


Pictured here in 1950 in Brookline, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, myself at seven with the two Alices, my grandmother, Alice Pauline Dietz (1874-1961), and sister, whose married name was Alice Randall (1939-1987). Photo by our mother, Thelma MacAfee. Copyright © 1950, 2016, Norman MacAfee. Two years earlier, in 1948, I learned about Metacomet, who would become the hero of my opera, ‘The Death of the Forest’, to music of Charles Ives, which is making its way to production. Also in the works: ‘Man at the Crossroads’, poem-opera-public initiative to Diego Rivera; ‘Life Begins Tomorrow’, play-screenplay to Jean-Paul Sartre and Olivier Messiaen; ‘The Re-Creation of the New World, poems 1974-2016’; ‘Bowery Rembrandt’, film documentary of photographer Nancy Miller Elliott with music by Buck Clayton; ‘Gloucester’s Eyes’, dance theater work from Shakespeare and Monteverdi; ‘The Gospel According to RFK’, film documentary of the 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Robert Kennedy (1925-1968).


Vincent Katz reviews Phaedra(s) at BAM

  Vincent Katz (reviewer)

  Phaedra(s) at BAM Harvey Theater
  Thursday, September 15, 2016

  After J. M. Coetzee, Sarah Kane, and Wajdi Mouawad
  Directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski
  Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe

Note: BAM stands for the highly regarded
Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Paragraph One follows — 1:

Isabelle Huppert is perhaps the greatest dramatic performer of our time, particularly on stage. I can’t believe it was eleven years ago I saw her perform 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, also at BAM. That was a very different performance, a solo feat of endurance, for Isabelle and equally for the audience, who had to witness her enactment of unmitigated suffering.

Paragraph Two follows: 2:

She tends to go for these extremely debased and / or debasing roles, as it allows her to show off her mesmerizing ability to enact extreme states without ever veering into excess. She is able to play these states so precisely.

Isabelle Huppert as Phaedra.


Tonight’s performance was of interest as it was based on the Greek myth of Phaedra and Hippolytos, treated most famously by Euripides in his Hippolytos and Racine in his Phèdre but also by the Roman playwright Seneca and others. The current piece is built on those but is written by three contemporary authors. It is the timelessly gripping story of Phaedra, the daughter of King Minos of Crete and sister of Ariadne. In Euripides’ version, Phaedra goes with the conqueror Theseus to be his Queen. However, on their return to Athens, he leaves her alone, serving a voluntary exile for having murdered another king.


Phaedra, alone in the palace, develops a passion for her stepson, Hippolytos. For his part, the youth is interested only in hunting. When he does not reciprocate her advances, she commits suicide, leaving a note saying that he raped her. Theseus returns, reads the note, and decides he must put his son to death, appealing to his father, Poseidon, for help. Eventually, Hippolytos rides out on his powerful steed, but a monster in the form of gigantic bull, sent by Poseidon, accosts them and frightens the horse, causing him to throw Hippolytos onto the rocks. As he is dying, his father begs his son’s forgiveness.


The first section of the current piece was written by Wajdi Mouawad, who was born in Lebanon and has lived in Paris and Montreal since leaving at the age of eight during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s. This section starts as in a nightclub, or rather, an after-after-hours lounge, as a lone electric guitar accompanies a woman in high heels wailing into a microphone.


Eventually, Isabelle appears in a long blonde wig and mini-dress. She is Phaedra, delirious, eventually going into rants and screaming tirades about the boy. This scene went on too long. I did not like the dancer in thong and sparklies. She looked like the director’s nod to trans-as-fashion — a guy in drag or a manly-faced woman — which was fine, but her self-projection felt gratuitous, schemed for laughs.


The relationship between Phaedra and her nurse Oenone seemed promising. The production changed her from a nurse, as she is in Euripides, to a lover, or perhaps a nurse and lover, but after some attempts at connection, this thread was dropped. I found the character of the young man, Hippolytos, contrived to be too obviously doglike.

Isabelle Huppert as Phaedra (at wall) with nurse (seated)


The second section was written by Sarah Kane. Born in 1971 to Evangelical parents in Essex, England, Kane suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1999. Her death was a great tragedy, as she was one of the most electric British writers of her generation. As with the photographer Francesca Woodman, who also took her own life, one wonders what might have been. From my experience with 4.48 Psychosis, written shortly before Kane’s death, I was prepared to be witness again to extreme suffering.


On the contrary, this was the most elegant and successful part of the evening. Isabelle came out, dressed very properly, her red hair combed to the side, like a real, modern, bourgeois, royal. The set included a modern room that rolled onto the stage — an effective extension of physical and mental space. In this room, Phaedra encounters her stepson, who is a total wastrel. He does nothing, wants nothing. He has sex with random people, who want a piece of him because he is royalty. He prefers to play with his remote-controlled car that he sends zinging around his room’s periphery and occasionally into walls.


She pleads with him, begs, and finally gives him a brutal blowjob. He admits to having screwed Phaedra’s daughter, Strophe, and informs Phaedra that Strophe also banged Theseus. It is all incestuous and loveless. Only Phaedra elicits pity, as she feels the burn of passion, but she is ultimately debased as well.


The third act, written by J.M. Coetzee, was the most disappointing. [John Maxwell (J.M.) Coetzee is a South African novelist, essayist, linguist, translator and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature. He relocated to Australia in 2002 and lives in Adelaide. He became an Australian citizen in 2006. Wikipedia.] Whenever Isabelle was off the stage, the energy decreased visibly. Sometimes, the director would bring her on, in a scene she was not germane to, to sit in a corner and comment subliminally, just to give the scene a boost. The intermission came at an odd spot, in the middle of the second act. But taking what followed the intermission as the third act, it was a jumble.


First, Hippolytos admits to the rape, then gets blown by a priest. Okay. Next, his family watches him paraded to execution, with his sister splayed on the ground, her pink-pantied crotch in the audience’s face for the duration. Well, at least that was something to look at.


I was waiting for what the program described as the panel discussion part of the play, in which Isabelle plays an Australian author being interviewed about her new book. But when it came, the movie Frances (a biopic about the actress and television host Frances Farmer) was referenced, and I knew this would not end well. We know the movie. We know it is a tour-de-force performance by Jessica Lange. And we know that what it shows is horrible. But the director was hoping the audience didn’t know and that he could really disturb them. Referencing wasn’t enough, apparently. He decided he had to actually show an excerpt from the film. And that’s when I said, Enough, Already!


But I will always be back to see Isabelle. She is captivating in whatever role she takes on. I only wish she would take on the meat of the classical repertoire, not just the sound bytes, or work with someone who does have that depth of understanding. Then her unparalleled acting skills would be able to communicate a more profound connection.

US poet Vincent Katz, photo by Vivien Bittencourt.

Vincent Katz is a poet, translator, and critic. The author of the poetry collections Southness (Lunar Chandelier Press, 2016), Swimming Home (Nightboat Books, 2015), and the forthcoming Fantastic Caryatids, a collaboration with Anne Waldman, Katz lives in New York City and teaches at the Yale School of Art. Raphael Rubinstein has characterized Katz as ‘A 21st-century flâneur whose wanderings range from the sidewalks and subways of New York City to the crowded beaches of Rio de Janeiro.’


Ward Ritchie: My Life in Printing (second quarter of UCLA interview) 170 pages

  Ward Ritchie

  «Printing and Publishing in
  Southern California»
  (JPR title: My Life in Printing)

  an interview for the Library at UCLA,
  second quarter, JPR06


Note: 2016 changes to British English spelling and usage et cetera by John Tranter are given in square brackets, [thus].

Note: for a far more acerbic view of the Los Angeles scene in the 1920s and 1930s than the avuncular Ward Ritchie provides herein, read Kevin Starr’s book Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s, Oxford University Press, 1990, History, 453 pages, available from Amazon and other bookstores. Contents:
    Planning Development and Ballyhoo in JazzAge 5
    The Dreams and Realities of Social 20
    Foundations of Urban Empire 45
    Oligarchs Babbitts and Folks 120
    The Emergence of Institutional 151
    The Santa Barbara Heritage 231
    The Santa Barbara Alternative 263
    Bibliophilia and Bohemia in Greater 334
    Pasadena Begins Its Literary 362
    Material Dreams 390
Bibliographical Essay 401
Acknowledgments 427

Note: Acerbic? You should also read Dreaming on the Edge: Poets and Book Artists in California by Alastair M. Johnston. See more at: http://www.oakknoll.com/pages/books/128359/alastair-m-johnston/dreaming-on-the-edge-poets-and-book-artists-in-california#sthash.suklYPPs.dpuf . Reflecting the lively writing style, chapter titles include: ‘Shirtless on Sansome Street’, ‘Tobacchanalian Revels’, ‘Conversation at Haywood’s’, ‘The Laureate of Doomed Youth’, ‘The Last Gasp of the Checkered Demon’, and ‘Teetering on the Brink’. Designed by the author, Dreaming on the Edge is lavishly illustrated in color.

Note: the next few pages are common to the first and second quarters of the interview. You can skip them, and go straight to page 171, the start of this, the second quarter of the typewritten transcript of the taped interviews from the nineteen-sixties with Los Angeles printer Ward Ritchie, here.

In compliance with current copyright law, U.C. Library Bindery produced this replacement volume on paper that meets the ANSI Standard Z39 48-1984 to replace the irreparably deteriorated original in 2006

This manuscript is hereby made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publication, are reserved to the University Library of the University of California at Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the University Librarian of the University of California at Los Angeles

LIFE: Harry Ward Ritchie was born in Los Angeles, California on June 15, 1905, the son of Mossom George Ritchie and Effie Palmer Ritchie. He received his early education in South Pasadena, graduating from South Pasadena High School. In 1924 he entered Occidental College. After his freshman year, tie was admitted to Stanford University. Following his sophomore year at Stanford, he attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, but returned to Occidental College, where he received his BA degree in 1928

Ward Ritchie early developed a keen interest in fine printin and the art of book production; however, at the time of his graduation from college he decided on a career in law. Accordingly, he matriculated at the University of Southern California School of Law in the summer of 1928. It took him less than a year to discover that he was not suited for the law, and he withdrew from the school, pondering the future course of his life. It was during this brief interlude that he discovered The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson on sale in the book department of Robinson’s Los Angeles Department Store

As Ritchie began to absorb the mood and feelings of Cobden-Sanderson, the great nineteenth century English bookbinder who had given up law at age forty to pursue a career in the art of the book, he was intrigued by the philosophy of independent creativity which permeated this work. There and then he decided to follow a career in the graphic arts

Initially, Ritchie sought advice on obtaining training in bookbinding. At the Huntington Library he was told that there was no place on the West Coast where one could learn the craft; in fact, there was little hand binding done in the United States. Next he broached the subject of printing and was told that the best printers on the Pacific Coast were John Henry Nash and the Grabhorn Brothers in San Francisco. With advice from these San Francisco printers and encouragement from Jake Zeitlin, a Los Angeles bookseller, and Bruce McCallister, the premier printer in Los Angeles, he decided to study printing at the Los Angeles Trade Technical School. During 1928 and 1929 Ritchie-pursued courses at the school, learning the rudiments of printing, and there he was strongly encouraged by his immediate tutor and confidant, James Hallack.

A very young Jake Zeitlin, from the internet.
A very young Jake Zeitlin, from the internet.

The printing equipment of the L.A. Trade Technical School and Ritchie’s own press, installed in a rented studio at Clyde Browne’s Abbey San Encino in Highland Park, provided the resources for his first series of printing endeavors. These were: small booklets of poems by Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish, Leonie Adams, Robinson Jeffers and several others. Most of them were little more than pamphlets that could be printed easily in a session or two. Ritchie considered them great fun, yet a true source of creative satisfaction.

Meanwhile, he started work at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and continued there until late spring of 1930. In his spare time he worked with his press and read widely in the history of printing and the work of contemporary European and American printers. It was during this interlude that he became particularly interested in the work of the Paris printer and book designer, François-Louis Schmied. He had read Schmied in The Fleuron. His books were described as the books of the future.

This appealed to Ritchie, and he set his heart on studying with Schmied at his Paris atelier. The chance came when his aunt in Michigan wrote to his mother that she was joining a European tour and desired her company. His mother easily persuaded him to join them, so he obtained a leave of absence from Vroman’s Bookstore and set out for Europe with his mother and aunt early in June of 1930.

When the tour returned to Paris after its round of Europe, Ritchie decided to remain. He had a letter of introduction to Franjois-Louis Schmied and was determined to realize this ambition to become an apprentice at his atelier. This was not as easy as he had supposed, but he succeeded and soon found himself working at a variety of tasks, ranging from cutting woodblocks and pulling the handpress to teaching English to Schmied’s daughter and helping bottle the autumn wine.

Unquestionably Ritchie’s Paris experiences at Atelier Schmied strongly influenced the development of the Ward Ritchie Press, established in 1932. This eventually evolved into the commercial printing firm of Anderson, Ritchie & Simon.

This’manuscript, a transcription of recordings made by the UCLA Oral History Program with Ward Ritchie, is an account in his own words of the development of these enterprises and of the state of fine printing and publishing in Southern California. Records relating to this series of interviews are located in: the office of the UCLA Oral History Program.


INTERVIEWER: Elizabeth I. Dixon, Oral History Program, UCLA
Age 45,. B.A., International Relations, USC; MLS, Library Service, UCLA


Place: Ward Ritchie’s home, 751 Linda Vista Avenue, Pasadena, California.

Dates: January 17, 1954 to February 21, 1966.

Time of day, length of sessions and total number of recording hours: Recording sessions lasted from three to four hours, with an average of two hours of recording at each session.

The manuscript represents a total of thirty-one and one-half hours of recording time. The first few recording sessions were conducted late in the afternoon, but early in the interview series the schedule was changed to the morning hours.


The interviewer introduced topics and questions off, and the interviewee then prepared careful notes for use in recording. He frequently referred to manuscripts, correspondence and his diaries, from which he read passages onto the [tape] from time to time. Topical questions were introduced by the interviewer within the chronological framework of the series.


Editor, Bernard Galm, Oral History Program, UCLA, B.A., English, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota; M.A., Theater Arts, UCLA

Editing was completed September 23, 1967.

The edited manuscript represents a verbatim transcript of the interviews. Only minor emendations for spelling, punctuation and clarity were made. An audit-edit was done to check the accuracy of the transcript. The manuscript reflects the sequence in which the interveiws were conducted.

The edited manuscript was brought to the interviewee for his review in October 1967, which he completed in January 1969. He did not make significant changes in the original wording but did add considerably to the material recorded at the interviews. The use of brackets in the manuscript indicates words not actually spoken by the interviewee, or later interpolations by John Tranter.

Frontispiece: photo of Ward Ritchie by his son, Jon Ritchie.
Frontispiece: photo of Ward Ritchie by his son, Jon Ritchie.

The photograph in the front of the volume was taken by Mr. Ritchie’s son, Jon Ritchie. The appended chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie was kindly prepared by Elizabeth Angelico.

The Index

The index was compiled by Mrs. Adelaide G. Schippers.
Errata: pp. 337, 535, 546, 562, 655 do not exist
pp. 330A, 437A, 592A, 598a, 673A-673D exist to correct the pagination

Back to the Start of this file.

    page 171 begins here

I continued to correspond with Laura Riding for many years, and in 1934 I printed a long poem of hers in a book for the Primavera Press. It wasn’t until after this that I learned of the impact our visit had upon the foreign colony in Deyá, on that day. On their hand press, Laura Riding and Robert Graves printed an occasional magazine called Focus. And in issue Number Three, dated April / May, 1935, Laura Riding wrote,

The only thing that has happened from America has been the publication of my ill-tempered, deliberately shabby little poem, ‘Americans,’ which I wrote a year ago for a rather nice young man called Ward Ritchie, who has a press in California. He printed it beautifully with forthright red adornments, and now I’m feeling somewhat shamefaced, on his account not the poem’s. Because, without any suggestion of a whine, he has written to say how much he liked the leaves which I sent him. And how much he would have enjoyed being their printer. It was through Ward Ritchie, by the way, that the whole German situation arose here. He came to the village about four years ago, looking for the Seizin Press. Mentioning my name and Robert’s. And met the German called Herpes, who said, ‘Oh, you mean Graves’ Press’. When he found us he was surprised to see me, having gotten the impression that I was no longer concerned. Which, of course, started the thing with Herpes, who said, ‘If a woman expects personal recognition, she shouldn’t live with a man in the same house’. This went on to other subsequent bitter remarks, until one angry night Robert strode up to the village and into the Café and slapped old Herpes’ face. Whereupon all the Germans in Deyá, were infected with a strong injured German-colony disease, which has been passed on from one season’s German colony to the next, in true post-war spirit.

I knew of the liaison between Robert Graves and Laura Riding because before going to Europe I had read

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Graves’ autobiography, Goodbye to All That, and in it he told how he had received some poems from a rather unknown American poet and had read them, and as is quite customary with an author, had written a very pleasant letter back, saying if she ever came to England to drop in and see him. At that time, Graves was presumably happily married with a wife and many children. Within a couple of weeks, Laura Riding arrived and moved into the house. And as I recall (it’s more than thirty years since I read the book), the arrangement became a little complicated since Laura wouldn’t leave. In frustration, one day, she jumped out of the second-story window [in British English, the first-floor window], and of course, was pretty badly wrecked. Soon after that the whole ménage fell apart and Laura Riding and Robert Graves made their way to Deyá, which is where his autobiography ends.

As we walked through the streets of Deyá, following this crowd, all this came back to my mind. When I saw this attractive, sexy-looking woman, standing up there on the bank, I immediately concluded that this must be Laura Riding.

Being from California, I was naturally curious about Father Junipero Serra, who had been born on the island of Majorca. Early in my stay there I wrote,

I have tried very hard here to get some books on or about Junipero Serra. But I have failed. Though

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he lived here until he was thirty-seven or so, I can find nothing that he has left. This is part of the curse of not knowing the language since it’s impossible to talk with the people who might have known him or his family. Petra was his birthplace. Three years ago somebody started to tear down the old Serra home. They did dismantle most of it, when some group got together and put a stop to it. They are rebuilding it now, as I understand. An antique dealer here tried to sell me some of the original stones. He said that when they were tearing it down, he went to Petra and gathered some of the stones together. But I didn’t want any stone; I wanted some of his books.

Junípero Serra (1713-1784), a Spanish priest, founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions of California, set up to bring Native Americans to Christ. He has been called the last conquistador, a destroyer of cultures. Next week (in late September 2015) when Pope Francis visits the US, he will make Serra an official saint of the Catholic Church. From the internet at https://abagond.wordpress.com/
Junípero Serra (1713-1784), a Spanish priest, founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions of California, set up to bring Native Americans to Christ. He has been called the last conquistador, a destroyer of cultures. Next week (in late September 2015) when Pope Francis visits the US, he will make Serra an official saint of the Catholic Church. From the internet at https://abagond.wordpress.com/

I later on took the bus over to the town of Petra, but could find little that was authentic. The padre at the Franciscan monastery in Palma said of Serra’s birthplace, that the one shown is not the true one ([that is,] the one shown to the tourists [is not the true one.]). The Franciscans had wanted to buy it as a monument since Father Junipero was one of their most famous sons. But the owner, realizing he had a spot of some importance, asked an exorbitant price, according to the padre. I’ve forgotten now whether he said it was eleven thousand pesetas or eleven hundred pesetas — neither of which seem too much but to those in Palma at the time it did seem quite exorbitant. They asked the owner if he could produce any evidence as to the origin of the house, and the owner either could not or would not produce them. So, they started their own search to find out how authentic it was and found this house to have been the house of an uncle or a cousin of Junipero Serra. The padre said that they were trying

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to figure out which would have been the birthplace of Serra. They had an inkling of the location, but since [as] in the days of Serra there were no street numbers, it was hard to determine precisely which was the house. But they were going to continue to try and identify it. Possibly in the years intervening they have, but at that time it was still up in the air. Possibly they have just decided that it’s better to go along with what they have and allow everybody to believe that that’s the place.

Title page of Palou's "Life of Fra Junipero Serra", Mexico, 1787.
Title page of Palou’s “Life of Fra Junipero Serra”, Mexico, 1787.

On the day I was leaving the island, the padre, having heard that I was looking for a copy of Palou’s Life of Serra, sent over the monastery’s copy for me to see, which he said was one of the most valuable possessions in the monastery. I was certainly surprised that he would send it over by an English friend, to a comparatively unknown American. But it came and I only had about fifteen minutes to look at it before I had to leave to catch the boat back to Barcelona. As I recall it was a nice copy in vellum with ties and with a signature of Dr. Ontonío Ferra written on the inside of the front cover. Now it’s hard to know whether this was sent back to some friend or relative of Serra’s and had gotten to the monastery or whether because of his subsequent historical importance, the monastery had bought a copy. The book was printed in Mexico, so it’s

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doubtful that unless he sent them that many copies would be in this place.

Majorca I loved. I wrote of it one time:

I am sitting high, in the small room under the tower. It is bare and pleasant, with the whitewash walls and the sun’s streak across the tile floor. The huge beams of the roof are left natural and the under-roof plastered and whitewashed. Construction is very simple, but all over the island it leaves a purity of tile and of whitewashed rooms that seem to remain fresh and clean regardless of the centuries. How much more charming it is than the architecture of any other country I’ve seen. The lack of ostentation brings a more serviceable beauty. The people are happy, the houses are nice, the climate enjoyable — to live is cheap. And yet this is supposed to be a poor country.

Again I wrote:

It is a marvelous, marvelous place. California might be as nice, in a way, except for time which has allowed the people [here in Majorca] to terrace the hills with stone walls, and guard their houses from the street with other walls, and form everything into a crooked, mazed intrigue. And the sunlight and whitewash keep it from being sordid and dirty. Yes, I like this island.

Today, nearly thirty-five years later, I hope it hasn’t changed in the way that California has changed.

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[«»] Tape Number: FIVE, SIDE TWO
November 13, 1964

Ritchie: Majorca was beautiful — too beautiful. It made me think of California with nostalgia. In a way, I suppose I wanted to bring back to my natal home some of the charm and simple beauty of this Mediterranean island to add to the vitality of our West Coast. I was beginning to be restless, to want to get home and begin carving my own life’s work. So I left Majorca — feeling somewhat sad — and crossing to Barcelona, took the train to Avignon, and then to Dijon for an all-night party with Larry Powell and M.F.K. and Al Fisher in their apartment. We talked — I of Majorca and they of Dijon and the University. We drank wine and read poetry (Powell was doing his doctoral thesis on Jeffers and Fisher on Shakespeare), before we began reading our own.

M.F.K. Fisher when young. Original at: http://cookedbooks.blogspot.com.au/2008/07/happy-birthday-mary-frances.html
M.F.K. Fisher when young. Original at: http://cookedbooks.blogspot.com.au/

Powell and I had a few modest creations, but Alfred Fisher was creating a monumental all-encompassing work which he called The Ghost in the Underblows. He read long passages from here and there in the manuscript, which ran some six hundred pages in his beautiful minuscule handwriting — the words no larger than an ant’s trail. We sat silently listening, except for an occasional sip from our glass, convinced that we were enjoying one of those moments few people can experience — when a poet unfolds to his own intimate audience of friends, a work of

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magnitude and importance. Whether this is Time’s ultimate judgment, we may not know in our lifetime. But it was our own conviction that night that the strength and beauty of Fisher’s Ghost would find a permanent place in English poetry.

Alfred Young Fisher was, at that time, about twenty-nine years old. He had been born on Manhattan Island [New York State] but had spent most of his growing days in Los Angeles, where his father was pastor to the Third Presbyterian Church on Adams Boulevard. He flunked out of UCLA (then called the Southern Branch of the University of California) because of refusal to attend ROTC [US armed forces Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] and to do certain chemistry experiments. Later he attended Princeton University and discovered the university library with its storehouse of knowledge that he needed, to satisfy the yearning he had for absorbing man’s accumulation of thoughts and ideas. He’d leave with a suitcase full of books every time he’d visit the library and return for another load as soon as he could absorb these. He graduated with the highest honors in English, and after teaching a couple of years in a preparatory school in Wyoming, he married Mary Frances Kennedy, and sailed for France and the University of Dijon to study for his doctor’s degree.

Fisher’s amazing ability and capacity to create, as well as a stubborn temperament, is illustrated by a couple of early incidents. His closest friend at Princeton had been

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William Spackman, and in a letter while Fisher was teaching in Montana where he was also writing numerous bits of poetry, Spackman said that he might be a fairly good poet, but he was a bad sonneteer. Whereupon, in one night, Fisher wrote a sequence of fifty sonnets to his girl in California. There might have been more, but it was wintertime and the firewood gave out and the ink in the inkwell began to freeze.

Also while at Princeton, Fisher wrote a seventy thousand word essay on the function of literary criticism — of which he was quite proud. But one day, while allowing one of his friends to read it, there was some criticism of this work on criticism. Whereupon Fisher promptly burned the entire manuscript.

In the spring of 1930, Fisher found himself with a plan for a poem, based primarily upon the books of the Bible, as Joyce had used the Odyssey to form the wanderings of his Ulysses. Once started, he wrote like a man crazed with a need to get this thing out of himself, out of his soul. He wrote of it, ‘It poured up from the earth. It spread out across the heavens. On the one hand, it seemed like a well of artesian music. On the other, something prophetic and necessitarian from above.’

It was written almost entirely at a table in the Café de Paris in Dijon. When the days were pleasant — which is seldom during the winter months in Dijon — he’d sit on the terrace, looking out across the Place de

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Théatre to the former Ducal Palace. Here, almost entirely during the two-hour lunch hour when the University library was closed, the Ghost would gush forth on endless sheets of paper. In the spring of 1931, after about a year of writing on the poem, M.F.K. — as we called his wife — returned to California to visit her parents. And somehow the spell was broken, with only a fifth of the original conception of the poem completed. Fisher was never able to recapture his inspiration or interest and the Ghost ended then and there — some six hundred manuscript pages, however.

Fisher believed in his poem in a backhanded sort of way, always saying to us that yes, after he was gone, possibly it would be discovered. Powell and I, despite this indifference and reluctance to try and have it published, persisted, and in 1938, Fisher turned the manuscript over to Powell to edit and prune to a size that we could afford and manage to produce. There were naturally a certain number of redundancies. The first two parts of the poem were not up to the rest, inasmuch as during the composition of these Fisher was groping and trying to discover the form, the shape, the rhythm. Powell’s editing eliminated these, starting with the third part. The first book, of course, compared with Genesis, and the second to Exodus, and the published volume was the third of the parts that Fisher had originally written. We issued a twenty-page prospectus which we sent around to friends, hoping to get enough

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subscribers to justify our printing of this book, since neither Powell nor I, nor any of our intimate friends during those days, had enough money to print it. The response was pretty feeble until Dr. Elmer Belt came to our rescue with a promise to underwrite the cost of printing the book. So, we started early in 1939 to get the book out.

At that time a young creative person by the name of Alvin Lustig was experimenting with typographical ornaments. He had a corner in our shop where he worked. He became interested in Fisher’s book and offered to make a series of illustrations from the rectangles, the squares, the circles, the rules which were available in typographical material. It was a complete tour-de-force, but magnificent in its conception and in its execution. For each of the chapters of Fisher’s Ghost, Lustig created a dramatic full-page of ornaments, which were spectacular and never before nor since matched in this particular medium of illustration. For this alone, the book has a very important place in American typography, and has since been recognized in practically ever [every] book on modern American book design as a landmark in typographic illustration and design.

Alvin Lustig   AIGA640 × 980  ... Pages from Ghost in the Underblows (Ward Ritchie Press, 1940)
Alvin Lustig AIGA640 × 980
… Pages from Ghost in the Underblows (Ward Ritchie Press, 1940)

Powell wrote a long introduction to the poem, explaining something about Fisher and the inception of the poem and the final execution by his friends, published in 1940 in an edition of 300 copies.

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Powell and I had known the Kennedy girls, Mary Frances and her sister Anne, at Occidental College. They had come to Occidental in 1927 — which was my senior year and Powell’s junior, since he had stayed out one year during college. As I recall, Anne came as a freshman and M. F. as a sophomore, having gone elsewhere for her freshman year. Fisher’s only sister also attended Occidental. She had a touch of his brilliance and I enjoyed many a long discussion with her. She was a rather plain girl, though extremely intelligent, while Fisher, on the other hand,was an extremely handsome man. The genes, somehow or other, got mixed up in that family.

When Powell had met me in Paris in the summer of 1930, bound for one of the European universities, he was uncertain as to which one in which to matriculate. But since M.F.K. and Al had already broken the ice for Americans at Dijon, he followed them there, and the association of the four of us was very close during our French years as well as subsequently. Fisher graduated with high honors from the university — the same as summa cum laude in the United States (I don’t know what the term is in French). [Wikipedia: In France, usually the French honors “très bien avec félicitations du jury”, “très bien”, “bien” and “assez bien” are used. However some Grandes Écoles, like the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, HEC Paris and Universities for the Ph.D.(Doctorat), use the Latin and English titles “summa cum laude” / “graduated with highest honors” for the top 2% and “cum laude” / “graduated with honors” for the next 5% of a year.] He was given a Franco-American scholarship and stayed on an additional year, part of time helping and teaching at Dijon. Then they moved down to Strasbourg where he wanted to do some work. Powell still had a couple of more years to go.

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When the Fishers came back to California, they arrived without a job. Those of us here were quite anxious that they should locate in the area, but in 1932, there were not too many available opportunities. Mary Frances’ father was editor of the Whittier, California newspaper which accounts for some of her interest in the written word. She had occasionally worked for her father. The family also had a cottage at Laguna Beach, and when the Fishers returned without jobs to the United States, they lived in this house down at the beach. We had many fine conferences down there; later, when Larry Powell arrived, he joined us in these. We read the Ghost many times, enjoying it each time.

Finally Fisher was given a job in the English Department at Occidental College. He was an exceptionally fine teacher. He was full of poetry. He had a great memory and could recite Shakespeare to the delight of all of his audience any time that he wanted to. It was always a pleasure to be with him too because he had such a keen delight in life and his friends and quite often a sort of vulgar sense of humor. The Fishers were at Occidental for two years, and I’m sure that they could have remained there and have been happy as long as they wanted. However, during the summer of the second year, M.F. was asked to accompany the mother of Anne Parrish on a trip to Europe. Anne Parrish, the author, wrote The Perennial Bachelor

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and in the ’30’s, was one of the best known of the American authors. She also had a brother Timothy Parrish. [George Dillwyn Parrish (July 25, 1894—August 6, 1941) was an American writer, illustrator, and painter. Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Parrish was usually known by his middle name ‘Dillwyn’, or ‘Tim’ or ‘Timmy’ by those close to him.]

Gigi Parrish, in the 1934 movie Girl O’ My Dreams
Gigi Parrish, in the 1934 movie Girl O’ My Dreams

Timmy was married to a young girl by the name of Gigi. Gigi Parrish was a most attractive and much younger girl. Timmy had been a tutor for her in her family home at one time, and — being the first man that she had really ever known — they ran away and got married. They came out to California, and with her spritely beauty she was immediately offered a job in the movies and became a Wampus star. [The WAMPAS Baby Stars was a promotional campaign sponsored by the United States Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers, which honored 13 (15 in 1932) young actresses each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. The campaign ran from 1922 to 1934.] They became intimate friends with the Fishers, and we all got together on many an occasion. Of course, it’s difficult for an older man — when I say older, Timmy was old in comparison with Gigi — to hold a girl who is in the glamour atmosphere of Hollywood, and so they separated. This left Timmy pretty much on the loose, and the Fishers took care of him and administered friendship to him. His mother, planning a trip to Europe, needed a companion and took Mary Francis, along with Timmy. This was an happy opportunity for M.F. to see France again where she had spent many delightful years.

Fisher must have been a rather brooding fellow. During the year that I knew the two of them together, I thought theirs was probably the perfect marriage. I have never seen a couple as considerate of one another,

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each attempting to show complete affection. They never wanted the other to be doing anything that they could do themselves. I always brought this out as an example of what marriage should be. As an unmarried man at the time, I was envious of this blissful life that these two lived together. Of course, what I didn’t know was the inner struggle that was going on with both of them. Mary Frances later told me that upon the death of Fisher’s father, some sort of burden came on Alfred. He felt a responsibility that his father’s life had not been happy because of his marriage.

Dr. Fisher evidently had never quite approved of Al’s marriage to Mary Frances, and as a result, Fisher turned in on himself and blamed her in some way for the death of his father. She later told me that from the night of his father’s death, they never again had any marital relations, though they continued living together in what seemed to be this same, happy state.

When M.F. went on this trip to Europe, she got to know Timmy Parrish much better. Timmy was one of the most unattractive men from a physical standpoint that I have known. He had a long, horse-like face, with bad protruding teeth, and yet he was sweet and gentle and as affectionate as any man could be. It was the inner Timmy Parrish that we liked so much.

During the summer, I imagine that because both of

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them were unhappy, they came closer and closer together, and when they returned to the United States, they confronted Al with a new situation. We who knew them, were naturally curious as to what was happening. Al quit his job at Occidental, and Timmy said that he was renting a chateau in Switzerland. He invited the Fishers to come there and live with him. So, the three of them moved from southern California to Switzerland. It was sort of a ménage á trois. These arrangements can never prove too happy, and after some months of it, Fisher moved out, which was about all that he could do. He was being kept on merely because he was the husband — in name — of Mary Frances. Fortunately, about this time, he was offered a job in the English Department at Smith College. He was able to leave Europe and come back to America and go to work there.

In the meantime, Mary Frances and Timmy Parrish were married. Timmy had some of the capabilities his sister had in writing, and he and M.F. collaborated on several novels. But it was to her own unexpected ability that she achieved her later fame as an author. During our early association, we had always thought as Al Fisher as the creative one of the family. Mary Frances sat back and allowed the limelight to play on him. She always entered in all of these discussions very amiably,

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very astutely (she was an extremely smart girl), but the limelight was still on her husband.

Dilwynn Parrish, from Dillwyn Parrish image2findagravecomphotos250photos201126766
Dilwynn Parrish, from Dillwyn Parrish image2findagravecomphotos250photos201126766

Once disassociated with him. she started writing on her own. Her first book was called Serve It Forth. It was a gastronomical book. It’s more of the story of food, the experiences of food, than an actual cookbook.

She had taken the experiences of their life in Dijon, their trips through France, the wines they had drunk and the interesting characters they’d met, and she had written one of the most charming books on the subject of food that I have ever read. It immediately placed her along the top ranks of those who were writing about food in America — a place which she has continued to occupy all of these years, with numerous books that followed: Consider the Oyster; How to Cook a Wolf, which was that charming book which came out during the war when there was hardly anything worthwhile cooking; so, if you could find a good wolf, you cooked it. Consider the Oyster was one of those interesting books which in addition to recipes for oysters included considerable information on the love life of the oysters. It was really an educational book, through and through.

M.F.K. Fisher cover, from the internet at  https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51ETV-HHMJWL._AC_UL320_SR210,-320_.jpg
M.F.K. Fisher cover, from the internet at https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/

Dixon: She has an ability with titles that I admire.

Ritchie: She does indeed.

Of course, there was a certain morbidity there; she

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had many problems during her life. Timmy, while they were still in Europe, had an embolism, and during the rest of their married life, it was a continual fight against pain and death on his part. They had to cut off part of his leg and then a little more of it. It was a gradual and continuing thing with him. [Wikipedia: While still in his twenties, medical problems began to plague him, exacerbated by the fact that he was a heavy cigarette smoker.] They moved back to California and lived in a ranch house up near Hemet. It was there that they both realized that the life that he was of necessity living was not satisfactory to either of them. Together they made a pact, and as she watched, he killed himself [Wikipedia: His health rapidly deteriorated, and he lived in constant pain. Faced with the necessity of further limb amputations, on August 6, 1941 he shot himself in the countryside near his home in the San Jacinto Mountains.]

This was one of her tragedies. A little later, her younger brother, whom she adored, got mixed up in his life and his sex life, and he too committed suicide. She wrote — what to me is a desperate book — called The Gastronomical Me, in which she had to pour all these heart feelings out. It was one way of cleansing them from her. It is one of the most intimate books that I have ever read, and to think of it being sold as a food book is rather queer and odd.

Her next marriage was to Donald Frieda, the publisher. I never saw her while she was in that particular marriage. She had evidently been unable to have a child all this time, and as a woman she wanted the experience of having. So, the Friedas adopted a little girl. The

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next thing she knew she was pregnant and they had their own child soon after. They separated.

M.F. has continued to write sporadically — interesting articles for magazines and an occasional book. She lives up in St. Helena, California now in a charming little old house with her two daughters. She will make an occasional foray to Europe and stay there for perhaps a year at a time. [M.F.K. Fisher died in June, 1992.] She was one of the most dramatically beautiful women that I have known. She was regal. She must have been 5′ 9″ or 5′ 10″ (I’m not quite sure, she may have been taller). She always seemed so tall but women with high heels sometimes give you a different impression. On the jacket of her first book Serve It Forth, there was a picture of her, and as the book circulated, more and more people began to admire this extremely handsome woman — including (I believe it was) Fox Studio. They were so impressed by the appearance that they immediately signed her to a contract unseen and, of course, when this very tall woman showed up, they were somewhat abashed, wondering what they could do with her. I don’t think she was ever used, but she did have certain contacts with them and may have even written something for them, though I’m not quite sure.

Al Fisher, on the other hand, has spent all of his life, since these early days, at Smith College. A

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year or two after, he married one of his students, and they had a son. As would have been typical of Alfred Fisher, he named him Adam because Adam was the first man and this was his first son. He had had a couple of more wives since, I believe. Occasionally, I will have a letter from him. He has been a frustrated author. I don’t think that he ever could quite get over the fact that his first wife achieved such literary success immediately after she had left him. He has never been too happy because The Ghost in the Under-blows didn’t skyrocket him to immortality in literature as, I think, he felt in his heart would be the case. He has had somethings published in small, unimportant magazines, and he has had several small booklets of his works printed — these mostly in inexpensive little printing shops in Spain or foreign countries where he can have them done cheaply, though shoddily. The last ones that I have received from him are quite disappointing. He had such great natural ability with words, with expressions, as one can see in reading from the Ghost, which is a book full of metaphor and allusion. He probably turned away from this field in which he had ability in order to achieve something in which he hadn’t the genius necessary. He tried to be another James Joyce by writing ambiguous and unintelligible things in order to be known as avant-garde — modern. It is one of those tragic disappointments that this one

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man who we originally thought had the most ability should never have achieved his full potential.

The Huntington Library historian, Ray Billington, tells me that he started teaching at Smith the same year Fisher started and that Fisher was completely spoiled by the adoration of the girls there. Even at breakfast, which he had at one of the local spots, they’d gather to watch each bite and gasp with pleasure at any word he dropped.

The odd stuff that he’s doing now is probably to impress his colleagues or more so, his students, because I’m sure that the colleagues would look at it in [sic] askance. But the students probably adore this unintelligible material and feel that here is a man who is far in the forefront. This is all conjecture on my part because except for the early years I have no basis for any of this deduction.

After this digression, I returned to Paris and was there for awhile [a while]. I didn’t go back to work for Schmied at that time because I thought I would be on my way back to California soon. As a result, the life that I lead [led] was interesting in quite a different way than when I was working with Schmied. I got to know many of the pseudo-intellectuals who crowded Paris in the thirties. The twenties, of course, was the period of the great

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inundation of young writers from America, when Hemingway [certainly] and Faulkner [unlikely] and Sinclair Lewis [briefly] were there after the First World War, taking advantage of the low prices and the mutual stimulation centering in the cafés of Montparnasse, Saint-Germain des Prés and the bookshop of Sylvia Beach. [Note: Sinclair Lewis wrote about his life for the Nobel Institute, after becoming the first American to win the Nobel Prize in 1930: ‘During these years of novelwriting since 1915, I have lived a quite unromantic and unstirring life. I have travelled much; on the surface it would seem that one who during these fifteen years had been in forty states of the United States, in Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, the West Indies, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Poland, and Russia must have been adventurous. That, however, would be a typical error of biography. The fact is that my foreign travelling has been a quite uninspired recreation, a flight from reality. My real travelling has been sitting in Pullman smoking cars, in a Minnesota village, on a Vermont farm, in a hotel in Kansas City or Savannah, listening to the normal daily drone of what are to me the most fascinating and exotic people in the world — the Average Citizens of the United States… ’  — From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.

The group that had come in the early thirties was sort of a second-rate influx. Paris was still the place to go to; it was still exciting, I admit that, but practically all of those that I knew were there because they wanted to achieve greatness without working for it. They seemed to feel that if they could get in the correct atmosphere they would either have inspiration or greatness would rub off on them. So, there was a great deal of talk. You could sit around the Dôme or the Flore and meet dozens of interesting people. Of course, beards were more prevalent there than they were in America at the time. It was a symbol of the expatriots [expatriates] who were there — as it still is a symbol. If you can make yourself look different, you think you are different and other people will think you are different and place you in a different light. Evidently, at one time I was thinking about this whole situation and in a letter to Powell, in Dijon, I wrote:

It is my present belief that no American expatriot [expatriate] will write the great American novel. (That is what we were talking about in the early thirties — somebody was going to write the great American novel — and evidently Powell and I had had some discussion about this thing

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because Powell thought he was going to write it.) For unless circumstances are peculiar an expatriot [expatriate] seldom does much for a nation’s literature. Henry James worked on the American reaction to European environment. Hemingway wrote of a peculiar postwar condition in the American colony. Ask Fisher what Elliot [T.S.Eliot?] wrote about. Either it was so symbollic [symbolic] or so artificially built out of the necessary components that it can not be judged by the rest.

But I must bag my generalizations before they have flown too far. Some people, like Joyce, have impressionably died since their migration, and it doesn’t matter where they sit since only their early impressions live for them. Others settle long enough in a new spot to acquire it (did it not take Jeffers ten years after coming to Carmel to acquire mastery over the place? And it was the same country he was living in.)

And now to follow. In general, nations have produced their greatest creative work at the time of their greatest conceit. For example, the Greece of Pericles; Italy of the Renaissance; England under Elizabeth; France under Louis XIV and when Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller and Heine hit Germany? America, on the other hand, has never had a confident period. (Now this was written in 1930 before this power had come.) Despite our recent progress we’ve always looked to the continent or to England, for approval. But now, with England’s apparently destined collapse, our confidence in them will be shaken onto ourselves, and then America will bloom in art and literature. But, as we have been transplanting European culture to our shores for a few hundred years now, with no exceptional result (Whitman and Jeffers are native products), it will be a sign of spring when our creators commence to peep from the California sod rather than seeking fertilization in Paris or Dijon.

I speak of great art. The dabblers can work anywhere, and it won’t harm their productions.

At present, I feel, though French art is considered the art, that it has been exhausted and going sterile. From Mexico is springing a native and more virile art. It is springing out of the land and the people’s desires. In Paris they say ‘I could do great things, but I don’t know what to draw.’ In Mexico they told the USA and the Catholic Church to go to hell, and in their social

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upheaval they feel strongly and are painting or frescoing it all over their public buildings, drawing it in their magazines and carving it on their hearts. Their renaissance is more comparable to the religious fervor that built the gothic cathedrals, while ours is a conceit that necessitates portrayal of ourselves.

And so it will come — a great cry from within — the cry of joy and confidence and not a cry of criticism.

Why do I say all this? It is because I watch the Americans here. In general, those who are trying to create are discontented. They do not know what is missing, but express it as, ‘Paris isn’t what it used to be.’ So much of this dissatisfaction caused my wondering, ’What the devil?’

And now I think that Americans over here with any creative ability are dissipating their birthright — that is, of having been born upon the morning of America’s greatest possibilities.

Of course, my theory follows from the ageworn one that the time creates the man. Not that a genius cannot surmount the barrier, but his potency will likely be lost in the struggle. The theory is that everything to be done has been done, but as people and conditions change, it has to be reworked with every new era. Also follows that the genius, early in the period, will express it all and the remainder of the period will be spent in polishing and making it impotent. Thus, they say, that many followed Shakespeare with greater technical skill but only he who ushered in the period and found his material strong and unspoiled could pile up the achievement to stand as the Elizabethan monument. Of course, of major eras in our Western world, there are only a few, with spokesmen like Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and I suppose a few others. But there are many minor eras and each must have its spokesman. And it seems that we are entering another major era with our science conquering the elements.

I suppose someplace in my correspondence with Powell, I have an answer to this letter. One of these curious nights I will dig into it to see what his reaction to this was. My handwriting at that time was a little

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blurred, but the the trend of my thought at that time is there — a realization that there is this vitality that was growing, based upon our scientific achievements, which should stimulate our artistic achievements. And I think in the years, it has proved out to a certain extent. Whenever we have a growth in one field as great as the postwar explosion in science, there has to be some way of describing it, which literature and art does. The one certainly stimulates the other.

I don’t say that we have achieved our art and literary eminence yet, possibly because the great minds of our time are being funneled into the scientific end of it, and the mediocre ones are fiddling with the arts. The artists and the poets of America, the Ginsbergs and such, have been attempting to achieve greatness through shock and nonsense. It hasn’t been enough out of the heart.

Dixon: Eric Hofer said last year at the California Library Association’s convention that he believed that automation would create the one thing that the artist, either literary or graphic arts, needs, and that’s time.

Ritchie: Yes, time to do all this. The graphic arts are going through this great problem, too. Perhaps, we are going to have two completely separate areas of work. Automation is going to do the things that are necessary, and the creative man will go back to the handicrafts.

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[«»] Tape Number: SIX, SIDE ONE
January 15, 1965

Ritchie: It was spring in Paris, playtime. The sun was beginning to reappear, and the grey skies showed blue once again. I was not working at Schmied’s, though I still lunched there almost every day. I wandered through the bookstores, picking up books for Jake Zeitlin, who had written me from Los Angeles to buy what I thought might be good stock for him. I haunted the galleries and worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Jake Zeitlin, very young: from Lionel Rolfe: Jake Zeitlin’s Bohemian Days in Echo Park--Part Two - Echo Park, CA Patch
Jake Zeitlin, very young: from Lionel Rolfe: Jake Zeitlin’s Bohemian Days in Echo Park–Part Two – Echo Park, CA Patch

In Schmied’s studio were a number of precise pieces of sculpture that I had admired the first day I’d come to his studio. And I finally met the artist, Gustave Miklos. He was a Hungarian, about forty years old at that time. He had come to Paris as a young man in 1909, amid that turbulant [turbulent] period of experimentation and self-expression. During the war, he was in a battallion [battalion] sent to the Near East where he was influenced by Byzantine art. After the war, he was fortunate in finding a wealthy patron Jacques Doucet, who purchased enough of his work to make it possible for him to afford materials and time to create with meticulous perfection in bronze and stone.

Gustave Miklos (photo c.1919) By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40776100
Gustave Miklos (photo c.1919) By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/

[Wikipedia: Gustave Miklos, also written Gusztáv Miklós and Miklós Gusztáv (Budapest, 30 June 1888 — Oyonnax, 5 March 1967) was a sculptor, painter, illustrator and designer of Hungarian origin. An influential sculptor involved with Cubism and early developments in Art Deco, Miklos exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants during the 1910s and 1920s, and in 1925 showed at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts; the exhibition from which the term Art Deco was derived. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1922, and a member of The French Union of Modern Artists (UAM) in 1930. In addition to his painting and sculptural works, Miklos illustrated over thirty books, designed close to 200 bookbindings, numerous posters, in addition to furniture designs.]

[Ward Ritchie continues:] I first visited his studio on April 3, 1931, and wrote about it as follows:

It was an exciting day. I went up to see Gustave Miklos, and I was most pleased because I was con-

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vinced that he is one of the important creators of the day. It seems to me that he has much more lasting qualities than any French artist’s work that I have seen. (That is a contemporary one, at that time.) As Mr. Schmied said to me of the work of Miklos, ‘It is for all time.’ I wandered up rue St. Jacques to 158 and mounted to the sixth floor left where I found the card ‘Gustave Miklos’ on the door. I pounded and a surprisingly young man came out. He took me to another room, his studio, and began to explain his work. He was rubbing one woman’s head [a sculpture of a woman, or a real woman?], and he was proud of the smoothness, of the perfection of her lines.

He said that realism is not art. Art or creation is a symbolic, suggestive presentation of a subject, as worked through the artist’s mind. He works much with geometrical arrangements and with planes and spheroid roundness. His lines are always drawn true and perfect as by mechanical means.

He does not care for contemporary art. ‘It is sloppy,’ he says, ‘and only care and precision can create something that will last down through the ages.’ Evidently he is well-studied in Egyptian, Assyrian, symbolism. He showed me a great number of things. He seems to go by streaks and by opposites. For instance, he had a bird of prey; then he was also working on a song bird and at present was working on women’s heads which express different moods such as anger, thought, hautiness, etc. He had the small model of his Medusa’s head, which was a wonderful thing. Another very nice work pounded out of copper was a man on an elephant’s back, with holes in the background to suggest the network of trees. He had a few small things which he showed me, of which the most interesting was an automobile which he had made in 1924. He said that automotile design was hideous and should be done by a creative artist rather than a mechanic. His model was somewhat like a teardrop with a fin of a tail. He was quite pleased in that Campbell had used a tail similar to this in this recent record-breaking race.

Miklos: ‘Divinité’ sculpture shown small, in catalog
Miklos: ‘Divinité’ sculpture shown small, in catalog


But the most interesting piece was his ‘Divinity’. It was made from black diorite which he had made geometrically perfect and smoothed it until it gathered all of the light available unto it. He said it had taken him two years to make it, since the stone was so brittle that he had to polish slowly, slowly down to get the thing perfect. He couldn’t take a chance of chipping it. (It is a little difficult to describe. It’s a rounded column coming out of the diorite base.) On the front side is

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a rising triangle of the creator or a tip that comes up to a point, and at the point, all of the light seemed to focus. The back had the reverse triangle of the destroyer. The front side was the upright point of the creator and the reverse side was the downward point of the destroyer. As he told me, the Star of Solomon had the two of them balanced.

I don’t know exactly what the shape symbolized, but I would suspect a seed or a fruit. In all its smallness, it had a certain emotionalism that can also be found in a Gothic cathedral — like the one at Cologne. He said he didn’t like to do very much work in wood because in heated rooms of this generation they tended to crack, and after spending much time on a work, he would have been unhappy in knowing that they were doomed for comparatively early death. There were only two kinds of wood which would not crack but I have forgotten the French names for them. He made it very clear to me that he only made a single example of each creation and not like Rodin who made a small one, a larger one, then a still larger one, so that there were many of each.
(Dixon: How tall was this?
Ritchie: In my recollection it was only about a foot or two tall.)

Gustave Miklos with Sculpture, from the internet.
Gustave Miklos with Sculpture, from the internet.

As I was ready to leave he said he would gather-some photographs of some of his works that I could take back to America with me. So a few days later, I went to see him again, at which time he gave me a portfolio of photographs and also two magazines with articles about his work. And he talked more about how he worked. ‘Everything must have a bit of mystery in it to please me, otherwise,’ as he said, ‘it is like a young girl, stripped naked.’ He experiments with oxidization of his metal to get different effects and different colors to gleam from it.

His works seemed very expensive to me at the time, though they were probably moderately priced, compared with today’s cost of art. For the ‘Divinity,’ he was asking six thousand dollars, and many of his other pieces were for sale for around two thousand or three thousand. The majority of the ones that I saw were cast in bronze, and

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after getting them out of the cast, he started working on them — polishing and perfecting until they were almost immaculate in their perfection.

April 12th was my last night in Paris. I had dinner at Le Trianon and then a sentimental journey to some of my haunts — a liqueur at the Dôme, a beer at Lipps with Seamus 0’Hanrahan and Billy Graden, another beer on St. Michelle and then home to my loft on rue Bonaparte from where I was leaving for England in the morning.
[imageIn London I stayed at the Penn Club, arriving there after two days at Canterbury.

It was restimulation from hearing my own language again. I thought the English countryside much more attractive than that of France. But I shall remember the tulip beds in the Tuileries of last week, and Sunday with the milling gazers all around. And the hibiscus in formal designs in the central section of the Louvre’s gardens. And all of the beautiful sunshine of the last few days. I left France with no regret because I am travelling on and cannot afford to waste time now. It is like a good book; I shall always expect to go back to it.

Inasmuch as my whole trip to Europe was a pilgrimage to learn and see books and the world of printing, I was most fortunate in finding acquaintances in London quickly. I had always heard of the reticence of English people, but I have never encountered any people as friendly and as receptive to a young, unknown lad who was traveling and searching for something. But I was looking for something specific, I guess. One of my first encounters was in

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was later put on the staff and from that time on devoted his life to various aspects of type and printing and writing about them.

Later on, two other of Everard’s children arrived, a brother and a sister. They were all quite dark, rather Italian or Spanish in appearance. I don’t know who their mother was. A little later, Francis Meynell and his wife Vera arrived. He was tall, fairly lean, and a trifle bald, with good-natured wit. She is lovely and rather silent. Dinner was in the basement, and afterwards we sallied to the main floor to their Ping-pong room. This was the entertainment of the evening. Francis was a great champion. I think he was one of England’s best Ping-pong players, and we had a riotous time. Not only playing individual games, but group games in which we would gather around the table and circle, exchanging the paddle as you went around, having to keep the ball in play.

Francis is an all-around athlete, and he told of being a goal [goal-keeper] in football during his school days and of being captain of a cricket team, even at the time that I met him first in London.

Grabhorn: Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a page.
Grabhorn: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a page.

In talking about printing as we were chatting, he mentioned that Bruce Rogers said that Grabhorn’s Leaves of Grass was a forest. That Grabhorn had made it a trifle too heavy. Of John Henry Nash, he said, ‘A third-rate printer who has taken all of the airs and is

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vastly different from Bruce Rogers who is an unassuming man and really the greatest of them all.’ He then suggested that I accompany him to the next Double Crown Club meeting, which would take place later in the month. And he said that he would make sure that I met Bruce Rogers, who was in England at that time. I also made a date to meet him at the offices of the Nonesuch Press.

Francis Meynell, obituary notice.
Francis Meynell, obituary notice.

There I first showed him Mr. Schmied’s specimen book. Before I left Paris Mr. Schmied compiled for me a book in which he had groups of pages from twelve or fifteen different books which he had printed during the past many years. Then he also gave me a copy, which he inscribed, of one of his recent books, Vérité de Parole, which I had admired as one of the favorites of the books which he had printed. And I see that the Clark Library has also purchased a copy to have in their printing collection. The diversity, the masterful use of color and design that is evident in these pages of specimens always created a lot of interest wherever I would show it. Even today, though thirty-five years have passed, it still has more modern vitality than almost any contemporary printing I know. The Bauhaus printing of that same time looks bleak and pedestrian compared with the soaring beauty of Schmied’s imagination.

This portfolio gave me a magnificent entree and a starting point to talk with people in other areas of

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the world than France, because the editions that Schmied printed were so limited and usually hoarded in French libraries. As a result relatively few copies got around for people to see.

The first thing I did when I parked in Francis Meynell’s office was to show him this Schmied specimen book. He immediately called in E. McKnight Kauffer to see it. Kauffer was an artist who also worked in the Nonesuch Press office at that time and had illustrated many of the Nonesuch Press books. Kauffer liked Schmied’s work immensely, being interested in experiment and being an artist. Meynell was not as excited, feeling that they were outside the province of typography. He said his own future desire was to tackle the books which on account of their size frightened other presses. Thus it becomes a problem of compression, and such work as Schmied does calls for expansion. Kauffer comes from Montana, having worked for four years at Elder’s in San Francisco. He said, ‘It’s the one town in the world for which he [I] felt nostalgia’

Francis then took me downstairs to show me the composing room. There are many typefaces but, as he said, only a thimbleful of each. But each thimbleful of his was as much as my complete stock at home. For a press, he has only a simple proof press. Actually, none of the printing was ever done at the Nonesuch Press,

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but it was there that he set up sample pages and made his decisions on the design and layout before he sent them out. It was curious and most interesting to see exactly how he worked. Rather than spend his time at a drawing board and creating the whole concept of the book before he got started, he seemed to work by trial and error.

He would start out with an idea, and his compositor would set up a page. He would then tack it on the wall and look at it and then make an alteration. In many instances it was a change of color; he likes to contemplate the effect of shifting the color in various elements of a page. Other times he would change the typeface or rearrange the material. As this progressed, the proofs of various designs would take over the whole wall and as I now recollect, there were as many as twenty-five or thirty different title pages for a book that he was designing. As I looked at the progression of these proofs, I thought I perceived how his design-mind worked. He would get to a certain point which was the end — the cul-de-sac — for him on a particular direction, and then he would go back to a previous idea and deviate again on a different tack until he got something he began to like. Then finally he would come to one which he wanted to use.

In looking at the Nonesuch books, one would hardly think that so much time and effort had been put into the

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design itself. But they are immaculate. They’re perfection. The very simplicity he wanted and found was achieved tediously and meticulously. With his designs complete, he could turn them over to a printer, and he used the good printers like the Oxford University Press, Cambridge and some of the Edinburgh printers.

The Nonesuch Press is only a press in the sense that the books were conceived and worked out by Francis Meynell and the production was done someplace else.

When we came back to his office, he showed me some pages from forthcoming books and some passages from older ones. He also tried to get me a temporary membership in the First Editions Club, but A.J. Symons said if he did it for me, all Americans would wish the same and would no longer buy full-memberships. But he promised to take me to luncheon there next week and also to the Double Crown Club when it met next month to celebrate Emery Walker’s eightieth birthday. In speaking of Eric Gill’s Canterbury Tales, which I very much admire, he said he thought there was too much of the borders and that it was impossible to keep them fresh over so many pages. I intrude these comments by one printer about the works of another not only for the reason that I think it’s interesting to know how they feel about the works of their contemporaries, and sometimes you get some insight both into their own work and

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into the work of others in this way, especially when they are outstanding creators in their field.

I don’t know if it was peculiar of this particular year that I was abroad, but spring had come to Paris by the time I left there early in April and going to England I found myself back in winter again. So, I got to see spring burst out once again — twice in the same year.

And I made a little note (this was on the 24th of May:

This was a glorious day for me. And if England would always be so, I should be tempted to transfer my possessions here immediately. The morning was dull and wet and I sat in my room, nervous as a monkey, reading William Morris’ Well at the World’s End. I was very glad when lunch brought a temporary diversion. Then Mr. and Mrs. Graveson, who ran the Penn Club on Tavestock Square, where I stayed, asked me to accompany them on a hike. We took the bus to Beaconsfield and walked down the road, and then through the beautiful green fields and woods towards Jordan’s. The rain had stopped for the most part and the sun even did duty part of the time. Occasionally the paths were a bit boggy, but all the new leaves and patches of bluebells and fields of buttercups were refreshed to greater beauty by the touch of washing they had had. We look across fields that roll into a bed of trees, beautiful in their splashes of varied green. And we’d push into them; great beeches, oaks, evergreens, and occasional sycamores and look up to pieces of the sky — and all about below were splashes of blue and white and yellow flowers. And we’d sniff the clean newness of the flowers and we’d listen to the cuckoo and the many birds. At Jordan’s we stopped at the Friends House, saw William Penn’s grave and the barn made of the Mayflower timbers. At a town further on we visited Milton’s home and museum and had a delightful tea across the street. Then we walked on again through woods and over

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rolling fields to Chorley Woods, and from there the train took us back to London.

This little Penn Club where I stayed was a most delightful and inexpensive place for a young person. It was run by the Friends Church. I had originally heard of it when I was in Switzerland. Professor Jacob Zeitlin from the University of Illinois, who was in Europe for his sabatical, said that he always stayed there when he was in London. I had written them and gotten accommodations, and later on Professor and Mrs Zeitlin also came on their way home to the United States and stayed there. And it was one of those places where everything was included — board and room.

I am not sure whether it’s still in existence, but the people there were all so friendly. Mr. and Mrs. Graveson, as I just explained, would include me when they did some of these things which normally an American wouldn’t do. They knew where to go. The paths that you take through the English countryside are on private grounds, on somebody’s estate.

But you’ll walk down and through and around the woods and come out on a meadow here and then down through somebody else’s wood, and you finally arrive at a little town and you have your tea.

A member of the House of Parliament also lived at the Penn’s Club. He was from the north of Scotland, from a poor district. He didn’t have too much fun,

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but in getting to know him, I was invited to Parliament and was able to sit and watch it work. Various groups would gather there of an evening. The Shaw Society gathered there, as well as the Browning Society. While I wasn’t a Quaker, that made no difference at all to them, and I was included in their various activities and would rush up to the church occasionally when there was something special going on which they thought might interest me.

Possibly the two most important names to me, from a historical standpoint in English typography, were Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and St. John Hornby — of course, in addition to William Morris who was dead. When I did arrive, Cobden-Sanderson was also dead, but his son was still operating a publishing firm called Richard Cobden-Sanderson, and he still lived at the Cobden-Sanderson house in Hammersmith where the Doves press had been located. I had known Mrs. Millard in Pasadena, and she had been kind enough to give me introductions to Richard Cobden-Sanderson.

He, with the friendly generosity of most of the English that I met, invited me to dinner at the Doves House in Hammersmith. It was a delightful occasion, started out with cocktails and many wines during the dinner and whiskey after dinner.

Cobden-Sanderson was there, his wife, and a friend by the name of Macdonald who ran the Hazelwood

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Press, which mainly reprints facsimiles of important early English books. We ate and talked of books and American universities until about eleven o’clock when Macdonald and I parted. These people seemed to feel that the day of the limited edition had passed. Richard Cobden-Sanderson wondered even if his father could have made a living if he were printing in these days; he felt sure that he would be unsuccessful.

He also said that America killed his mother. It smothered her with kindness, inasmuch as after the death of Mr. Cobden-Sanderson, she had been invited to America and was fêted here to the extent that she barely got home before she herself died — completely exhausted by the many events and banquets given for her in America. This trip was slightly before my interest in printing, but she did come to Los Angeles where Mrs. Millard saw to it that she was just heaped with kindness and praises. In San Francisco where they had quite a to-do for her, John Henry Nash printed a great menu and a booklet about her.

The next day I went to Shelley House which was the home of St. John Hornby. Shelley House is right on the Thames as is the Doves Press House. Shelley House was a little more elegant; it was, in fact, quite elegant because St. John Hornby was a fairly wealthy man, being the head of W.H. Smith and Son, the largest

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booksellers In England. When I arrived at the door, waiting to have the bell answered, another young chap arrived. We nodded our heads and introduced ourselves, and his name was Phillip Hofer. I gathered at that time that he was a wealthy young collector. He told me that he spent half his time travelling and the other half at the New York Public Library.

We were led in to meet Hornby, who was a tall and well-preserved man of some sixty-two years old. Cobden-Sanderson was much younger, shorter and stouter, without the same confidence which St. John Hornby’s success had bred. Hornby led us into tea, which his wife served. Hofer had been there before and knew them fairly well, and they talked as I listened. Hornby had started printing in 1894, when he was twenty-five, knowing only a bit about typesetting. It was a hobby he had developed mainly by experiment. After the two books which are now in process, he planned to stop the press. His pressman, he said, was getting old, no longer feeling joy in printing, and Hornby felt that it would be just too much to have to try and break in a new man.

After tea, we went out to see the press. First we looked down from a porch in back to the stream where Nell Gwyn had bathed in the nude. Actually, Nell Gwyn1s house was right on this property, so it had a lot of historic importance. At the press, we looked over the

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many woodcuts and the sheets of the Thucydides which he was printing at the time, and Mr. Hornby explained how he, being an amateur printer, was able to keep his hands so immaculate — which amazed me, having set type. He said he always put a coating of Peldow on his hands before he started working. It was almost like new skin which made a coating like a glove on one’s hands and the grime and filth and the lead of the type didn’t penetrate into the skin, nor did the ink which he was using. When he was through, all he had to do was peel this off his dirty hands, and they were new again — which seemed to me a most interesting concept.

When I came back to America, I was never able to find any Peldow, and I didn’t find any printers who were eager to use it. Evidently, a dirty hand doesn’t mean that much to the ordinary worker in a shop.

While I was in England earlier, I had gone around to some of the machinery shops as I was quite interested in getting an Albion hand press to bring back to America. Francis Meynell had told me that he had sent a beautiful press to a man by the name of Wise, who lived in Pasadena, California. For some reason or other, Mr. Wise had not seemed very interested in it after it had arrived there, and Meynell thought that with any luck at all I might be able to get it. I mentioned this to St. John Hornby and to Phillip Hofer, and Hofer chuckled.

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He said that he had heard about this press too, and they had managed to get into contact with Mr. Wise, and at the present time the press was in New York (he had bought it for his two younger brothers). We smiled at the coincidence, because here were probably the only people in the world who were interested in this press and we meet in London in the salon of one of the great printers, St. John Hornby.

Back in the library, we got to look at some of the great collection of manuscripts which Hornby had gathered. He went in for condition; they were immaculate copies of some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. He also collected carved boxes. He, too, had been a great athlete in his time, and the medals which he had won were there in the library and also the oar from the Oxford-Cambridge crew race in which he had participated, with the names of all of the other-members of his Cambridge crew.

He showed the early books from his press. The first book was very amateurish, and he said he always showed it to young printers. Probably the most interesting of the books that I saw there was the Song of Songs. He showed us three different copies, each different. He said that Sydney Cockerell had five copies; they too were each different. Of the forty printed, each of them was decorated differently by

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Mrs. Sydney Cockerell. It had taken her eighteen months to do them all.

Then he gave us some small items including a Christmas poem, of Milton’s Christ’s Nativity, which I took home to the Penn Club in great pride and interest. As I was writing my notes for the day, I dumped unfortunate experience.
over the bottle of ink on my trousers and on my copy of Ashendene’s Christ’s Nativity. It was a most
It is sad. ‘It hurt somewhat, but I do not weep. It’is different than if it were a commercial book. It is so much mine that nothing can affect it and will make it even more unique.’

The night of the meeting at the Double Crown Club came, and I was somewhat disappointed that Emery Walker, whose eightieth birthday was being celebrated, was unable to appear because of his age and infirmities. But it was quite exciting anyway. A most marvelous evening.

I arrived at Kettner’s restaurant to be the guest of Francis Meynell at the Double Crown Club dinner. I walked in, clad in my tux, and found that everyone else was in ordinary dress except for Phillip Hofer — the only other American there — who had also felt that it would be formal. Little did we know. When I walked in, St. John Hornby noticed me and took me in hand, introducing me to Graily Hewitt, the great calligrapher. St. John showed some of the books which were on exhibit that Graily had done for him. I mentioned that if I were to be in London longer, I would certainly attempt to get in one of his classes. But he said that

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he was no longer teaching at the art school, having reached the age limit. St. John said that I should stay and be his personal pupil. I suggested that it must be a very difficult study and almost impossible to pick up alone. Graily Hewitt answered that one might get on better that way, and I said I should try. We talked on until we were called into dinner. Meynell hadn’t arrived; so, I put my problems before Graily Hewitt and he called Holbrook Jackson, who was social chairman, and I was shown to my seat. Next to me was John Carter, the young agent for Scribner’s who was the guest of Bruce Rogers who also had not arrived. Across the table from me was a man by the name of Wallace who had done all of Bernard Shaw’s books. Finally the others did arrive; they had been at a cocktail party. Francis sat at my side, Bruce Rogers the second seat on the other side, Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press was across the table, and to one side the young American of yesterday, Phillip Hofer. St. John Hornby sat at the great table, right at the head of me. At each place was a place card beautifully written in a fine caligraphic [calligraphic] hand. And the menu cards were designed by Bruce Rogers, showing squirrels running down a nutless tree and up the nutted one, on the other side of the card. And also clever fighting cocks, all made from typographic ornaments. Everybody talked through dinner, though Bruce Rogers, who seemed a wonderful, kindly man, had very little to say. Then came the address by Mr. Hornby. He told how he started. First he was in W.H. Smith, the bookseller’s print shop, learning their business from the bottom up and setting a bit of type. He became interested in making proofs of it. Somebody there took him to the Kelmscott Press where he saw them printing the sheets of the Chaucer, which he still considers the monumental book of all time. And he even met William Morris in his office and talked with him for an hour. Thus he became even more inspired and bought a small albion press and some Caslon type. Thirty-six pounds outlay in all, I believe he said, and started setting and printing his grandfather’s journal. He said that except for imposition it was a frightful book, though at the time he was very proud of it. His second was bad too and he sent a copy to William Morris, who answered him kindly. So he says he always thinks of this when some young printer gives him a book. Around

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1900 he met Sydney Cockerell and Emery Walker and his concept changed because of their advice and criticisms.

They also photographed a Subiaco type, which was the first transitional Roman type, used at the press in Subiaco by Sweynheym and Pannartz in 1465, and it was the basis of the first individual type that the Ashendene Press used, their famous Subiaco type.

It was cut by a man by the name of [E.P.] Prince.

Yesterday, I saw the original bill which was sent by Emery Walker to Ashendene. It was very amusing because he charged for everything and then took off for dinners and things like postage, tax, fares. Finally, the bill came to a total of one hundred pounds and two shillings. So, he gave him a deduction for cash of one-tenth of one percent, bringing it down to exactly one hundred pounds.

Also, it was through these two gentlemen that Hornby met Graily Hewitt, who did so much work for him, putting in the initials in many of his books by hand in various colors and designed some of the fonts of initials which were later used by the Ashendene Press.

Until this time, he had done most of the work — the printing, the typesetting, himself, with the help of his family. But when he started on the first Dante, he found it was too much of a job; so, he got a pressman from the Oxford Press, who has been with him ever since. About 1910, he added someone to set the type also. His favorite

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book seems to be the Mallory with perhaps the Moore next. Soon, however, he plans to close, as I mentioned before. Yesterday, he told me his pressman was getting too old to enjoy it, and he wouldn’t break in a new one. I did notice yesterday that his Thucydides seems to take very much after John Henry Nash’s work and St. John Hornby told me that he admired Nash very much because of his great craftsmanship.

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[«»] Tape Number: SIX, SIDE TWO;
January 15th, 1965

Ritchie: When Hornby finished his reminiscences, the chairman called on various others to comment — Oliver Simon, Francis Meynell, Holbrook Jackson, Wallace, John Johnson, Graily Hewitt, all said a bit — what a great complement of printers! Mr. Hornby had said he figured that for the thirty years he had been printing Ashendene books, he had just about broken even. Mr. Hewitt said that he was a young barrister at the time he met Hornby, and that this work for the Ashendene Press had given him a chance to lead a happy life in craftsmanship, through the work he had done for Ashendene and for what it had led to from others and in teaching.

Afterwards I wandered about, talking, though I don’t know who most of those I was talking to were. Hornby, speaking about printing on velum, said it was best to print the rough side first and then to match the smooth to it. He also said that in printing folio, one should be careful to see that the rough sheets always faced together and the smooth sheets face together, so that as you turn the pages, the two facing sheets would have a similarity.

Another man told me to always handpick the velum

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for evenness and see that there weren’t any thin spots in the middle where the type would hit.

I hadn’t met Bruce Rogers yet, so I slid up to Francis Meynell and asked him if he might introduce me. He did, and evidently Meynell had already spoken to him about me, for he talked of Schmied. He’d seen the exhibits of Schmied at Seligmann’s in New York many years before. He didn’t especially like the typography; he thought some of the color work nice. He said that if he could, he’d collect [Erhard] Ratdolt, the fifteenth century German printer who worked both in Italy and in Germany, thinking that his meeting of the problems of imposition and so forth were the most interesting of any early printers. He had experimented and solved so many of the problems which the early printers had been confronted with and had done it so beautifully that he felt that of all of the early printers he was probably the most to be admired. Bruce Rogers said he had just traded some of his own work for the first book printed in three colors by Ratdolt in Augsburg in 1485. We talked of the Huntington Library. He said he’d very much like to work with them. Also he invited me to drop in to his and Emery Walker’s office and see it. And then we all left.

Francis walked with me to Woburn Place where he continued on north. He spoke of the shame that

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a rich library or collector didn’t put Bruce Rogers on endowment and let him really follow his own inclinations. John Johnson was one of the most interesting men I met there. He is not yet very old, though his middle portions are becoming a bit misshapen. He has rich, chestnut hair — straight as silken thread — which he lets hang over his forehead, much after the manner of Aubrey Beardsley.

Bruce Rogers is grey-haired and moustached, looking not half as much like an artist as a, not especially successful but very pleasant, businessman. Francis says he is a poor businessman, either asking too much for his services or usually too little. For the Oxford Bible, which he is now working on, he receives no pay, only fifty Bibles. There was a bit of gossip about the modest T.E. Lawrence, who, at some dinner which Bruce Rogers was attending, timed exactly to a quiet interlude the shouting across the table to Rogers that he’d finished another chapter of his Odyssey. I didn’t hear if Bruce Rogers scorned it as false rumor or not, for the speeches started at that moment.

As I mentioned, John Johnson of the Oxford University Press was one of the most interesting

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men I met there. He was a scholar, an archaeologist in his own right, and when he was given the job at the University, it was as a scholar rather than a printer. But he was able to adapt himself beautifully and became one of the outstanding printers of England. After I left England, I was fortunate in continuing correspondence with a great number of these men. Sir John Hornby was a very faithful correspondent, and John Johnson probably more than any of them.

Among other things that he did at Oxford was to start a collection of ephemera. It was his opinion that the great books would always be preserved by libraries, by individuals, but the ordinary things of the day are dispersed — the underground tickets, the theatre tickets, the little throwaways, and the commercial jobs which are good for today but of no great importance. And, yet, in trying to reconstruct the appearance of life in any given time, these are of great importance and value.

So everything that was available, he kept, and he was fortunate in that some of the Oxford professors, with their peculiarities, never threw anything away. He was able to gather these things

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from decades before, and in our correspondence he wanted it not only for England but for other areas. He would ask me, among others, to send him over various ephemeral material, which we did from time to time.

Of course, we in America are always in such a hurry that I was always curious about the time development in printing at a place like the Oxford University Press.

In one of his letters, he goes on to say:

Thank you for your very friendly letter and the fine packet of specimens, which are already housed in a cloth and gold folder which bears your name. And that is how the world goes round [around]. For we at Oxford regard our own printing as sedate, even too sedate, and envy others their opportunities. We still have books in type, or rather fragments of books in type, which have been slowly moving their appointed course for twenty or thirty years.

And so conservative is this university that I always call the file copies of the previous day’s printing, which flow before me at ten o’clock every morning, ‘the pageant of printing of the last fifty years.’ But the good Bruce Rogers knows us inside and out and will tell you what manner of men we are. We are rather a stern factory of nearly nine hundred souls and to very few is given the privilege of wandering in and out of their own free will. But Bruce Rogers has that privilege. And Bruce Rogers has never quite forgiven me for using the expression ‘wayward,’ of him in that little Dent lecture which I gave. The truth is that he is and he isn’t wayward. But I don’t like his punning version of the Bible page, although I know very well it gave his queer punning instincts a great deal of satisfaction in the making of it. Write to me someday. Or better still, come to see the rather stern factory and become the second person who has the privilege of coming in and out at his own pleasure.

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And at that age to be couched with the great Bruce Rogers, with the privilege of the Oxford Press, gave me a great deal of pleasure.

I was always interested in Cobden-Sanderson, and George Macy asked me to be a contributing editor to The Dolphin many years later, and one of the first articles that I was interested in doing was about Cobden-Sanderson, because a private collector, Henry Huntington’s grandson Edwards Huntington Metcalf, had bought the four large portfolios in which were included many of Cobden-Sanderson’s designs for his bindings.

I had access to this, but I wanted to know more about the development of the bindery, and I had written [to] John Johnson, among others.

He wrote back,

I am very much interested by what you say about your monograph on the binding of Cobden-Sanderson. The MacLeishes have been friends of mine of a good many years standing — good friends and good booksellers. And old Father MacLeish, who worked for the Doves Press, is still living, although, of course, long past active work. I guess that he would be able to tell you things if you approached him through one or other of his sons. But I expect you know all this and more than I tell you, although I am always pleased and happy to try to build bridges for my friends. No, I shall never see you at your own press, for when all is said and done I am no printer, being no more than the oil on the wheels of a large factory keeping the human factor sweet. If it were a question of one or other of us going over to your technically-minded country, I should send my work’ manager, Scottish-born, who has all the right

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instincts of the trade with him. If I went, I know that I should have a good welcome and perhaps that is part of my fear. For you Americans carry your hearts on your sleeves, real hearts they are, and the welcome would be too warm for a shy and retiring English nature.

The war came and it was a very trying time for John Johnson because the press, of which the Oxford University Press is one of the largest in England, was called upon to do a lot of the war work and to do it under most trying circumstances. He wrote in November, 1941:

Thank you for your splendid letter of good heart and good, news. I’m interested by what you tell me about your own conditions, for we too were what the insurance companies called, ‘a young group,’ when war broke out. Already some two hundred and fifty of our younger men have gone off to the wars, and daily, and insensibly, we pass through the transition from manpower to womanpower, under the not ungracious tutelage of the trade unions. The trade unions are facing their responsibilities splendidly. And all the time even the nature of our printing changes. Not, I hope, the quality of it.

Somewhere or other I have a later letter in which he tells how, as the war went on, in order to keep the place going, he had not been outside of the walls of the Oxford University Press for a year. He had slept on a cot; he had seen to it that everything was going in, and what materials they could have were there, and that the men and the women, as you can see, were doing their part of the work.

The day after the Double Crown Club dinner, I

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took advantage of Bruce Rogers’ offer and went down to see him and also hoping to see Emery Walker at Emery Walker’s office at Clifford’s Inn.

I spent a couple of hours with Bruce Rogers, and he showed me Schmied’s specimen book. He didn’t seem to care too much for the work, though he does admire the colors. But in color work, he admires it much sloppier. That is, as if the color had been splashed on instead of the meticulous work of Schmied. In fact, he said that the French, as a people, had no taste and had done no good books since the eighteenth century. He showed me the Odyssey which he was working on, speaking of Lawrence and seemed to be very happy with his friendship with T.E. Lawrence. Lawrence too considered it a great honor to be having his books done by Mr. Rogers and Sir Emery Walker. Bruce was hoarding a stack of Lawrence letters he had received. The Bible on which he was working was lovely, though very plain. He said it was for the churches, since the supply of Great Bibles at the Oxford Press had run out, and they had had to print a new edition. They had first come to him because they wished permission to use his Centaur type. He had had to recut it and redesign a few of the letters to make it tighter. He showed me great quantities of trial sheets that he had made before he had perfected it for this Bible. For his pay he wanted merely fifty copies of a slightly larger size and on a better paper than the church edition, which is nearly devoid of margin. The Press was glad to do this and later as the work began to capture their imagination and the public’s, they asked if they could also print fifty of the larger limited-edition. He said they could print as many as they liked, and so they finally raised their total to two hundred and fifty copies.

He also showed me designs for the prayer book. He, and Updike, and Oxford, and Cambridge had all submitted designs. This was for the American Episcopal Prayer Book.

Updike’s was chosen, and it is considered one of Updike’s finest works, The Book of Common Prayer. He also had a page of a special edition to be printed for the Morgan Library in raised gold letters.

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It was lovely, but it was never done. The decorations were typographic, colored by hand. One of the nicest books of the nineteenth century was Pickering’s Euclid, he thought. He doesn’t care too much for illustrated books, though some illustrations he likes — Gordon Craig being his favorite. Gordon Craig did a beautiful Hamlet for the Cranach Press. Rogers said, ‘He gets more out of woodcuts than any other master I have seen’ Rudolph Koch, he doesn’t care for. Eric Gill is very nice as a man and as a sculptor, but not as a book illustrator. ‘Rather monotonous,’ said Rogers. He thought Meynell had spoiled such books as Don Quixote by the E. McKnight Kauffer illustrations. And then he showed me various books that he had planned which would probably never be made, as he had to make a living and thus couldn’t have them done exactly as he wished. One was a Euclid, another was Aesop’s Fables with woodcuts after a fifteenth century edition. He told me he might do this for The Limited Editions Club, which he did later on.

He had tried to steer clear of them, but Mr. George Macy had been so kind to him, sending him announcements of the Odyssey and the Homer, that he felt he’d have to do a book for them eventually. And then we went through a folio of fugitive bits, with many bookplates and so forth. He said he was very tired of typography now, as he had been working at it as a job for thirty-five years with hardly a vacation. He had given up his office at Rudge’s and with the Monotype Company and come over here this last time with anticipation of an easier time. But sickness in his family had made inroads into his capital, so that he would have to go back and recoup. At present, he was limiting his expenses to one pound a week — shilling lunches and so forth — and was going home on a seven-thousand ton boat to save expenses. He said that he’d always tried to keep an amateur spirit. Each book was as if it were the last, so that there was no rushing through and no schedule of so-many books per year. He also disliked the perfection that mechanical means tended to provide, and liked a bit of sloppiness in his books. He had never had a studio of his own, though he owns Dyke’s Mill, which could be converted into one, and probably never would, because most of those with presses of their own had independent means. But he always had to go to the big companies

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where material was available for him. He would like to retire and only print a few more small books, after his own liking, mostly in black letter, and thus not meant to be read but to be looked at. And chiefly he’d like to go somewhere like Majorca and spend the rest of his days making model ships. This is his hobby; he had one in the office there and there was another in Elmer Adler’s office in New York. He likes the English climate and would like very much to be able to live in the country ‘for’ as he says ‘all big cities are alike’. He showed me some very nice Japanese paper and said he had just enough to print one copy of the Bible and it would probably someday rest in the Library of Congress. When I finally left it was one or so and it had begun to rain. So I hopped a bus for the American Express…

Soon after this I returned to America and stopped off in New York. While I was there I did go up to the Rudge plant and I got to see Frederic Warde who was one of the fine designers at that time. We had a nice long talk together and I showed him, as I did everybody, the Schmied specimen book, and we talked of French printing (Frederic Warde had been over there for several years) and also of wood engraving. He wanted to know if I could do any engravings for him. I don’t know why, but I nodded yes, since in Schmied’s plant I had done considerably, but rather crudely. And then he told me that he wanted to do an Alice In Wonderland with the Tenneil illustrations but he would like to have them recut in wood. Well, I almost fainted…at that, and I didn’t tell him yes, or I didn’t tell him no, but the book never got off the ground. But as I

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mentioned at that time, I was going to have to go home and do a lot of practicing before I could ever come up with such illustrations as these.

Another man I had wanted to visit and to meet was Henry Bullen, who ran the museum and library at the American Type Founders. He had accumulated one of the great typographic libraries, now a part of the Special Collections at Columbia University. He was a charming man, but with many perverse ideas that would be impossible to dislodge from him. He told me how he discovered Schmied.

About 1924, he and his wife were in Europe for eighteen months. He was looking through Helleu and Sergent’s books and was struck by some that Mr. Schmied had done. He arranged to get some loose sheets, and he brought them back to this country. He took an exhibit of continental printing around the country in 1926, and he called Mr. Schmied the greatest living master of the arts of the book. He explained that this was all inclusive — as mere typographers, many Americans bettered him. He repeated Mr. Schmied’s own observation on considering one of Bruce Rogers’ masterpieces. ‘C’est maigre,’ said Schmied. Later at a banquet, Mr. Bullen called American and British printing, ‘typographical bricklaying’ ‘It is merely good craftsmanship and not art at all.’ He thought the Doves Press much overrated. ‘Who would want to own a complete Doves’ set,’ he asked. ‘They’re all the same — same type, same format. Kelmscott is far better. The work of a creative artist. Though as typography, the Doves’ is better. [Missing closing quote here?] He gave Bruce Rogers quite a ragging, although he seems to like him. Said there was much too much period work and too much sameness in his play with ornaments. He said Bruce Rogers was always dissatisfied. He went to England in 1917 and had a dreadful time. Disagreeable weather, chilblains and couldn’t seem to hit it off with

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Emery Walker. Came back and had a splendid position with Rudge, being on the best salary of his life. After some years, he suggested to Rudge that he be taken off straight salary and paid for the work he did. He seemed to think that he wasn’t earning his own salary; that this would be a stimulus or that he would make more. (Bruce Rogers was that type of person; he was a sweet fellow.) Rudge took him at his word and the next week Bruce Rogers came running up to ask why he didn’t get a pay check. Rudge reminded him of his own suggestion. Bruce Rogers soon saw his mistake and being too proud to ask for the old arrangement he went to England again. Bullen said that Rudge had given him power to write Bruce Rogers now and offer him his old job. Said even if he didn’t do anything, his name was enough advertisement and would draw to Rudge trade that would go wherever Bruce Rogers went. But Rudge is now dead. (He died during the few weeks that I was there.) And then, to return to Schmied, the publicity given by Mr. Bullen caused many inquiries for Schmied’s work and paved the way for the exhibition at Seligmann’s in 1927. At the time Mr. Schmied wished to purchase a couple of hundred of the American Type Founders’ exhibit catalogues but Mr. Bullen insisted on giving them to him.

Oddly enough, despite Bullen’s feeling that American printing was typographic bricklaying, he had a great admiration for John Henry Nash. Though his wife and I secretly agreed that Nash’s work had a dull sameness and that Grabhorn was doing a much more creative job in American printing. Bullen disliked Francis Meynell, saying that he hadn’t done anything he liked of late and many things he downright disliked. In fact, he had little use for the English, saying that he came home from there with an avowed aversion for the Anglo-Saxon. They were too conceited for him and tended to sneer at

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the Americans. It was now just a year since I had
left to go to France and was now ready to go back to California and work.

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[«»] Tape Number: SEVEN, SIDE ONE
January 23, 1965

Ritchie: In London, just before I was to return to America, I had a cablegram from Jake Zeitlin, asking if I would like to have a job with him selling books. With his solid offer of a hundred dollars a month, I was eager to accept and wrote him that I’d be home late in the summer and would then be ready to start. In the meantime, while I was in New York, I went to visit Elmer Adler whose Pynson Printers were doing some of the really fine book work in America at that time.

In addition to this, he was editing and publishing a magazine called The Colophon, which was issued four times a year. It was an outstanding bibliographical magazine. He was able to bring into it most of the great names in book literature, and it was conceived in an unusual way inasmuch as each article was designed and printed by a different printer — in the early days. And in this way he was able to get a great deal of variety in the books since the only specification the printer had was the size of the page.

The designer was able to choose his paper, do his design, the illustrations, everything; there were no restrictions at all aside from the page size. When these were brought together, they were bound in hard covers

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and issued that way. The result was not only a book of bibliographical interest, but one of interest as an example of the best printing in the world. He selected very carefully from American, English, German printers to do these things.

When I was visiting with him, I showed him the Schmied examples that I’d brought back and also the copy of Robinson Jeffers’ Apology for Bad Dreams, which I had printed while with Schmied in Paris. Adler was most interested in this because, as he told me, he had been trying to get Robinson Jeffers to do an article for The Colophon for some time without apparent success. He was running a series of articles by the eminent collected American authors of that day which the authors wrote about the writing and publication of their first book. In the twenties, the collecting of first editions was one of the great manias of American book collectors, and the first books of people like Christopher Morley, Thornton Wilder, and Robinson Jeffers’ books were eagerly sought.

In many cases the prices had risen to astronomical sums. But up to this time, Adler had been unable to get anything out of Jeffers. Naturally, since I had printed this book, he knew that I must have known Jeffers, and he asked me if I might have some influence in getting this article for him. I doubted if I could, but at least I

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did keep it in mind. And it was because of this conversation that the Ward Ritchie Press actually was started.

Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Edward Weston.
Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Edward Weston.

I returned toward California, spending some time during the summer with aunts, uncles and cousins in Michigan, and about the first of September, I started working for Jake. Sixth Street was then the center of the rare book business and the secondhand book business, and Jake had his little shop on Sixth Street, near Hope. It was a mere hole in the wall, actually, but Jake’s selection of books was outstanding. He was able to get the new and exciting English books. His interest in art and artists was great, and it was a really exciting place to work. His antiquarian book business was not very great at that time; he had never gone to Europe to pick up books of that type and quality. He always had a good selection of first editions of press books — Eric Gill and various people.

I found that I was not an especially good bookseller. When people came in, yes, I could make them enthusiastic about a book, but primarily I think what Jake wanted was somebody who had millions of friends who were eager and interested in buying rare books. I was a little reticent about pressing my own friends to do this, and also I had my abiding interest in printing. I began compiling a catalogue for Jake and we also were talking with Phil Townsend Hanna about a book, Libros Californianos, which

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Phil was writing.

I became reaquainted with a couple of boys whom I had known in college who, somehow or other, had started a small printing business. They called it Hackett and Newell and it occupied a store on Figueroa Street in Highland Park, not too far from Occidental College where we had all attended school. Their reason for getting into this business is rather obscure. I do believe in college that we had belonged to the same literary and journalistic fraternity.

During my year in Europe, they had set up a small business, which was extremely successful for a while. The business was the selling of oranges. Ingeniously, they sent out a form letter to each of the Railway Express offices throughout the United States, offering to supply a box of oranges for their customers at a modest price, and sent a batch of order forms to them. The offices, in this way, were able to increase the business coming into them; were given a commission and the boys were able through the local packing houses to supply the oranges. For two or three months, it was most successful, and they gathered all of their friends to work for them as they packed thespricee boxes of oranges and shipped them off. Eventually, two things stepped in to ruin the enterprise. First, the of oranges went up, and they were no longer able to buy them for what they

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were selling them for; and secondly, the Railway Express Company clamped down on agents handling this extracurricular business.

But, in the meantime, they had purchased a small Chandler and Price press and were in the printing business.
Edward A.K. Hackett was a pillar of the Presbyterian Church. He was able to supply a certain amount of printing orders from the church.

Paul Newell was the cousin of Gordon Newell, and he was a grandnephew, I believe, of W.A. Clark, and through this family connection they were able to get a few more jobs. After a month or so of working with Jake, he suggested that I might make a better printer than a bookseller, and with a great flare he gave me a job to print a catalogue for him and sent me scooting. I bought into the faltering firm of Hackett and Newell, which became Hackett, Newell & Ritchie, and we got out a little announcement about the new man from Paris who was joining the firm.

Among other ideas, we thought that the new university village of Westwood might be a good spot for us to start, and we went over there and rented space in one of the buildings, not too far from the University, and installed it as a sales office. Jake went into this venture with us and had a branch of his own bookstore out there with a girl by the name of

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Tony Price, who later started her own bookstore out on Sunset Boulevard. Tony was the resident there, and Ed Hackett was our man for Westwood. We hoped that we would be able to get enough business from the university community to make a go of it. But we were too young and inexperienced, I’m afraid, and there wasn’t much that came out of that particular enterprise.

In addition to a catalogue for Jake, we did a catalogue for Davison’s Bookstore and several little privately printed booklets, during the next two or three months. The most ambitious of these was Phil Townsend Hanna’s Libros Californianos, which we did for Jake Zeitlin, under the imprint of The Primavera Press, which was his publishing imprint. During the busier time when we had these little books, we had a pressman, and then Gregg Anderson arrived in town.

After he had left Pomona College, he had gone to San Francisco to work with the Grabhorn Press, and he had stayed there, having a very interesting and exciting time for about a year and a half. Then Ed Grabhorn, as was characteristic of him, decided that he was going to let Gregg go. But Ed never liked to come right out and fire anybody; so he let it be known that business was terrible, that he was going to have to close down.

Finally he did close down, and everybody left. Then quickly he hired everybody back that he wanted back, and

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Gregg was left without a job. Gregg returned to the Southland and we got together, and having several projects on hand, we put him to work as a compositor in the little firm of Hackett, Newell & Ritchie. He did most of the work on the Libros Californianos, and on a couple of other small books.

By the beginning of 1932, it became fairly obvious that this new firm wasn’t going to survive. I personally hadn’t received any pay for a month or two, and in general that was the way it was run. We got enough jobs to pay Gregg and to pay the pressman, but the owners themselves were suffering. In retrospect, it is easy to see why. None of us had had any business experience in printing. We did it simply and easily. We designed more elaborately than we had to, and we printed more elaborately than we were being paid for. The system for estimating was rather primitive. We did: include the cost of the paper, but we didn’t charge any overhead and hardly charged anything else. We did try to include something for the pressman and compositor. We were always so reticent about overcharging that we undercharged. Of course, that was the feeling of the time. We were in the period of the Depression, and to get a job was so important that you went overboard to price it as cheap as possible because otherwise you might be turned down and some other printer would get it.

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I began casting around for some other way to make a living. I was living at home in South Pasadena at the time; my expenses were not much more than the gas that I needed to travel around. But I was over twenty-five, and I think that the feeling in my family was that eventually it would be necessary for me to make my own living.

In January, I went up to San Francisco. Gordon Newell had been one of my closest friends in college, and after leaving Occidental he had gone to the University of California at Berkeley. There he had become interested in sculpturing. Bufano was in San Francisco, and another well-known sculptor by the name of Ralph Stackpole who was doing at that time the sculpture for the Stock Exchange Building. Gordon left college and got a job in the yard of Stackpole, chipping away and doing the manual labor.

In the meantime, there was a young and beautiful girl student at Berkeley in whom Newell became interested. She eventually moved over to San Francisco with him, and they were married during the time that I was in Europe. Her name was Gloria Stuart. She had much talent as a writer and also was interested in the amateur stage. They were, at the time, living in the town of Carmel; he working hard as a sculptor, and she was on the staff of the local newspaper, The Carmelite.


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On my visit there, I wanted also to see Robinson Jeffers, and the Newells knew the Jeffers fairly well. Gordon was teaching the Jeffers’ boy something about sculpturing, and Gordon himself was steeped in Jeffers’ poetry — he read it; he knew it. It was probably because of his great interest in Jeffers that he had moved to Carmel with the Big Sur country just down the coast. I visited with the Newells while there and went over to see Jeffers. I had been collecting Jeffers’ books, in addition to printing some of them, and I wanted to get his inscriptions on these things. I took them over and left them with him. It was a most interesting day that I had with him.

Gloria Stuart: in the movie "Poor Little Rich Girl" (Cummings, 1936) – One of my FAVORITE movies of ALL TIME: Blog: Tatiana (Jiminez) Supports the Arts, or: Like You Care
Gloria Stuart: in the movie “Poor Little Rich Girl” (Cummings, 1936) – One of my FAVORITE movies of ALL TIME: Blog: Tatiana (Jiminez) Supports the Arts, or: Like You Care

As I wrote on Tuesday, January 5, 1932,

Arrived last night in Carmel to stay with Gordon and Gloria Newell (Gloria Stuart). This morning had a good talk with Orrick Johns and John Catlin. (Orrick Johns was a one-legged poet who had done some very good things back in the thirties, had had several books published. John Catlin was a sculptor, who lived in Carmel at the time, with whom Gordon was doing some work.) About 4:30, Gordon, Gloria and I went down to Jeffers’. We drove into the tree-stuffed yard and parked. There was a wide gate to the inner yard and a sign proclaiming:.‘Not at home until 4:00 P.M.’ Jeffers has his day charted for writing in the morning and laboring on his house in the afternoon. There was a sound of chopping in a stone enclosure, by what was possibly the kitchen door. We went to the front door and knocked. I looked over at the Hawk Tower. The door was open, and the ground floor seemed to be used as a carpenter shop. Over the door was a unicorn, a carved unicorn. And then one of his sons came

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to the door. He recognized the Newells and upon being asked if his mother was at home, very shyly answered that he would see. He returned in a short while to tell us she was and to invite us in. The room where we sat occupies the whole south side of the house, with great windows looking straight out over the ocean and others looking south across the Carmel River to Point Lobos. A fireplace is in the middle of the north side and doors on either side leading to other parts of the house. Back on the inside east is a built-in bench and on the sides are bookcases built around the room. There were quantities of books, a grand piano, and a lovely highboy on which is a big clock and a table with a carbon lamp. There’s no electricity. I looked at the books on the shelf near where I sat. There were a couple of short rows of books on Byron, many on Shelley, the Brontes, and so forth.

Una Jeffers, before  her marriage to poet Robinson Jeffers.
Una Jeffers, before her marriage to poet Robinson Jeffers.

Mrs. Jeffers entered through one of the doors by the fireplace. She is short and slightly plump. Her hair is long and braided in two strands down her back to below her hips. It is slightly streaked with grey. She was rather untidily dressed but her greeting was full of enthusiasm and as soon as we were introduced, she said, ‘I’ll run and tell Robin.’ She returned and he followed soon afterwards. He came over and we shook hands. He eyed me furtively. We were all seated — he on the bench at the back of the room. He seemed very human and even quite jovial and talkative. He cracked a couple of jokes and talked a bit of his European experiences. He entered into the spirit of the group completely and a happy smile often would work over his face.

Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Ansel Adams.
Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Ansel Adams.

We talked of Descent to the Dead which had just been published. The publishers had only sent him three copies, he said. They had also sent him a limited edition of the Nonesuch Donne, which Una showed with much pride. They also had some other Nonesuch books and, in fact, seemed to keep up on modern books (there was even a newspaper scattered about in one corner of the room). Una suggested to Robin that he pour some wine and we all drank some very good homemade wine. His face is kindly, with deep lines, but not hard and stonelike, as I had expected. He wore breeches, old leather leggings and older shoes. He was in true working clothes.

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He told of the great storm of last week and how it had brought one huge boulder up over the road which was too great for him to move in the wheelbarrow. Nowhere south is there vigor such as there is here, he said, though Laguna had been nice and Palos Verdes, before the influx of people. The Hirschbinds had been up. Una said they were people she’d liked to cultivate if she only had had time. Jeffers told of one of the picturesque scenes they had described in India, where the great flocks of eagles would fly up at sunset, higher and higher into the sky to get the last glimpse of the setting sun. They told about stopping at Kelmscott Manor in England and seeing the old William Morris home and the Kelmscott Chaucer laid out on the bed. Una told Robin to build a fire and very slowly and gracefully he moved about to do it. When he sat in the corner, first smoking his pipe and later a cigarette, he seemed the essence of contentment and perfect repose.

I asked about the article Elmer Adler had asked him to write for The Colophon. Una said that Albert Bender had just written to them, urging him to do it, and had sent down an issue of The Colophon so that they could see what it was like. Jeffers said he had read a similar article by Hugh Walpole and was sure that he couldn’t write anything as long or as interesting. Una seemed to think it might be a nice gesture, but they only paid fifty dollars for an article she said. I think perhaps he’ll do it though.

We spoke of Powell, and they said that they had had a letter of his there at present. Jeffers said he hadn’t read it yet as it was long and looked complicated. Said that Powell wrote very interesting stuff. Evidently he hates to read things that take time. Una said she had left it for Robin to answer. She got out the letter and it was a translation of a review of some of Jeffers’ work by a Sorbonne professor, which Larry Powell had translated.

Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Edward Weston.
Poet Robinson Jeffers, photo by Edward Weston.

I told him about my publishing project and asked him if he would contribute. He said he didn’t know, he’ d have to think it over. It seemed very difficult to get anything together, he said. I asked him about the Flagons and Apples, which was his first book. He said there were five hundred copies printed, just a short time before he went to Seattle. He had taken a half a dozen or so and left the rest in the printer’s shop. Some time later the printers

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wrote and asked him what to do with them. He replied by telling them to destroy them for waste paper. Apparently they could not bear to do so, for the copies eventually turned up in the Holmes Book Store, the printer evidently having remaindered them. There were also 500 copies of the Peter Boyle Tamar printed.

Jeffers' "Roan Stallion" and Tamar poems, cover
Jeffers’ “Roan Stallion” and Tamar poems, cover

It was six o’ clock. When we were getting ready to leave I asked him if I could have my collections of his books autographed. I brought a whole stack in. We talked about the first Boni-Liveright announcement, which I had. He recalled having seen one, though Una never had. He said it probably contained the first appearance of his biographical sketch. I left the books there to be autographed and said I’ d be back for them on Saturday. He said that would be fine as it would give him plenty of time. Una asked what I wanted written as she would have to see that it was done.

Eventually we left, shaking hands again, and he said he was glad to have met me at last and Una said that we’d probably correspond very much. That night Orrick, Dedjon, Gordon and I had a gallon of wine and talk. Orrick was wonderful. He discovered Jeffers when he was living in Italy and wrote him. ’ Now that I have read “Tamar” I no longer have to apologize for American poetry.’ Jeffers replied and told him The Roan Stallion was based on a story he’d heard of a woman in Turin who had erected a statue there to a horse that had been her lover. Also I suppose the myth of Leda and the Swan had been in his mind. Orrick considered The Roan Stallion and The Loving Shepherdess the best longer poems and his latest book (Descent of the Dead) the ultimate of what Jeffers would do with his shorter poems. He said that, in the two years that he had been in Carmel, Jeffers had definitely changed from a very frigidly shy and reserved man into a fairly friendly and affable fellow. He seemed to think that Jeffers knew his message and best work had been written and that he could now relax and enjoy himself.

After a few days in Carmel, I went on up to San Francisco where I saw the Grabhorns, and Ed in eyeing some of his old type said that he would be willing to sell me some of it. For twenty-five cents a pound, which

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was not too much more than the cost of metal, he sold me a whole series of Eve type, which I packed up and brought down south with me and kept under my bed. I also had a couple of cases of fourteen point Garamond which I had acquired from Frank Wiggins Trade School at the time I was as a student there. It was Monotype, and had been specially cast for some previous students — Edd Smith and Thomas W. McDonald. I had contributed it to Hackett, Newell & Ritchie, but when things started faltering there, I had retrieved it and brought it home. I also had bought for fifty dollars, at one of the local machinery houses, an old Washington hand press. So my printing equipment consisted of a half a dozen cases of type, which I kept in the bedroom; the Washington hand press, which was in the garage on Milan Avenue in South Pasadena; and I must have had a stick in which to set the type but not much else — possibly a few galleys.

On returning to Los Angeles, I immediately scouted around to see if I could find out anything more about Flagons and Apples, which was Jeffers’ first book.

I had a long talk with Mr. Holmes of the Holmes’ Bookstore because rumor had it that he had bought the remainder copies from the Grafton Publishing Company which had printed the book originally for Jeffers. And sure enough, Holmes recalled quite a bit about the book. The printers, instead of destroying the copies for waste paper as had been suggested by Jeffers, had managed to sell them for

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some pitiful sum to Holmes’ Bookstore. As I recall, when I was a boy, Holmes had several stores. There was one on Spring Street and another on Main Street; this was before he moved up to Sixth Street near Figueroa where he was for so many years. When they were planning to move from the Spring Street location, he had a big sale of books and auctioned many things off. Spring Street was then probably a busy street but certainly not as it is now, and Holmes erected some sort of platform out in front of the store. In order to gather a crowd, he had many devices, one of which was to throw some books into the street for which people would scramble and when a crowd would gather he would start his sale. He had several hundred copies of Flagons and Apples and he used it as a come on and got rid of several hundred copies in this way. When he was later located on Sixth Street and Jeffers [with the publication of Tamar in 1924] had achieved a reputation, he recalled that there was still a pile of these books down in his cellar. He went down there looking for them and picked up two or three copies, brought them up and had a little sign made and offered them for two dollars and fifty cents apiece. Well, they were quickly gobbled up, and he got a couple more out, and he put the price at five dollars. They disappeared; so, the price went up to ten dollars and then to fifteen dollars. By the time I went to see him, of course, they were all gone, but he

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said that for the final ones he got twenty-five dollars.

I wrote Jeffers about this and he worked it into an article which he sent back to Elmer Adler. It wasn’t more than a few weeks later that I had a letter from Adler enclosing a copy of Jeffers’ article. He said that inasmuch as I must have helped in getting it written I’d probably be interested in seeing it. He also mentioned that he would like to have a West Coast printer do this particular article. He was considering Grabhorn, but he wanted to know something about Bruce McCallister in Los Angeles. And of course there was John Henry Nash in San Francisco. Well, I didn’ t waste very much time on this particular project. I got my fourteen point Garamond out from under the bed and started setting type. I did have the Washington press down in the garage which I could use as a proof press. While I was in San Francisco I had visited with Hazel Dreis, the bookbindress, who had done the Leaves of Grass for Grabhorn. She had a great big house in San Francisco where Gregg Anderson had lived while he was working with the Grabhorns. Hazel had given me a ream of Arnold’s unbleached paper, which was a rather handsome sheet. I set the article up in type and proofed it on this paper on the hand press. I ran out of ‘e’s’ toward the end, and had to pick from the earlier part to complete it. I indicated a sketch of Tor House at the

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beginning. I probably stayed up all that night to complete this and sent it off to Adler almost before he realized I’ d received his letter.

He was somewhat amazed, but evidently he liked what I had done and wrote back saying, ‘This is fine. Do you have any equipment on which to print?’ I did have the Washington hand press, it’s true, but to do this article for The Colophon on a hand press might have taken the rest of my life to finish it. In San Francisco, I had admired what the Grabhorns were doing, and I noticed that their sole equipment were Colt’s Armory presses, of which they had a couple. And so I wrote back and said that I hoped that I would be allowed to do the job, and my equipment consisted of a Washington hand press and a Colt’s Armory press. Then I immediately went out to see if I couldn’t find a Colt’s Armory press, which proved a little more difficult than I had anticipated. However, in the local print shop, the Abbott Printing Company in South Pasadena, which had printed the little paper the Marengo Literary Leader, which was the forerunner of my interest in printing, had a press called a Gaily [Gally] Universal, which was the forerunner of the Colt’s Armory press. Abbott wanted two hundred and fifty dollars for it. It seemed a little exorbitant at the time, and I felt quite sure that we could come to more satisfactory terms. But in the meantime I had to have some equipment. I was thinking this

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over, and I told him I’d be up there about two o’clock and we could decide on the price. In the meantime, I had called a moving company and asked them if they would pick up the press.

And they said, ‘When?’

I said, ‘Well, sometime later this afternoon.‘ I had to do two or three things and when I arrived the movers were already there, so I was stuck with the full two hundred and fifty dollars.

I recall that this was in the month of February, 1932. We lived at 1400 Milan Avenue. In back of the house there was a four-car garage. Three of the garages were one big wide open room, and the fourth one had been used as a storehouse for gardener’s equipment and things like that. And it was into this that I had moved my Washington hand press and, now, the Gaily Universal. The first pr oblem was wiring the thing which I did, but it didn’t seem to function. And so I had to go to a local electrician. He came down and he seemed like such a nice fellow. He said,‘Well, now, you have a single-phase motor here. What you should have is a three-phase motor, and I just happen to have one up at our place. Of course, you have to have a special power line in here for three-phase equipment.‘

I was innocent and naive, and I didn’t realize until later on that all that was necessary was to change two

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little wires on the motor, and it would run on our single-phase power line.

But we got the Southern California Edison Company in with a big crew and they brought in several lines and a great big transformer on the pole in back of us, and I got my three-phase motor in and was ready to start.

This was the beginning of The Ward Ritchie Press. It was a nice way to start, printing my first job on The Colophon. The job did present some difficulties. Because money was very scarce, Blake, Moffitt and Towne, the paper people, had some fairly good paper which hadn’t sold, so they marked it way down in price and also gave me credit. Paul Landacre did a wood engraving of Tor House for me. There were several facsimiles of early books of Jeffers: I printed a yellow background behind these to show the size of the page. And then I thought, well this might be nice to put behind the woodblock of Tor House, too, to give it a little more vibrancy and warmth of color — which I did. And that almost ruined me, because printing the woodblock on top of this yellow ink did something; the two inks — the black ink and the yellow ink — just didn’t want to work together. And, of course, Landacre’s work is very fine and delicate anyway, and trying to keep open these little lines with this black ink on top of the yellow. […!!] I worked night and day and night and day to get it done in time. Finally I shipped it off and then waited to be

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paid. It had never occurred to me that you had to send a bill along with these things. (This was my first real business experience.) I waited and waited, and Blake, Moffitt and Towne also waited and waited, but they were a little more impatient than I was. After about two months,
I got a letter from Elmer Adler, and he said, ‘We can’t understand it. The job arrived. We’re very pleased with it, but we’ve never received an invoice from you. However, since we would like to pay you I’m enclosing a check.‘ So, I was in business with that first job.

On Monday, April 25th I wrote,

It winds and storms outside. The cloud foe, which assailed the mountain wall this afternoon is down upon us, but it is no enemy. I lay athwart my bed, listening to the cool skirmish outside. The heat of a warm fire plays safely in the room and the great light makes day upon the low bed as I write. I have counted many weary, weary hours, nearly finished now, while The Colophon was being made. Tonight I ran the final batch of the wood block and now the press rests, shiny clean. We were both tired and now I am relieved, though only the safe arrival in New York will finish my worry. And, too, a letter came from France today. It was Larry, and he spoke of seeing Margie and Ruthie, the Deux Magots, the Tuileries with the spring flowers and I’ve been a bit saddened by memories the rest of the day. I have a whole year full of thoughts to haunt me, and I feel stranded on a grey island with the past far behind, knowing that mere return to the place or sight of people is futile. And these days will make memories, too. Thursday night I was with Siqueiros, the Mexican artist. I now have twelve of his wood blocks which I shall print. They will be difficult, seemingly cut from an apple box while he was in prison. Tuesday it was the Stanislaw Szukolski, the Polish sculptor. He wishes to have a group. And the Murrays and Kings twice

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weekly gather to talk, to discuss their projected magazine and to read their week’s writings.

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[«»] Tape Number: SEVEN, SIDE TWO
March 11, 1965

Ritchie: My family was middle class, fairly well to do, and we lived in a medium large house in the nicest section of South Pasadena. Through high school and college, I had never had to worry about finances, though coming from Scotch ancestry, I was never overindulged. The very fact that the need for money had never worried me may account for my tardiness in beginning a career. In 1932, when I did begin to print seriously in our backyard, I was twenty-six years old, nearly twenty-seven. Conditions had changed. My father had died in 1929, nearly broke except for vacant property, on which taxes accumulated.

My grandfather’s bank in Michigan was one of the casualities of the Depression, and as a stockholder, my mother was liable. This took most of her inheritance. She was also ill, dying of cancer. We lived alone in the big house until it became necessary to have a nurse live in to care for her. As I recall I was rather oblivious to our circumstances, and though my mother complained of our poverty, it never occurred to me that she was very serious. There was food and I was immersed in my passion for printing only semiconscious, actually, of my mother’s condition. She, philosophically, over the many months, was cleansing her heart and mind of all evil. She was

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conscious, a mere skeleton covered with skin when she heard the death rattle in her throat. She said, ‘I guess that is the devil going out. I shall see Mama and Papa now.‘

I wrote on the day she died, ‘Our youth we spend preparing for life and our life preparing for death. Fortunate is she whose preparation has led to peace and assurance before the last breath.’

But during her last year, my mother watched with great interest and a mother’s pride as I began printing books in our backyard. There was a wide, four-car garage, shaded by some eucalyptus and a couple of huge acacia trees that dropped their yellow blossoms to cover the concrete entrance. I converted the corner garage, which had been used as a tool room, into a print shop. It was bleak and cold. First, there was the Washington hand press, which I had bought for fifty dollars. And then, with the Jeffers’ commission for The Colophon, the Gaily [Gally] Universal press — slow, cumbersome and antiquated. But to me, a mechanical marvel, big enough to print four pages of a book at a time and strong enough to give a biting impression into a tough, handmade paper. The Colophon job was printed there and several more.

But there were hardly enough commissions to keep me even moderately occupied; so, I began white-

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washing and expanding. First, I pushed the wall over to take in two of the garages which gave me a good deal more space. Then I covered the garage doors, converting one of them into a small doorway, which made it more studio-like. One of the girls I knew made curtains for the room. In the back wall, I cut a hole and made a Dutch door that led out into the yard which had previously been part of an orange grove. Gordon Newell, my friend who was beginning his career as a sculptor at that time, came over, and we laid bricks for a patio there. He brought stones over on which he would chip and chisle [chisel] away. We whitewashed the interior of the garage, and I hung many samples of printed pages of Eric Gill and odds-and-ends which I’d picked up in Paris when I was there.

But it was still a cold, cold spot. So, I decided to build a fireplace. I could remember nothing more pleasant than the Spanish fireplaces in the houses in Majorca, located in the corner of a room with a tin or a copper hood and the chimney going up through the ceiling. I decided I must have one like those, and I had the local tinsmith make me a hood. I built a brick backing in one corner of the room and put my fireplace into operation. Unfortunately, I had made no great study of fireplaces at that time, and

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the chimney or flue was quite inadequate as I found when I started the first fire. The room was completely filled with smoke, more coming out than ever went up the chimney. Well, after some maneuverings I was able to get it so that it would work modestly with a little tiny fire. It became necessary for me to find and buy some large electric heaters to put in there which were never quite sufficient, but most of the year, California is quite temperate.

My knowledge of bookkeeping was even more primitive than my experience in printing and business. From my days at Vroman’s bookstore, I had kept a dummy volume — a bound book with a sampling of preliminary pages and the balance in blank sheets. These were the books which publishers would send out in advance of the regular editions, so that the booksellers could get an idea of the appearance and the size of a book. This particular one I used as my account book. It was entitled Grandeur and Misery of Victory by Georges Clemenceau. I look at it today — thirty odd years later — and it frightens me. How did I eat? How did I survive? The three years of accounts, crudely recorded in this book, is a commentary on the economics of the Depression. I lived; I somehow paid my bills and, as I recall, enjoyed life very much.

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A recapitulation of this account book brings many recollections. The first entries are for April, 1932. In addition to the insert for The Colophon, I set up and printed five separate title pages in two colors for plays excerpted from a Shakespeare folio, which Dawson’s Book Shop had broken up and was having bound separately to sell. For this job which I printed on the Washington hand press, I received $7.50 or $1.50 for a folio page. I printed some postcards for Jake Zeitlin, and five thousand book jackets for Miss June Cleveland of Bullock’s book department. For these five thousand, I charged $9.00.

And on my old and slow press, it must have taken me at least three days to print them.

I was not much of a salesman but I liked books, and I liked bookstores. My approach was to hang around them, hoping that someone would see me and want some printing done. It was from their jobs and their recommendations that almost all of my business came. Of course, Dawson’s Bookstore at Wilshire and Grand was a most admirable hangout; everybody came there sometime during the day or week. There was a magnificent crew working at that time. Charles Yale was the manager of the shop and in charge of their California Section upstairs. Dorothy Bevis, who now works in the Library School at the University of

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Washington, was one of the saleswomen, and a great book woman she was and a good poet too. One of her books at about that time was printed by the Grabhorn Press, sponsored by Dawson’s Book Store. Alice Mullaney was another of the girls there. Robert Cowan was an almost constant visitor. He must have been in his seventies at that time, but he was a mighty gay blade with the girls there, enjoying all of them.

Dawson's Books, with staff, 1939.
Dawson’s Books, with staff, 1939.

Dawson’s gave me many little odds-and-ends. I would do their cards for them, an occasional folder advertising books and even, from time to time, a catalogue. Jake Zeitlin had long been a great favorite of mine and a mentor. His first shop was across from the Bible Institute on Hope Street and he moved around the corner from there to 705½ West Sixth Street where I first knew him. He had become interested in printing from his enthusiasm for fine books and for modern literature. Jake, I see in my account book, ordered one thousand, one-cent post cards from me in this first month of April. But also Jake was considering at that time several books. He seemed more able than anyone else in Los Angeles to attract far-out poets, exciting women poets, and an occasional man poet of any age from seventeen to ninety-two and arrange for the publication of their book. Jake was doing some legitimate publishing under the imprint of The Primavera Press, but he also was doing a good deal of vanity publishing under various

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imprints. Usually these were imprints which I would invent so that we could put the book out without involving our own good reputations.

The first book that I printed for Jake was in the summer of 1932 under the imprint of The Primavera Press. It was a pretty good book of poetry. It was called Summer Denial by Madeleine Ruthven. I didn’ t design this book; the layout was prepared by Grace Marion Brown, who was a local artist and a good friend of Jake’s. It posed somewhat of a problem to do this book on my Gally Universal press because Grace Brown had made the page-size somewhat oversize and while the type fit [fitted] within the frame of the press so that I could print it, the size of the paper sheet was such that it stuck out beyond the bed of the press. It being summertime, I was able to hire as a pressman, John Faust, who had taught me at Frank Wiggins Trade School. He was very happy to moonlight this way and earn a little extra money, which I will assure you was not very much, because I look into the account and see that he received $35.00 for working for me that summer.

But with his experience, he ingeniously worked out a method of flipping the sheets in such a way that while they did stick out, they didn’t actually get caught in any of the mechanism of the press, and we were able to print the book.

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In addition to Summer Denial during that first year, I also printed for him a little book called Lay of a Summer’s Day. This was an exceedingly interesting poem because it had been written by an elderly gentleman while he was still attending Washington and Jefferson College back in the 1850s.

As the title might suggest to you, it was a rather romantic poem, written with all of the lush prose and with all of the lush verbiage of that great era, as a young college student might like to express himself. At the time we began setting type on this book the author was in his nineties. We set the poem and sent it to him. We heard no more word from him. He was living at the time in San Diego. Then all of a sudden, it came back to us and we understood that he had been run over by an automobile as he was crossing the street one day. How he managed to survive, it’s hard to tell, but he had a tenacious hold on life even at that age. He moved back to Hollywood to be near the production of his book of poems, and he settled down in a little apartment and had a full-time nurse while we were working on the book. I used to go over and talk to him quite often because he was an interesting fellow. I found out that he had been one of the early members of the first chapter of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, to which I had also belonged. So, I gathered from him as much anecdotical material as I could and wrote an article about this, the oldest living member of the fraternity, and sent it on to the

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fraternity magazine.

He was a little annoyed, about this time, at the lack of interest which his family was showing in him. His wife had died many years ago, but he had children living in various parts of the country. Even though he was in ill health, they showed no inclination to visit, or help him, or even entertain him in his last days. He was undoubtedly quite wealthy and he finally got even with them. He married the nurse.

As he told me, ‘This marriage will never be consumated, I’m sure of that. But she has been the one kind ray of light in these, my last days and months. The more I think of it, the more I want her to be taken care of. Actually my children have been amply taken care of.’ But it caused quite a stir with his family, and they immediately appeared on the scene.

That was one of the interesting little books which I did for Jake. The Lay of a Summer’s Day, which also had a subtitle of ‘Love is Mightier than All’, was printed under the imprint of the Faun Press. Also under the same Imprint we did a book called Weathered Wine in 1933. And then we did the book Wives Come First, in 1933, by Gladys Dubois. This Jake felt was good enough to go under the imprint of The Primavera Press.

Then there was another little book called Rose on the Sand, which we printed without using any imprint except the

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date. This was written by one of the most exotic creatures that had come into my ken by that time. Jake described her as a ‘walking orgasm.’ [laughter] And I’m sure that Jake enjoyed every moment of every time she came into the shop.

Another little book which I printed at that time and the first book which I printed., designed and produced by myself, was The Youth of Hamlet by J.J.S. J.J.S. [‘J.J.S.’] is John J. Slocum, who has since compiled the bibliography of James Joyce. At this time, John Slocum had just graduated from Thatcher School in Ojai, and this poem had won the poetry contest at Thatcher School. His uncle, Myles Standish Slocum, who was a well-known book collector in Pasadena, wanted to have this little book printed. I did it in an edition of twenty-five copies, and it was printed on my Washington hand press — finished on August 28, 1932. Actually, I’m not quite sure whether it or Summer Denial was my first book. They were both finished in that month.

Going back to my account book, I see that for this I received $134.00. It was hardbound; it was in a slip case, and it was printed on imported paper by hand.

The type ran about twenty-four pages or so. In addition to that, I created what I thought then was a magnificent initial letter, quite ornate — a ‘Y’ which took up half of the first page. I was able to do a certain amount of experimentation, because on a hand press you can ink

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various elements separately and I varied the colors on the initials — some in gold, some in red and I believe there were some in blue. And there were some in which I got a two-tone effect by printing one color slightly out of register on top of the other.

In addition to Dawson’s and Zeitlin’s Bookstore, Robinson’s had quite a nice book department at that time, which was run by Phil Kubel and Ralph Erikson. We didn’t print too much for them, but I do remember when the Grabhorn Press issued Melba Bennett’s book Robinson Jeffers and the Sea, that Phil Kubel was horrified at the cost of the prospectus which the Grabhorns were going to get out for him, and so I designed and printed the prospectus for the Grabhorn Press book which came out at that time. Grace Marion Brown, who had designed Summer Denial, was married to a bookseller, Louis Samuels, who had a shop called the Penguin Bookshop out on Wilshire Boulevard, and they too sent most of their incidental printing to me. Maxwell Hunley had me do some catalogues for him, as did Tony Price, who had worked several years for Jake Zeitlin. She started a book shop along with Fillmore Phipps, on the Sunset Strip. In general, I was handling a good deal of the incidental material which the local bookstores got out.

They were also great public relations people for my printing, because occasionally somebody would ask where some printing could be done, and they would recommend this poor,

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downtrodden little printer, Ward Ritchie, who lived out in South Pasadena. It was probably through Dawson that I made my first acquaintance with Lucille Miller and Estelle Doheny. Mrs. Doheny had become interested in books a few years earlier and had, through Dawson’s Book Store, acquired quite a collection of American high spots. During the late twenties Merle Johnson wrote his bibliography of American First Editions and it became very fashionable to collect these books and others such as the Grolier Hundred. It was also the easiest way for a bookseller to get a new collector interested, and Dawson’s made a collector of Mrs. Doheny. But as she became more sophisticated, she began to get into better and more valuable types of books.

Mrs. Doheny had as one of her secretaries a smart young girl by the name of Lucille Miller, who seemed to be more interested in the books that Mrs. Doheny was purchasing than any of the other girls who worked for her. So she became the librarian of the Doheny Collection, which at that time was housed in the great home at 8 Chester Place, where the Dohenys lived. In the summer of 1932, Mrs. Doheny decided that she would like to have a catalogue printed of an exhibition of her books which was going to be held at the University of Southern California Library, which is the library which she and her husband had given to the University of Southern California in memory of their son who had been killed a few years before.

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This was actually the largest and most lucrative job which had thus far come into my printing plant. It was the time element and the size of it that precluded the printing of it completely by myself on the old equipment which I had. I was able to set it in type. The foreword was in a type called Poliphilus [a lovely English Monotype font, photographed and copied from the (Venetian) Aldine Press book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, keeping a little of the ink-squash occasioned by printing metal type on dampened paper] which I borrowed from Clyde Browne who had a supply of this English type. I made it up and created a typographical ornament for the title page — a candelabra of learning, as I would now describe it — and made arrangements to have it printed on a Meihle vertical press which a new little outfit in Pasadena had purchased.

The outfit was known as the Castle Press. It had been started by a printer who I had known quite well while he was working for Clyde Browne at the Abbey of San Encino Press. His name was House Olsen. He was a handsome, lady-loving, hard-drinking boy who always kept a jug of gin or wine hidden in one of the cupboards of the Abbey Press, where there were no exact hours of work. He would come in and work for awhile, and then he’d go up and have a drink,and if you happened to be by, he would give you one. My recollection when I had my little studio at Clyde Browne’s Abbey was that there was a constant stream of Pasadena socialites coming up in their Cadillacs and Marmons and Pierce Arrows to see House. Eventually he had an opportunity of going into printing for himself with a partner by the name of ‘Rocky’ Thomas, whose father was

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president of one of the Pasadena banks. Of course, he put up the money to start the press and brought in, through his acquaintance in Pasadena, most of the business. It was an interesting spot to visit at that time because there were a great variety of hangers-on always over there.

House Olsen was a man with some talent. He tended to be a little in the conservative William Morris groove, but he was a meticulous workman during the hours when he was in a condition to work. I made arrangements with them to do the presswork on this catalogue for Mrs. Doheny.

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I see that for this, I received the sum of $500, which put me well on ‘easy street.’ As I look back at my accounts for the month of April, which was the first month which I actually kept records, I show my income, but I do not show any of my expenses. However, after that I became a little more thorough, and on one side of this account book I put accounts receivable and on the other side I put accounts payable. The month of May I received $78.00 and I paid out $48.31. So, I put down net profit for May: $29.69. June was even better. Well, no, it wasn’t quite. I received $99.25, and I paid out $97.23, which gave me a profit of $2.02, July — I made a profit of $28.43. And then in August, I did extremely well because I did Summer Denial for Jake. I also did some Occidental College announcements; a catalogue for Dawson’s; and I did some broadsides

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for amiable and wonderful old Robert Cowan of the Clark Library. I made a profit of $139.

In that September with Mrs. Doheny’s catalogue I made $283. But then I slipped back again. In October, I lost $71.13. In November, I made a profit of $6.85, and that seems to be the end of my adding up to profit and losses. Prom there on, I entered, but I didn’t add up.

It was too discouraging. But this will give some indication of how a struggling printing plant operated in the severe times of 1932.

As I have mentioned, Jake Zeitlin had this little shop at 705½ West Sixth Street, and a little later he moved across the street and a half a block toward town to, I believe it was, 6l4 West Sixth Street. Lloyd Wright again designed an admirable little bookshop for him. It had all the charm and warmth that you could want in a bookstore. Larry Powell worked for him, and it was there that Jake went through the maneuverings that were necessary for a shop of his type to survive during these really tough years.’

It seems to me that Jake was always coming up with a new partner who would be able to put a little capital in for a time. Then as soon as he recognized the difficulties of a bookseller’s life he would withdraw, and Jake would have to continue for himself as best he could until he could get somebody else.

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It was his shop, however, on Carondolet which was the most appealing that I think he ever had. It was the old coachhouse in back of the Earl Residence. It was two stories; downstairs he had the bookshop, which was as with all Jake’s places—as charming as man could conceive it. I have forgotten whether Lloyd Wright did that for him, or whether it was Walter Baerman.

It seems to me that Walter Baerman had something to do with it. He was running the Pasadena School of Design at that time. It was attractive with rough, unfinished wood. In all of his places, Jake had to have room to display art. He always wanted to have a gallery in his shops. The stable had two stories, and he and his family lived upstairs and worked downstairs, which was a convenient way of living and doing business.

You could always visit Jake, either upstairs or down.

Jake had many ailments. He always complained bitterly about what was wrong with him. The one time we thought we were going to lose Jake was when he had ulcers. Jake practically gave up; it’s the only time I’ve known Jake really to give up. Upstairs, he lay on his large bed, and I used to come almost daily down to see him because from all indications this was the end, and Jake let us know that it was the end — it was so very serious. I recall very well the day when I spoke with Jake and held his hand and we fully expected that this would be the last time we ever

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met. I came by a couple of days later. Jake was downstairs. He was smoking a cigar, and I looked with rather wide eyes and said, ‘Jake, I thought you were dying?’

And he said, ‘Well, I read an article in Fortune saying that it’s all in your mind. How about going out and having a drink with me?’

Jake and I wandered around the corner to a bar and enjoyed his revival — his very quick revival.

It was also at this store that bankruptcy finally caught up with Jake. It was a pretty sad day for those of us who knew and loved and admired Jake and the store which he had. The bankruptcy auctioneers had come in. They had little knowledge of books and certainly no affection for them. They went through his stock bundling five or six books as a unit, and this would be, for instance, Lot Three. In this way they prepared for the sale. In many instances, a two-volume set might be split; one would be in one group of books and another in the next.

They didn’t even look at them; they just grabbed and bundled.

Most of Jake’s friends came to the auction, as well as others who were interested in getting some of his stock, and the auction started off. The first item up was a bundle about a foot high and about two feet square. Obviously, it had been wrapped from what was left when they’d finished. It looked like debris because you could see the

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morning newspaper, a Saturday Evening Post and things like that.

It looked as if it were complete junk, but it was put up as item, Number One. The auctioneer asked for bids, but no one even wanted to make an offer. He was a little desperate and asked again, ‘Anybody, offer anything.’

Just as a friendly gesture, I said, ‘fifty cents,’ to get the auction open.

The auctioneer said, ‘It is yours for fifty cents.’

The auction went through, and we all bought a few things for sentiment’s sake. Later that afternoon when it was all over, I went to get my books, and the auctioneer said, ‘Nell, take that along too.’ And he laughed.

It seemed sort of a futile thing to do, but I did take it home. As I went through, I threw out the newspapers and I threw out a half a dozen mangy magazines.

I was just about ready to throw away the remainder when I spied a couple of little folders. I opened one up, and it had some examples of early California Sealed Paper. This Sealed Paper was an interesting legacy from Spanish and Mexican colonial days when, needing to get as much income as possible from their colonies, they used this as a method of taxation. All legal matters were required to be written on this paper which only the government could sell.

It had been used in California during the early years and had been sent in from Mexico City. But during the

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late twenties and the early thirties, Mexican interest in its distant colony of California was minimal and the poor people up here were often neglected. However, the Sealed Paper was for their existance [existence], because one couldn’t sell a piece of property, couldn’t get married, could do hardly anything legally without it. And it was probably for this purpose that Augustin Zamorano brought with him to California a little type with which to print this Sealed Paper. Otherwise it had to be written by hand which was a tiresome chore, I’m sure. Then they had to be signed by the governor of California and his deputy.

I looked through the packet, and there was a nice collection of this Sealed Paper. Some of them were written out by hand and signed by people like EcheandÍa and Figueroa, and some of them that were printed are among the earliest printed pieces that Zamorano, California’s first printer, had done. Among other things, there was a letter on a very crude letterhead from Monterey. I was extremely curious about this because it was earlier than most of the others, and in checking George Harding’s book on Zamorano, I found that this letter was written the first day that Zamorano had finished some stationary [the ‘a’ in ‘ary’ is crossed out, and the ‘e’ substituted in handwriting: stationery] for the governor. It is the earliest known piece of printing in the state of California. There are probably two or three other pieces from that same day because the governor, once he got his stationery, probably scribbled off several letters and sent them out. It

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was an exciting discovery and I must admit one of the best investments I’ve ever made with only fifty cents.

But Jake survived this and was back in business soon again and remained at the little barn on Carondolet until the County bought the Earl House, demolished it along with Jake’s coachhouse and built more of Otis Art Institute there. Whereupon he moved out to La Cienega into his current place, the Red Barn.

Earlier, when he was still down on Sixth Street, a Kansas schoolteacher walked in one day, and Jake’s eyes looked her over, and next thing I knew Jake told me he wanted me to meet a girl. He brought her out to the shop, and I looked her over and approved of her — considerably.

Of course, I didn’t know at that time to the extent to which Jake was interested. So, we both vyed occasionally for her attention. One night, Jake and I were out rather late at a party, and we decided to see Josephine Ver Brugge. We discovered her apartment house, and that she was up on the third floor. We found which was her room, but the front door was locked and nobody answered the bell. So, Jake and I had a fine time throwing stones at her window.

Naturally, this is the way you woo a woman, isn’t it? Jake married her, and she added to Jake’s charming enthusiasm—down-to-earth practicality, which brought about stability and eventually a most successful book business.

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Jake continued to run his own shop, but they had bought a whole batch of surplus medical magazines from UCLA or some library, and put them in a store on Seventh Street. Josephine went into the business selling these medical magazines, and she made such a success of it that when they Joined forces as Zeitlin and Ver Brugge, the medical part of it still continued as one of their major successful enterprises.

Among other things during this year of 1932, I again began writing some poetry. Originally, I had written while I was in college under the influence of Carlyle MacIntyre whose whole outpouring was in poetry. He kept his diary actually in poetry, and everytime he thought or looked at a girl, a poem would pour out. As a young college student, it seemed to be quite an exciting way of life. I didn’t have the talent or the ability of a MacIntyre; so the poems which I wrote during the first year were rather forced. But I decided to print them as a Christmas booklet one year. This first little book was called XV Poems for the Heath Broom.

I wasn’t sure whether I was proud of them or not, so I used a nom de plume of Peter Lum Quince. Now Lawrence Powell has always kidded me that I was more interested in the appearance of the page than I was in the accuracy of my terms. And I must admit that I had first thought of them as Poems for the hearth broom, but the extra ‘r’ in

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there didn’t quite fit the space I had; I looked in the dictionary, and certainly there was a heath broom made out of heath twigs, and so I changed. I was also going to use Peter Quince after Shakespeare’s character but then too I needed a little more length to the line, so I inserted ‘Lum’ and it became Peter Lum Quince.

As I mentioned, these were somewhat contrived poems because I was trying to hard to be a poet. In 1932, there returned to southern California a girl that I had known quite well in high school, who was a slim and beauteous and somewhat sophisticated gal who I had earlier thought as a little too sophisticated for an innocent boy like myself.

She had married while she was in college, and she returned to southern California in 1932, getting a divorce. She had come home to spend her interim year. She called me, and we renewed our old friendship which we had had in high school and in college. I saw quite a bit of her, and for the first time I began writing out of the heart.

The second little volume of my poetry was based upon some of these poems which I had written to her.

Carlyle MacIntyre had been asked to edit the West Coast portion of an anthology called The North American Book of Verse, back in ’33, and he asked me if I would like to submit something. I culled a half a dozen poems from these and submitted them, and he included them in that book.

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Later on, as another Christmas booklet, I reprinted them with illustrations by Paul Landacre. Paul Landacre had also illustrated the first book. This book, short and sparse as it was, did have a little more quality.

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[«»] Tape Number: EIGHT, SIDE ONE
March 30, 1965

Ritchie: As the tape ran out last time, we were talking about some of the small books of poetry I had written in my moments of passion. And I was going to quote from a letter which I received some years later from Lawrence Clark Powell, referring to this little book, The Year’s at the Spring. He wrote:

Wardie, I picked up a few W.R. duplicates at Hunley’s yesterday, items he got from young Cowan. Among them was a Year’s At the Spring. Do you realize that in it you have written a wee masterpiece. I’ve always been moved by the cycle, but upon rereading it last night I was stirred as never before. I am giving this duplicate copy to a friend, letting it do a little job for me. That’s why I’m writing. To thank you for having experienced that idol and having distilled its bittersweet essence in these eight tiny poems. And Landacre’s accompaniement [accompaniment] is perfect. I salute you Peter Quince, and hope that you will look in your heart and write again.

 — Goose                

‘Goose’ is the name that Larry Powell went by during our high school and grammar school days. Joe Goose, we called him.

These little books of poems were quite personal and usually issued in only a few copies. The next one was done a few years later as a class project by one of the students whom I had during the summer of 1941, a girl from Occidental by the name of Jane Frampton who took my printing course.

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As a project, each of the students was supposed to print a little booklet. She knew that I had written some poems and asked if she could gather some of these together, which she did very nicely, in a book which was called Fragments of Yesterday, also by Peter Lum Quince. These are rather sad little poems because I guess it was a sad time of my life — after a temporary separation from my first wife. She printed only twenty copies of this little book.

The next one was called A Few More for the Powells and the Heathbroom, of which twenty-five copies were printed in 1949. I’ve forgotten the exact occasion, but I think it was Larry’s birthday or some such event. [Entered by hand: Wedding Anniversary.]

March 26th was the date, so it must have been of some importance, and another half dozen or so poems were included in that booklet.

The final one was a sequence of poems which were written during the time that I was wooing a girl by the name of Marka, who eventually became my wife. It’s called A Summer Sequence, Poems for Marka, by Peter Lum Quince, which I gave to her on Christmas of 1950. On the cover, as a title, I have Proof for Marka because actually it’s almost like a printer’s proof,

Presumably there was only one copy printed for Marka, but as is usually the case when you are attempting to print anything, in order to have one perfect you have to do several. In this instance, I did it on Christmas Eve on the proof

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press at the plant in town and came home to a quite angry wife because she couldn’t understand why I would be so late on this special night. It wasn’t until the next morning when she received her copy of this book that she forgave me. So that is the extent of the poetry or verse written by Peter Lum Quince during those many years.

Dixon: You haven’t written any since?

Ritchie: Not to any extent. I suspect that verse, such as I wrote, stirs in one because of some emotional need for an outlet, and possibly age has had something to do with it. The romantic stirrings do not come as often now as they once did. Possibly also one feels a certain amount of contentment which doesn’t seem to produce poetry from an amateur such as I. As a result, the little books which I have done are all on the rare side, and I doubt if anyone besides myself, Larry Powell, and possibly the libraries at Occidental and Clark have copies of all of them. The first two books, the Poems For the Heathbroom and The Year’s at Spring were issued as Christmas booklets to friends, and most probably didn’t consider them as objects to save and collect but merely as a Christmas card to receive and discard. So, I don’t know how many have been preserved. Occasionally, of course, one does show up, as this one about which Larry wrote. I’ve seen one in Dawson’s occasionally, and surprisingly enough they’re quite expensive now because of their rarity.

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The days when I was first getting into printing were exciting and interesting ones in many ways. It was the depth of the Depression, one of the most unlikely times for anybody to enjoy oneself. But since everybody was broke we were all in the same boat. You could buy a gallon of wine for fifty cents, and your friends would gather around to help you drink it. One couldn’t afford parties but we were constantly having them — impromptu gatherings. Vie had more sessions of just talk and the planning of things we wanted to do.

Many quite exciting people intruded into my life in those days. There was a young poet who came to me with suggestions for a book. His name was Norman MacLeod. He was quite patently interested in the Communist party and the growth of it here in America at that time. And one of the first jobs which he brought to me was a letterhead which he wanted printed, which I did in a rather bold type. It was for an organization which he was trying to found in Los Angeles called the John Reed Club. Not knowing much about it, I was invited to a meeting.

John Reed (left) with Louise Bryant in November, 1916. From the internet, 'Louise Bryant: Spartacus Educational'
John Reed (left) with Louise Bryant in November, 1916. From the internet, ‘Louise Bryant: Spartacus Educational’

I seem not to have been too interested and wrote about this meeting: ‘Went with Gregg Anderson to an organization meeting of the Hollywood John Reed Club. Norman MacLeod had invited me to become a member. The proceedings irked me. A club should never take itself this seriously. I would not join. Came home to read from Keats and Shakespeare,

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from Endymion and the first chapter [act?] of the Tempest. After all the Tempest is my greatest love in literature. Every word and every line is packed with beauty.’ [Note: ‘Endymion’ by John Keats rhymes ‘moon’ and ‘June’ twice.]

A little later Norman MacLeod called me and said, ‘Would you like to meet Lincoln Steffens?’ I was interested because of Steffens’ great stature in the United States. Also he was one of the Carmel group along with Robinson Jeffers, and that whole area had fascinated me from the days at Occidental when I first became acquainted with Jeffers’ poetry. I kept notes on this and it’s a most interesting insight into the feelings of people like Steffens and Norman MacLeod and their concept of Russia and Communism in these early thirties.

Lincoln Steffens, left, with  Ella Winter and their son, Peter. From the internet, Spartacus Educational.
Lincoln Steffens, left, with Ella Winter and their son, Peter. From the internet, Spartacus Educational.

I wrote at that time:

Yesterday morning I met Norman MacLeod at the Alexandria Hotel at 9:30 for an appointment we had with Lincoln Steffens. We went into the coffee shop while Steffens had his breakfast of orange juice, a roll and coffee. He was in Los Angeles for a lecture. MacLeod wants to go to Russia and thought that Steffens might be able to suggest possible financial aid. We talked much about Russia and Communism. Steffens had known Lenin and he often mentioned conversations they had had together. He claimed that though Lenin might be worshiped [worshipped] now, he would not be really appreciated for several decades. Said one should read the New Testament open-mindedly and see how Jesus had been mistranslated and made myth. The same would probably be true of Lenin. Lenin made Communism. A man like Trotsky at the helm would have led Russia into dictatorship, but Lenin had no personal ambition. He, in fact, tried to keep away from the government. Steffens brought up as examples a former mayor of Cleveland (the best executive in the United States) who had told him

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that the problem of government was chiefly in dealing with special interests who expected or connived for favors.

‘There are no real Communists in the United States,’ said Steffens. ‘It is impossible for one raised under the capitalistic system to have a total contempt for money,’ etc. ‘In fact it will take about three generations for real Communists to be raised In Russia. But the present crop of youngsters are doing well. They are raised on dogma. They are totally ruthless and without our Anglo-Saxon sentimentality. They have the principles before them and everything must be sacrificed for these. Trotsky was the hero of the young Communists far more than Lenin, but he was thrown out in regard for the principle.’

The magazine, the Journal of the World Revolution, had criticized MacLeod’s poem ‘The Front’ for deviating and Steffens said that was perfectly in accord with their dogmatism. No deviation is allowed. Steffens thinks that the Fascists are paving the way for Communism in Germany. Italy too. The Italians are hard to deal with, having as they do, an inborn hate for policemen and the government. Mussolini is cowing them and it is good for them. Germany must go through the fascist steps before it is ready for Communism. In the same way in Russia, Lenin delayed and delayed the blow, despite all other people’s impatience, until exactly the right moment. He had let despair creep in after all other government had tried and failed and then he swept to his goal. Steffens’ wife (Ella Winters) just returned from Russia and wants to go back and live there. Steffens thinks he’d like to go and have his child brought up under the Communist philosophy, so that he might get it before he is too old. And then Steffens said that I should keep in touch with Amortag for they’d eventually need printers to put out their propaganda in nice form.

Well, that was the end of our discussion about the Communist state. I wonder now what Steffens might think if he had seen what has developed in the three decades since we’ve talked together. Of course, he was quite an idealist, and I don’t think that Stalin had come into

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the picture to any great extent at that time, or he wouldn’t have said that Lenin had kept it from being a dictatorship.

Another one of those interesting people who came to Los Angeles at that time was also of Communist leaning, a Mexican artist by the name of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Jake Zeitlin had met him. Siqueiros had been in jail in Mexico for a good many of the preceding years, as he also has been during many of the succeeding years. Between the murals that he does he spends a little time in jail for some of his radical actions. But evidently the Mexicans are lenient with their prisoners and allow them a certain amount of freedom; wives are allowed to come in and comfort them from time to time. Siqueiros, while in prison, did a series of woodcuts. They were cut on some sleazy, apple-box wood which he had been able to find. Jake, naturally, being In the business of selling books and selling art, saw a fine opportunity. He borrowed these blocks from Siqueiros and asked me if I would print them for him, which I did on the old Washington hand press which I had. Jake had Siqueiros sign them and he sold them in sets. Since then I’ve never seen a set. I kept one series for myself which was not signed by Siqueiros, but at least I do know what it was that I printed. Back in thirties, they probably sold for little or nothing, and nowadays would be quite an attractive set to have.

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While Siqueiros was out here, we saw quite a bit of him. Down on Olvera Street, there was the side of a building which was completely blank, and it was accessible from the roof of another building. This intrigued Siqueiros no end. He suggested, or possibly somebody else suggested, that we do a mural on this. So a dozen or so Los Angeles artists, would-be artists who had nothing but time on their hands, gathered, and Siqueiros knowing the technique was able to show the rest how it was done. He made the design, and for a month or two a variety of people worked on this. Eventually we had the unveiling down there. It wasn’t completely appreciated by the people of Los Angeles and eventually it was covered over.

I don’t know what has become of it — whether another building has gone up to hide it or whether it was painted over. It’s a shame because it was part of the culture of Los Angeles in those days and conceived by one of the great artists of Mexico.

One night we had dinner with Carl and Edith Howenstein. Carl Howenstein had been head of the Otis Art Institute for quite awhile [a while], and his wife was a charming and interesting person who gathered together in their little house up in the hills, in back of Occidental College, groups of talkers. This particular night George and Kathaleen Stanley were there. George Stanley was one of the young

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creative sculptors at that time. Right offhand, I can think only of the sculpture at the entrance of the Hollywood Bowl and the original of ‘The Oscar’ as examples of his work. Hildegarde Flanner and her husband Fred Monhoff were also there. Hildegarde was a well-known California poet, and her husband Fred Monhoff was an architect of some talent. Together with David Alfaro Siqueiros and his wife — whose name I always love — Blanca Luz Blum; ‘White Light’ Blum.

At dinner, we talked of Hart Crane whose poetry I had admired very much. Especially his great poem about the Brooklyn Bridge which had had quite an influence. Siqueiros had lived with Hart Crane in Mexico at one time, and his description of Crane was most interesting to us who knew Crane solely through his poetry. Crane was down there on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he was enjoying Mexico without any inhibitions. Crane, as Siqueiros said, was almost continuously drunk. He was getting into fights all the time and falling down on those hard cobblestone streets, cutting his face and bleeding. Sometimes he would sleep in the gutter and wake the next morning to find himself completely naked, stripped of all of his clothes by looters.

He loved to dance over the town drunken, and he always wore one of these huge Mexican hats. He liked Mexico, and all of the soldiers and the townspeople of

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Taxco, where he lived, liked him too. He, however, had some difficulty with his Guggenheim Fellowship because he was supposed to produce and all he wanted to do was play. The fact that he had spent this year in Mexico without any production, however, must have been the great depressant, because when he left Mexico to go back to New York where he had to make his report, he evidently felt that he couldn’t face it. He disappeared from the ship on the way back most probably committing suicide. A great loss to the world of literature.

As with most foreign artists who do not always understand the practical ways of American people, Siqueiros had his trouble too. Earl Stendhal had a show of Siqueiros, and Siqueiros was complaining this night bitterly because Stendhal would not release these paintings until Siqueiros paid for some of the expenses contracted in the show. And then, also, he had painted a picture of Marguerite Brunswig, who was a wealthy amateur sculptor and art patron. I don’t know exactly what the cause of their altercationn [was], whether she didn’t like the way that she was portrayed by Siqueiros or something that he said to her, but she refused to pay him and wouldn’t accept the picture from him. That night he was talking about how he was going to get even with her. He thought he’d have an auction of it on one of the main streets of Los Angeles and shout out, ‘Here’s a portrait

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of the rich Brunswig girl, who won’t pay. What am I offered? What will you take for her?’ But he became serious then, and he said, ‘What is to become of an artist now? It was once when an artist was starving he could go into manual labor and earn enough to feed himself. But you can’t even work; the times are so bad that an artist can only starve.’

Another artist I knew, who had great ability, was Stanislaw Szukolski. Szukolski was a Pole who had come to America and had a brilliant beginning in Chicago at the Art Institute. He had such great technical facility, such energy and such a brilliant portfolio of ideas, that during the twenties he was considered to be the most brilliant prospect of that area in American art. He got lots of publicity at the time and was married to an extremely attractive and exceptionally wealthy young Chicago society girl. When I first met him in the early thirties, he was living in an area of Hollywood known as Outpost Estates, in a house with a living room as big as a normal house. It was crammed with gigantic sculpture which he had created. Among others, there was a dramatic Mussolini, which he hoped might appeal to the dictator.

His conceptions were quite ornate, decorated almost in a Byzantine lavishness.

They were mammoth pieces in general. His wife in-

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dulged him. She had had an earlier accident or illness that had left her somewhat invalided. He had the greatest ego of any man that I have ever known. And his ego, his ideas, conformed with his own physical and mental abilities. He believed that the only smart men were short, stocky ones. He decried most Americans because they were taller and thinner than he was. His theory was that one got his energy from being close to the ground.

Gordon Newell, obituary photograph. From the internet, University of California, Berkeley. Search by image:  Gordon Newell.
Gordon Newell, obituary photograph. From the internet, University of California, Berkeley. Search by image:
Gordon Newell.

A good session at Newell’s, the night before last. Al and M.F.K. Fisher, Szukolski and I were there for dinner. Szukolski talked marvelously. His theory of education — keeping books and stuffed knowledge from people until they’ve learned to think and to judge material. As he said, ‘Everything a youth reads is considered authority, under our present system. Thinking is forgotten.’ He believes that during the period of sexual awakening and growth, education should consist of manual crafts in order to sublimate [the] sexual urge in physical activity. Thinking will develop at the same time until both intellectually and physically the youth is ready for mind training. Szukolski hates critics, historians and writers of secondhand material. Speaks of them as ‘those who know more than those who do more.’ He also proposed the idea that the future wars would be fought over the control of the Gulf Stream.

This was during the 1930s. He had one idea which intrigued me — of a pyramid, a memorial to the dead of a nation. Instead of burying people in plots such as Forest Lawn or cremating them and putting them into little niches in a mausoleum, he proposed that everyone upon death would be cremated and the ashes moulded into a

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brick, and these bricks would be used to build a huge memorial pyramid. A whole generation of people, upon death, could be part of one beautiful monument. It would save the land which we now use; it would be useful as a building.

Before World War II, he returned to Poland, wishing to know again the strength of the peasant and the great vitality of the Polish people. He had divorced his wealthy wife and had married a younger woman. He no longer had the money to support his expensive schemes. As a result, he wanted to go to his native land, where he thought his abilities might be appreciated and he might become recognized as a great native sculptor.

He was there at the time of the Nazi invasion, and told later of the terrible carnage… escaping down roads with literally thousands of bodies piled on each side. They had been machine-gunned as they tried to escape. But he did escape and come back to America. Since that time, I haven’t seen him; I understand that he lives out in the Valley now and teaches some art classes there. He never used models for his drawing, and he always tried to keep his students from using them because he believed that the image had to be created in one’s mind. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest craftsman or draftsman that I have ever known.

Then there was Rockwell Kent, who came out to see us one time. As I wrote about this occasion,

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Very, very tired this morning and lay in bed fitfully sleeping until 1:00 P.M. Jake Zeitlin called, and John Cage came over to play something new he was composing. Finally rose and worked on Max Hunley’s catalogue, which I would like to finish tomorrow. At six I went to Jake’s, where Manuel Kommroff was. We talked. Later I got Paul and Margarite Landacre and Rockwell Kent came in with a girl he had picked up here. I talked to him about an article I was going to write about him. He said I could write anything. Louis Samuel of the Penguin Bookshop, who was there, told how Michael Romanoff had arrived in Los Angeles, masquerading as Rockwell Kent and for awhile got away with it. This amused Kent no end and he told of how once he was going through the quarries to get some men to sign some sort of petition, and the boss heard that he was there and came rushing down to see him. All of the men gathered around him and the boss said he had enjoyed very much the Saturday Evening Post covers that he had done. Kent felt that he couldn’t let all the workmen down since they thought he was the great man, not Rockwell Kent but Norman Rockwell. He said even out here on this, his latest visit, he had been the guest of honor at a tea given in honor of Norman Rockwell.

Kent was a vital extrovert. He too was short and full of energy and he liked nothing better than a good joke. He told us some incredible stories that evening.

Once, he said, he was sitting in a café in New York when they were just ready to close down. And a patron came in, but since everybody was ready to leave, they were going to tell him they were closing. Kent said, ‘No, let me handle him.’ So he pulled off his coat, took a napkin and a menu and went after the man. As the man would select something from the menu, Kent said, ‘Sorry, all out of it.’ Went down the whole menu until the last item which was chicken a la king. Kent took this

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order, went back to the kitchen and found that they really were out of chicken a la king. But no matter, he went to the refrigerator and pulled out a lot of things pushed them together on a plate and warmed them up. Having no lettuce, he put chips of carrots around. For bread he got out some dried hunks that had been thrown away and put them on a plate.

But, first, he took in some soup, served it to the man, then found that the table was jiggling a little — as so often happens in restaurants when one leg is a little short. So he got down on his hands and knees, though the man was protesting all the time that it was fine. He’d pull up one leg, and some soup would spill this way; then he would push it around, then he’d get up and jiggle it some more. Before the man got a taste of his soup, it was all over the table. As he got up, he stepped on the man’s toes and apologized for everything, but the man was getting more and more exasperated.

As he is going back to get the next dish, he saw a rubber sponge, a round rubber sponge.

He put it in a dish and covered it with some salt, grated some carrots on it, and took it in to the man and served it up to him. You can imagine, as the man sawed at it, what happened.

Finally the man was so angry that he asked to have the bill. Kent meticulously and slowly started putting

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down various items. He figured in every possible thing that he could, including extra butter and the tablecloth cover that had been spotted, and at the bottom of it, he added a five-dollar cover charge.

The bill came to a little more than fourteen dollars, and the man exploded. He grabbed a menu and counted up the price of each of the items and put exactly that much money on the table.

But Kent came up to him, with his hand open, and said, ‘But, sir, I have served you.’ At this, the man really exploded and told Kent off. Upon which a gleam came into Kent’s eye and a queer expression, and he said, ‘Sir, you know, I was wounded in the war. A… a… a… thing like this is going to send me back to the hospital.’ And he grabbed the man, who thought he had a crazy man on his hands, and all he wanted to do was get out of the place. But Kent grabbed his overcoat and put it on the man, as he was trying to escape as best he could. But as all good waiters do, Kent grabbed him by the collar of his overcoat, put his hand underneath to pull down his coat, whereupon, the man, in panic, fled out of the place.

Another of the amusing things that Kent recalled was when he was with a friend who had an office on the thirty-fourth floor of one of the New York skyscrapers, from which there was a magnificent view of the surrounding

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buildings. They had a pair of binoculars with which they could watch what was happening in other offices. They happened to be looking into a lawyer’s office and the name of the lawyer was printed on the window as so often happened in those days. They saw him pursuing his secretary. They looked up the phone number and rang the phone. The man answered it, and Kent said in a very low voice, ‘This is God watching. Do you think you should be doing that?’ And hung up. [Laughter]

During the First World War, he had a studio on the island of Newfoundland. Kent always loved the colder climates, it seemed. America was not in the war at that time, but the Canadians and Newfoundlers were involved in it. Kent was only concerned with his own sketching, but the Newfoundlers became suspicious of him — a man who was drawing pictures of various strategic places on their island, and so he was accused of being a German spy. Well, Kent would take nothing like this lying down. He put a German Cross on the outside of his studio. Then, from time to time, he would letter a little sign which he would put up over his door. One of them was the ‘Chart Room᾿ another was the ‘Bomb House.’ In time he became so suspect that he was asked to leave as a German spy.

He told of one other interesting experience when he was up there. He liked to play tennis. Next to him there was a open plot of ground, and he asked the farmer

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who owned it if he could use it as a tennis court. The man acquiesced and thought it might be fun to watch. For weeks, Kent and some of his pals worked on it — smoothed it out put some clay on it and got it into pretty good shape. Then the farmer came and said to him that he had changed his mind, and he was going to plow it up and plant it in potatoes.

Kent used his persuasiveness to no avail, and then in complete anger blasted the man with all of the invective possible. And Kent’s vocabulary was such that it must have been quite a thing to hear. The farmer didn’t care too much for this, and Kent was hauled into court. And it was much more serious than he had originally thought it might be, because, among other things, he had said, ‘I’m going to kill you if you touch that tennis court.’ And so here was a murder threat. It came to court, and Kent pondered about his case for quite awhile before he got in there, because actually he had little or no defense.

As he was waiting while the farmer was making his accusation, Kent was drawing, making caricatures of the man which, when finished, he would throw on the floor. It amused everybody but the farmer. The farmer, however, felt that he had a pretty good case and strutted around. But as he came to his final point standing before Kent, Kent looked down and whispered to him, ‘You know I think

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your fly’s open.’ The man retreated wherewith to confirm.

Finally Kent was brought to the stand, and they asked him if it were true that he called this gentleman some obscene names. And Kent says, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I called him such-and-such.’ And for several minutes he uttered all the blasphemies he could think of. It became so ludicrous that the courtroom was dissolved in laughter.

It was obvious that no one could be serious and call a man all of the things that came out of the very active imagination of Rockwell Kent.

Finally, the judge said, ‘And did you say that you were going to kill him?’

Kent answered, ‘Yes, I told him that I was going to kill him and eat him down to the very last hair on his head.’ Whereupon the whole case was laughed out of court, and Kent was fined five dollars and allowed to go.

In the late twenties and early thirties, there developed an interest in fine printing and book printing in Los Angeles. It was a late development in this area compared with other places in the United States and Europe. I suppose originally it had been William Morris and the Kelmscott Press that stimulated a new interest in the private press book, quickly followed in England by Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press, the Ashendene Press and many others.

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In America, Daniel Berkeley Updike and Bruce Rogers were originally inspired by William Morris, but they soon created their own style and image. There were some who aped William Morris completely, like Elbert Hubbard of the Roycrofters, and others like Will Bradley who developed his original inspiration from William Morris.

On the West Coast John Henry Nash of San Francisco was the printer who made us aware of ‘fine printing.’ Nash had been a printer since the l890s. He had been known as a ‘rule bender’ because he had, in his early days, been so adept at making decorations from rules.

He was a typographer — a typesetter, primarily — and he eventually joined the firm of Taylor and Taylor, which was one of the old and staid printing firms in San Francisco. In 1912, when the Book Club of California was founded, it offered an outlet for the printing of fine books.

Then there were some great patrons at that time. William Andrews Clark was one of these, along with the Hearsts, and they were willing to pay handsomely to have limited and finely printed editions done privately for themselves.

His success induced other printers to come to San Francisco. The Grabhorn brothers came from Indianapolis along with several others, but the Grabhorns and John Henry Nash were the two most important.

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In Los Angeles, there hadn’t been many fine books printed. The first really fine printer here was Bruce McCallister whose firm, Young and McCallister, during the twenties was doing some quite handsome booklets for real estate promotion, primarily for the subdivision of Bel-Air, and then Jake Zeitlin had arrived in Los Angeles as an impecunious bookseller with a great interest in fine printing.

He was a stimulating influence, importing English books by the Nonesuch Press, by the Golden Cockerel Press and others. Random House was also started about that time as an outlet for the English and American private press books. The Limited Editions Club was founded in 1928. People had money and they were madly buying the luscious, beautiful books which were being produced.

As a result, Los Angeles began to be interested in finely printed books.

There was not as great a market down here as in San Francisco, but there was enough interest to bring together a little group of which Grant Dahlstrom, Saul Marks, myself, and Gregg Anderson were probably the beginnings. Jake Zeitlin, many years later, very aptly called it, ‘a small renaissance in printing that came to Los Angeles.’

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[«»] Tape Number: EIGHT, SIDE TWO
April 13th, 1965

Ward Ritchie: Last time we were just getting around to the minor renaissance of printing that came to Los Angeles in the latter part of the 1920s and continued through the early Depression days. Bruce McCallister had been doing some fine work in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until fairly late in the twenties that he became involved in the printing of books to any great extent. The first book that he did, he once told me, was by a man named Driscoll, called The Two Oldest Things in the World. I’ve never seen a copy of the book so I couldn’t tell much about it. The earliest of his books that I have seen was the biography of Arthur Letts which was probably printed about 1927 or so. He had done a couple of bound books which were really real estate pamphlets, though. One of them, as I recall, was for Bel-Air when it was being offered to the public the first time, and it was really a beautifully conceived and printed book.

He was given a commission to print a history of Warner’s Ranch about 1928. He was involved in this when a young man from Utah arrived and applied for a job. His name was Grant Dahlstrom. Grant was a Mormon boy who had grown up in Ogden, Utah, and had worked, to a certain extent, in a printing plant there and had gone East to

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Carnegie Institute of Technology, which had an outstanding printing program, which it still has. He stayed there two years and was fortunate during this time to come under the influence of Porter Garnett, who was operating the Laboratory Press at Carnegie Tech. Inasmuch as only upper-classmen were ever allowed to work at the Laboratory Press, Grant was not an actual member of that, but he did take courses from Porter Garnett, and it had quite an influence on him.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, he was already a most capable designer. His earliest works were mature, restrained and extremely well-conceived. McCallister turned over to him the design of the title page of the Warner’s Ranch book, and it was a very successful one. It is of importance in Los Angeles bookmaking inasmuch as it was the first book printed in Los Angeles that was selected as one of the Fifty Books of the Year.

McCallister was becoming more and more interested in books, and the young bookseller, Jake Zeitlin, aided and abetted his interest. Together they brought out Sarah Bixby Smith’s Adobe Days, Jake published it. They also did Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies, a translation of an early German book on Los Angeles. The Depression, however, curtailed a lot of the business which the firm of Young and McCallister previously had had, and the stock

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market crash eliminated a good part of McCallister’s savings. The firm was on uneasy foundations after 1929.

As I recall, the Bank of America had a certain interest in the firm and did its best to help it survive. They moved from their fine building at the corner of Pico and Santee Streets across the Los Angeles River and consolidated with a lithograph company which was also in trouble. They managed to linger on for another year or so, but finally the whole operation was liquidated in 1933, or so. At the time there was a newspaper called Shopping News in Los Angeles which was a giveaway and was going great guns. This firm wanted to acquire some of the aura of Bruce McCallister and also to put in a definite printing department in addition to the newspaper which they printed. So Bruce McCallister and with him Grant Dahlstrom were given a job by Shopping News and headed an adjunct which was called Adcraft. The two of them must have stayed there for about ten years until the middle of the war. Dahlstrom remained in the position of the creative director, and designed numerous books which they printed. They did several for the Huntington Library during this period, and one especially beautiful book about Kachinas, which was written by Gene Meany Hodge, the wife of Frederick Hodge of the Southwest Museum.

This combination broke up during the war, about 1943, and Grant Dahlstrom for a short time was production manager

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for a small advertising agency in Los Angeles. Then he bought the Castle Press from House Olson and Roscoe Thomas in Pasadena. Unfortunately, Grant was taken ill soon after this. It was quite a struggle for awhile, but he survived the illness as did his Press. The Castle Press, since then, has been an integral part of the printing community — an extremely important cog — and while Grant has not specialized in books, he still has done two or three each year. They’re all notable examples of fine printing. During recent years, he has been aided by numerous good designers; many have come from the East and can always find a spot at Grant’s Press to work. I think especially of Edward Alonzo Miller, formerly of Marchbanks Press, and more recently of Gary Feerer, who is one of the most talented of the younger group that is now coming up. Gary got his apprenticeship at our press several years ago, working as an apprentice in our composing room. We recognized him at that time as one with great ability and great potential. He tired of the printing business temporarily and went into business for two or three years and then decided to get back into the printing business, and Grant Dahlstrom hired him as a salesman. He proved to be an extremely good salesman because he sold creatively. He could make attractive designs and sell the package to his customers. He has been creating some extremely fine things, in the educa-

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tional field, primarily at Occidental College and at several other of the schools. He left Grant and associated with an artist in Claremont, California by the name of Tom Jamieson.

It looked as if the two would make a happy combination and would add fresh life and vitality to the printing in this area. He has since returned to work with the Castle Press.

Saul Marks has become the premier printer, I believe, of Los Angeles. His books are all beautiful and immaculate.

While presumably a commercial printer, there is nothing commercial about anything that Saul does. When he conceives a book or a catalog, cost and time are not important factors to him. He wants it as perfect and as beautiful as he can make it. While he struggled for a good many years, he now can attract the kind of customers who can afford to pay the prices that he must have for his work. He is not a creative printer in the sense that Dahlstrom is. If you look at the output of Saul’s over the last thirty years, there is a consistent sameness to it, but he has maintained an impeccable beauty throughout it all. It’s much as with the Doves Press or most of the early private presses. They adopted a style or format and for book after book followed in the same pattern.

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Aside from an occasional use of illustration, which gives variety to the appearance of Saul’s books, most of them do follow the typographic pattern which he developed early. He was born in Poland. Oddly enough, he and I were born on the same day, on June 15, 1905, and we will both celebrate our sixtieth birthday this year [1966]  — hopefully together, enjoying it all. He began printing at quite an early age. He told me that he was working for a printing shop in Poland at the age of twelve, which was during the First World War. The proprietors were taking advantage of the whole situation and were counterfeiting German marks at that time. They were caught and incarcerated for the duration of the war and Saul, with a thirteen-year-old apprentice, were left in complete charge of the printing plant.

These two boys managed somehow to survive the war, along with the printing plant. And so he had good basic training right there.

After the war, he came to the United States and worked in New York and Detroit, getting good training. He also joined the Army for three years, and with the amount of leisure that you have in the Army, he was able to study printing and typefaces. Before, his knowledge had been mostly practical, but now, he was also trying to find out what other people had done and were doing. He married Lillian Simon in 1928 in Detroit. During his

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army stint he had been stationed in Panama and evidently had passed through the West Coast, and they decided that they would like to settle in a more equitable climate than that which Detroit afforded. They came to Los Angeles, knowing no one, but with good and unerring instinct, he went directly to Bruce McCallister, and Bruce McCallister was able to direct him to another young fellow by the name of Rising. Saul went to work with him and in a short time they formed a firm called Rising-Marks, specializing in advertising typography. It was about this time that I first met Saul, though my first definite recollection of him was not until after I returned from Europe in 1931. At that time, he had his office or studio in the Printing Center Building on Maple, near Pico. It was not large but it was an extremely nice, with great glass windows affording a beautiful vista of Los Angeles. Jake Zeitlin had received from him sometime previously an interesting invitation to become a customer. I found a copy in the Clark Library at one time and made a copy of it. It read:

Mr. Jake Zeitlin:

Herewith an offering of thanks to whatever gods direct the destiny of a new born business — for the good fortune which led our footsteps to your door, and for the kindly welcome given our representative. With high hopes and roseate dreams we have set ourselves to the task of creating fine typography — not the arty effusions of zealous novitiates, but clean and vigorous presentations of your advertising

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ideas, prepared by craftsmen who have matured in that school which sees value in the printed word only when it produces actual sales. In Los Angeles there exists, so we believe, definite need for an organization such as we have perfected — where the piece of copy you write, accompanied on occasions by no more than a notation as to size, will be transformed into the complete unity of a forceful advertising message. It is our hope, too, that we may sit in with you when printing of the better sort is required, or in the making of a fine book. By limiting our composition to the more particular items, we are enabled to avoid the hurry and stress which frequently mars the performance of even the best printers. Nor are charges here materially higher than you would ordinarily pay — for the application of intelligence and good taste need not command a fancy premium. Again, thank you for your courtesy.

I never have known who wrote this, but these two boys were ambitious. As a result of this promotion piece Jake gave them the commission to do a catalogue which Paul Jordan-Smith had written for him called The King’s Treasury of Pleasant Books and Precious Manuscripts. This catalogue is probably one of the handsomest that was ever printed. Looking at it today, you would say that this is not only the Saul Marks of thirty-four years ago, but it’s still the Saul Marks of today — the same use of small cap initial letters to go with italic types and also the exquisite use of ornaments. I don’t remember whether the firm of Rising-Marks had broken up during the printing of this catalogue or after it, but it was about that time when Saul separated from Rising and started the Plantin Press.

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This catalogue was done in the same way that Saul would do his finest work today. It was completely set by hand. Time was not a factor to Saul but it was to Jake, because a catalogue is supposed to sell the books on hand. But months passed, and Saul tediously worked away, setting and setting and setting and proofing and arranging and showing proofs to Jake who, in the meantime, was getting more and more nervous because he had a tidy investment in these particular books. He couldn’t hold them out as a more affluent bookseller might have, a Mr. Maggs for instance; so he gradually sold off the books that were included in this catalogue.

But, knowing Saul, he didn’t dare substitute any new copy to replace those sold. Eventually the catalogue did come out, and it was an artistic triumph, though I am not sure that there were enough unsold books in it to make it financially successful for Jake.

Another book which was of great interest to all of us at this time was a book of poems by a young California poet by the name of Edward Doro. Doro had had a previous book published in the East which had been praised by Conrad Aiken. Doro was not only a young man of accomplishment whom we were all proud to know, but he also had a pretty good opinion of his own ability. He had a group of poems, The Boar & Shiboleth, which Saul undertook to print for him. And Doro made arrangements with Alfred Knopf

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to publish the book. Saul was a little unsure of himself at that time, but Grant Dahlstrom had been of great help to him during these formative years, and he relied pretty much on Grant to help him with the design for this book.

They also inveigled Paul Landacre to do the illustrations for the book. All jelled and worked together quite nicely, except that Doro was a little more impatient than Jake Zeitlin had been, and before the book was printed, he grabbed the type and the wood engravings and took them to another printer who did the actual presswork on the book.

Jake had a manuscript, a translation of Dumas’ A Gil Blas in California, which he wanted to publish. He arranged with Saul to do this for him, and Saul made some preliminary designs for it, which I still have some place. But at this time, Phil Townsend Hanna and I joined Zeitlin in the Primavera Press, and it was my job to design all of the Primavera books. Saul’s arrangements were discarded, and I did the design of that book, but Saul printed it. He then had moved out of the Printing Center Building and was ensconced on the second floor of a little two-story building on Pico. He had a new partner, a young accountant by the name of Kenneth MacKay, who worked at his own job during the day and was able to support the new enterprise with what he made and what it was making. They called it the Plantin Press, the name which has survived for all of Saul’s work until today.

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They bought a large Laureate press on which A Gil Blas in California was printed, four pages at a time. It was an enviable press to me at that time; I came and admired and wished that I could have something as good as it seemed to be. But to Saul, it was a headache which a printer with less patience would have discarded immediately. Somewhere in its career of much use, it had developed such a lopsidedness that it was impossible to get a level impression. One edge of the bed was lower than the other side, and it was a matter of building up each form to compensate for this nonalignment.

As I think back on it now, it must have taken tedious hour after hour with each form to line it up, but Saul did it and never with too much complaint. It was to him a part of the craft, to take what you had and make it perfect, which he did in this case.

A Gil Blas turned out to be another one of Jake’s great headaches because he and Saul had signed a contract in which Saul was to deliver the books in May of 1933.

But it took time, as you can understand, and May passed and no books. But Jake was not too worried at that time because he was still thinking of the Christmas season, and if he could get the books early in the Fall, that would be good enough, Saul had told him that he didn’t have to worry, that he would have the books in ample time for Christmas. And actually Jake did. On

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Christmas Eve Saul delivered the first copy of the book. [laughter]

Saul’s next purchase… he got rid of the Laureate after some time… was a huge Babcock cylinder press. The place where they were located was hardly large enough to accommodate this new press, so he rented a loft on Los Angeles Street, between Second and Third. One climbed dingy, dreary, dirty stairs to get to it — a huge, open loft. It was the kind of place which would echo with eerie sounds — it was a frightening place to think of working at night but, of course, Saul did it continuously. As always, the first thing that he wanted to do was master this behemoth that he had purchased — this new press. And he did. He became a very skillful pressman on this great new press. He also had a little Washington hand press at that time and printed several things on that.

His next move was to Sunset Boulevard, also with the big press. Eventually, he and Kenneth MacKay broke up their partnership, and Saul moved to his present home on Manzanita, which is just off the Junction of Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards; and put his equipment in the downstairs room of that building. While he has had occasional help, no one can quite satisfy his demands for perfection, and so none of his helpers have lasted too long, with the exception of his wife Lillian. She learned to use the

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monotype machine. She does most of the settings and Saul has been doing the presswork — with occasional help, as I have said. For awhile [a while] their two boys worked with them, but they have gone on to their own careers now.

They have gone to graduate school and are carving out their own careers.

For a while Saul had a laboratory course at the University of Southern California. They gave him a little room to use. He borrowed the Huntington Library’s hand-press for his first year and then the University bought through Muir Dawson, who found for them in England, an Albion Press. The course must have been a fascinating one; it was taken by a good many librarians from UCLA and other places. Dr. Andrew Horn and Dr. Richard Doctor were among the students. Only a handful, of course, could be accommodated. Saul signed up to teach one day a week, one afternoon, which was a Thursday.

He found, however, that he couldn’t get everything done on one afternoon, and he started coming over on Saturdays, just in order to clean things up and get them arranged for his class the next Thursday. But his students, who were so eager and avid for his instruction, found out that he was coming in on Saturdays, and one by one, they started creeping in on Saturdays too. Eventually, he found that instead of teaching one day a week, he was teaching two days a week, which in time, I believe, became just a little too much for him and he had to give

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it up.

The little projects which they did there were just as impressive as the books he did on his own because he had such a requirement for perfection.

He insisted that his students do everything as perfect as he would have done if he were doing them himself. There weren’t too many pieces that came out of these classes — but those that were printed were great.

There were several other interesting printers who started out in the late twenties and early thirties, though none have developed and continued quite as successfully as Dahlstrom and Marks have. Especially, I think of Thomas Perry Stricker. Stricker was probably a little older than the rest of us because I know that he was an infantry man in the First World War.

He started out as an usher in a small town movie theater, then as a salesman of canned meats, an order deskman for a wholesale food company, a restaurant operator, and finally with a job in a circulating library. This eventually led him into the book department of the Powers Mercantile Company in Minneapolis where he became avidly interested in books — contents, as well as appearance.

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He came West In 1928, and he got a job in a restaurant, but he also acted as advertising manager for the American Dancer magazine and later became assistant publisher of the Daily Screen World.

It was mere chance that led him into a career in printing. One day he saw a proof press for sale for fifty dollars, and by some strange compulsion he bought it. It was just one of those whims of the moment. He knew nothing about printing. The probable reason why he bought it was that he was a writer, and this was one way of getting his words into print.

He learned, by trial and error, the whole procedure. He had had no experience whatsoever in printing. But since he had bought the press, he also got some type and started setting small things. The first inkling I had of this new printing firm in Los Angeles was when Robinson’s Department Store issued a small volume, by Laurence Sterne, A Fragment in the Manner of Rabelais and the Memoirs in an edition of one hundred copies printed by this fellow Thomas Perry Stricker. Later on I got to know him fairly well and was amazed by what he was able to do on a small proof press.

Throughout his career in printing, he never had anything more than a proof press, on which to print. The first one that he had was kept in his room, which was in the garage of a house owned by Gaylord Beaman, who was a well known book collector and clubman around Los Angeles. It

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was off Seventh Street in one of those great old houses of the early days of the century. Stricker had a few fonts of type and his proof press. Each form he inked by hand and pulled off an impression a sheet at a time. One of his most amazing accomplishments was a book which he printed called The Town Pump. Now this is a fairly sizable book of a couple of hundred pages which he set by hand and printed two pages at a time on his proof press.

I imagine it was done in an edition of a thousand copies, and it was well enough done to have been selected as one of the Fifty Books of the Year.

A couple of years later we had printed a book called Who Loves a Garden for The Primavera Press, and the first edition I had bound by hand in our kitchen at home. But when it went into a second edition, we wanted something a little more professional, and Perry Stricker offered his services. We gave the job to him, and, it was amazing with what craftsmanship he bound these books. I doubt if he had ever known anything about binding except what he had learned in doing his own few books.

In 1933, Stricker left Los Angeles. He sold his press and his type to Delmer Daves, a motion picture producer [who, incidentally, later directed the 1947 Bogart-Bacall noir movie Dark Passage: see Wikipedia] who was always interested in dabbling in printing, but never got around to using the press. Finally he melted down all the type and made lead soldiers out of it.

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In New York, Stricker became involved with the Typophiles, an informal club of printers who met for luncheon once a week under the supervision of Paul Bennett. In the early days, the Typophiles issued several books with a central theme, and various members would print and contribute a section. They did one about Bruce Rogers, another about Frederic Goudy. The first one of the Typophiles books in which I was involved was one consisting of designs of the Typophiles’ mark or device.

Each contributor designed one, and then they were all printed together in one volume of a couple of hundred different Typophiles’ marks. This type of books was issued during the early years of the Typophiles. Stricker himself printed a volume called The Typophiles Whodunit, was a book telling about the various early Typophile books.

Later the Typophiles started a new series in which the books were much smaller and each one was printed by a different printer. Now there are thirty or forty volumes in this series which is also an important contribution to the story of American printing.

Stricker developed enormously during his stay in New York. For one thing, for the first time in his life, he was associating with printers. In California, he had always been a lone wolf, hardly ever joining the rest of us out here. In New York he associated with Goudy, Bruce Rogers and all of the important ones and he got to know

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them intimately. Also he had a job with the Bauer Type Foundry there. He accumulated from them a great assortment of type — their very handsome Bauer Bodoni and several others which he started using on the little books which he printed. He bought a small Vandercook proof press on which he did his printing. The majority of these he also wrote himself.

He was an amazing, and quite scholarly, man. His most interesting productions were some little pamphlets on printing. One of them was called Enter The Black Art, which was about the invention of printing. A few years later, he revised it and printed it under the title Herr Faust and His Goose Flesh. In 1938, he returned to southern California and set up his press in an apartment on Fairfax Boulevard. He did a book about the Hollywood Bowl. He was ambitious to get something that would bring in money; he thought this book about the Hollywood Bowl would be a great seller. But he was never really able to make money.

How he ever survived I don’t know. He was married at this time, and he later moved into one of William Cheney’s apartments, and lived there for a year or so before deciding to go back to New York. And soon thereafter, he died — premature, but he hadn’t been well for many years. I don’t know if it had resulted from his army life or what it was.

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Stricker was interesting, intellectual in a way — very intellectual. It was a self-trained intellect. He read; he studied. During part of the Depression, he worked on one of the WPA projects, gathering the archives of certain California libraries.

He was never happy. He could never keep friends because he became morose and critical. He was critical about all of his contemporaries.

I recall one memorable night. This was just after he had returned from New York, and naturally I was most curious, about all of the great and near great in the printing world who lived in and around New York. He came over to dinner, and we sat around and yakked for hours. I recall it especially because Mike Elwood of the Lords and Elwood, who were liquor dealers here, had found some 1917 California Mountain Red wine, which somehow or other had been stored away due to litigation for all of these years. Finally, the case had been settled, and Mike had picked up a hundred cases or so of this wine and was selling it very reasonably. On this particular night, Stricker and I started opening these bottles of 1917 wine, and I was afraid at the time that they might be a little too old to be palatable, but actually they turned out quite good.

He told about the great dinner that they had had to honor Goudy. When Stricker drank too much, he became possibly the most obnoxious person I’ve ever known, and on this particular evening he had gone to a cocktail party

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before the Goudy party. There they had more cocktails before dinner. He happened to sit between two people who didn’t drink, and so all of their drinks came to him. It was a very pleasant evening, with everybody getting up and praising Goudy and giving him his due as the grand old man of type. All of a sudden, as Stricker told me, he got up and said, ‘Now you’re all here tonight praising Goudy, and I know better how you feel because I’ve heard you talk about him and his types. Bruce Rogers, you have praised Goudy on this occasion and yet you told me yourself that you thought he was an old faker and never designed a good type.’

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[«»] Tape Number : TAPE NINE, SIDE ONE
April 20th, 1965

Ward Ritchie: Stricker was a frustrated man most of his life, and possibly that is why he was so morose. He had occasional good times. As I recall, he was quite happy when he was on the WPA project because he felt then that he was accomplishing something. During the war he spent some time at Douglas Aircraft, and I saw him briefly while I was also working down there. He seemed quite satisfied with himself at that time, too. His stay in New York probably was frustrating again because while he did do some nice things, he still was not receiving the plaudits as were Bruce Rogers, Goudy, and those who had a much greater reputation. Within himself, Stricker always felt that he had superior abilities. The man certainly had great ability, and it is unfortunate that through his life he was never able to show one major accomplishment. The things that he has left are primarily trivia. They are beautiful trivia though and show what ability the man actually did have. It is quite unfortunate that most of these were printed in such small editions — fifty, a hundred copies — and they will never be well-known even among the connoisseurs of fine printing.

After staying in New York, he returned to California, bringing with him his accumulation of Bauer types and also

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the little proof press. He stayed in California for a couple of years, finally ending up in the apartment house of William Cheney, who had been one of his earlier protégés. In time, Cheney tired of taking care of Stricker and his wife and evidently arranged for Stricker to leave the apartments (since I am sure that Stricker never paid any rent), and Stricker decided to return to New York. At that time he called me and asked me if I would buy his type and equipment. It was quite evident that he needed the money in order to leave and we were quite happy to buy what he had because his selection of typefaces was perfect. He had Weiss types, the Bauer Bodonis and many of the nice Bauer ornaments. As I recall, we paid him about three hundred and fifty dollars for what he had. He was happy, and we were happy with it.

William Cheney, who was introduced to printing by Stricker, is one of the most curious of all printers. He is a tall, angular fellow, slightly balding, and wearing a trim moustache. He is one of the great introverts and has spent most of his life within himself — it always seemed to me. He desires friends, and in his own curious way he has sought out mentors and has become attached to them, deluging them with correspondence, with little printed pieces and expressions of his own inner humor and creativeness. He was born in Los Angeles and went through school

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here, taking a couple of years at the University of Southern California before he left in the Spring of 1929 and got a job at Dawson’s Bookshop. I well remember him in those days because who could forget this great, silent fellow who seldom appeared in the front of the store, but managed to keep himself occupied back in the wrapping and shipping room. Dorothy Bevis, who was working at Dawson’s at that time, was intrigued by this man who seemed to be creating a little world of his own. He was intrigued by elves and trolls and things like that, and in his spare time he built a troll world. He created a language for the trolls and wrote a language for the trolls and wrote a little book about them. Gaylord Beaman, who was a frequent visitor to Dawson’s Bookshop, was also intrigued by this fellow, and since at the time, Perry Stricker was ensconced in the garage in back of Beaman’s home and was doing some printing, Beaman introduced Cheney to Stricker, whereupon Stricker made a deal with Cheney. He would teach him to print so that he could put his troll book into type and on paper if Cheney would act as an apprentice and a helper to Stricker, who at that time was hard at work on his book, The Town Pump. Cheney’s Voyage to Trolland was finally completed. It was the first product of the Auk Press, which was the name which Cheney gave to his press. Surreptitiously Cheney bought for himself a Poco proof press and stashed it away under the bed in his room

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at home. Stricker felt that he had a proprietary interest in Cheney, and he was much disturbed when Leo Linder in 1933 saw Cheney’s press and mentioned it to Stricker. It was then that Cheney went out on his own. Cheney got out a little announcement of the Auk Press, in which he said,

The Auk wishes to make known the existence of his Press. He is actually able to set type & print, inept as he appears, and different as he is from any other Auk you’ve seen.

Having acquired some Caslon Oldstyle type (in which this, his manifesto, is set), both roman & italic, and also a bit of black letter, (the heavy, ornate letter sometimes called Old English), he feels prepared to print such letterheads, pamphlets, tracts, chapbooks, simple almanacs, or volumes of poetry, as may occasionally come his way. In the course of time he shall have acquired a variety of typefaces, both tasteful and tasteless, for the satisfaction of those whom he can’t convince that this Caslon is the most beautiful of all types… (Then, as customary with all of Cheney’s writing, he has to get into the esoteric or the different. And he goes on with his prospectus, telling about the variations of ’q’s, then about ligatures, and of the old-fashioned ’s,’ and finally ends up)… The Auk possesses a full run of ligatures, and stands ready to print for you with them, or without them, where the text does not demand them.

Yr Obednt Servt, The Auk.

The first job which Cheney got was a little list of members of the Zamorano Club, which was authorized and printed for Gaylord Beaman. He next did quite an ambitious book called Rabelaisian Phauncies, which was written under a pseudonym by Paul Jordan-Smith the author — and, at that time, literary editor of the Los Angeles Times. It was a truly Rabelaisian book, though more fun than

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Certainly, it would not be considered salacious these days. Cheney printed it, but in printing it, he had to add his own whimsical touch to it, which consisted of footnotes throughout the book which add that curious touch that only Cheney could give.

There were never too many actual jobs that came to the Auk Press, so in order to fill his time he had to make his own projects. He and a friend of his decided to print a little magazine which they called The Fortnightly Intruder. It is one of the most amazing tour de forces that I have run into. It is doubtful that there were more than a dozen or two subscribers to it, and yet for almost two years, he faithfully wrote, set type and printed this little magazine which was conceived and written as if it were done in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, with all of the curious language of that time. It was a period that intrigued Cheney and he himself almost reverted to an eighteenth century man while he was working on this. Back in 1936, I had this letter from him:

Dear Mr. Ritchie,

We are greatful for yr appreciation and yr subscription wch extends from Sept. 15, ’36 — Mar. 15, ’37.
    We are rather ashamed of not having any printed stationary [stationery] on which to acknowledge subscriptions; to write to the New York Public Library assuring them that we shan’t send them a bill for the copies they have rec’d, etc.; but the Intruder’s undernourished poor printer, what with having to set & throw type, (there’s enough only for two & a

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half pages at a time), print on a very antique, Poco proof press, fold, mail and write half the copy besides, is too taken up by this unseemly haste to find time to provide us any stationary.

At that time he affected the abbreviations such as ‘yrs’ for yours and his handwriting even reminds one of an eighteenth century scholar.

As I mentioned, during various periods of his life, he has attached himself to different people and deluged them with these long and most curious letters. He doesn’t expect an answer; sometimes if he gets an answer, it throws him off and he goes to somebody else. Early in his career, I seemed to be the one who received most of these and they are extremely interesting:

Ward Ritchie, Esq.

Dear Squire, That ‘S’ has been lately acquired from looking at an Elizabethan Mss.; so it had to be gotten in here. (in writing the word ‘Squire,’ he has a very peculiar ‘S’ which he was using.) It was pleasant to receive your letter, esp. as I was just passing through one of my periodic phases of mental depression — or recession, whichever is the choice term. As for your stopping by here, I am always sulking about these premises in the forenoon and up to about one o’clock. Thereafter I go downtown or for a gloomy walk indefinitely athwart the city. But if I could know when you were coming I cd contrive to be at home at any time. As for my stopping by at your house, I’ve forgotten now what are the afternoons that you teach. Are they Tuesday & Thursday?

My printing business is sprawled on its back — horribly supine. I find that while I enjoy type setting & press running, I by no means enjoy business negotiating, paper buying, price estimating, account keeping, etc. The answer to that is that we all have to do things we don’t like to do; but somehow

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such answers never goad me into action: I have magnificent powers of passive resistance.

To continue about myself, since, for some reason, we are discussing me in this letter — the printing business having gone under, I have turned all my powers to writing. After a month of labor I have produced two Mss. pages on the Subject of Handwriting. As is usual with my style, the composition is a mere succession of abrupt verbal propositions, with no human interest in it anywhere. The more I revise, the abrupter it becomes. Whimsy is all very well if it is genial & pleasant reading; but mine is an icy whimsy, delivered in curt sentences and sterile words.

A landslide of pictures in poor taste has recently descended on Paul Jordan-Smith. I imagine he wishes he had never been born; or else that I had something else to do than scratch unseemly pictures & send them along to him.

Your position is an enviable one, with this spectre of ‘permanent labor to shy from and constantly dread,’ even if the labor is that of moving. Having one’s work all cut out for one is much pleasanter than having to think up things to do, esp. if one has a sluggish mind. Not that you have a sluggish mind: I’m talking about myself again.

I shall probably put in an appearance sometime in the forepart of next week — Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I really have forgotten which days you are not there. But then, if you’re not there one day you will be another.

Do you like to play a pipe organ? There is one around this house somewhere that my grandfather installed back in 1913, which is also the number of the house. He used to joke about that at the breakfast table (joke about the identity in numerals, I mean), over a slice of raisin pie, wch, being a Yankee, he had for breakfast every morning, — that or pumpkin pie. If you cannot play very well you need not be embarrassed, for I can not play at all. I can sing the tune to ’Take, oh take those lips away,’ but I can’t play it. I’ll make some tea while you play at the organ. Unless you would rather have coffee. If you don’t want to be bothered by the organ, I have a more or less complete set of National Geographic’s , a dog, a cat, a duck, & pictures of myself as a baby. Also a small pipe collection, but you probably don’t smoke. At least, I didn’t notice an ash tray in your study. Beaman doesn’t smoke either. How do you people live without smoking?

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You’d be interested in the handwriting here, and of course it’s hard to read because he has the long Elizabethan ‘S’s and his contractions of so many words and the funny ‘d’ that he uses.

Dixon: [looking at writing] It does look eighteenth century.

Ward Ritchie: This following letter was written in March, 1938, and his handwriting had become even more Elizabethan so it’s even a little more difficult to read:

Ward Ritchie, Esq.

Dear Sir,

I do not know whether I sufficiently expounded in my last the difficulties I encounter in composition. You have probably rec’d a remote impression of my scriptory circumstances, but no complete representation, implication, but no exposita; hairlines and convolutions, but no body strokes. But adumbrations are inadequate; we must profound deeper into this question.

In brief, I cannot narrate, I cannot describe, I cannot write consecutively. I have sometimes an impish verbal facility, sometimes an expression quick, nervous & almost exact. But there is no style, for there’s no connotation in my words. I have no moods but those of the syllogism. In language like Ice. And, further than this: revise & reword as I may, I can not escape an excess of sibilants, & ‘t’s,’ ‘p’s’ & short ‘i’ and ‘e’ recurrences. There is so much of these that my writing actually spits. And yet there were those that complained that there were not enough spit in the Intruder. They never read any of my part of these papers aloud.

Such folk as I have much the same difficulties in love-making as in literary composition.

We helpless misfits have, of course, our compensations. We can not make money; but then, we do not very much require it. We do not get along; but we do not need to. But, unfortunately, we have no compensation where we appear to need it most. We cannot afford a wife; we can not take care of a wife; we do not know how to set about getting a

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wife, we know no woman & know not where to find them; Yet, sir, we have not been granted an immunity to the attraction of women or to the concept of home & children. And, most unfortunately, we are precisionists in taste. The normal man will settle down finally with a plain woman — with a brunette. But we incompletents are not easily satisfied: We do not desire those women who wd have us because they could get no other men; we desire women who are heavenly glorious — blondes, angels; or else, no woman at all.

Then he fills out the page with what he calls, ‘a few more collected autographs’ including Cleopatra’s signature; Eve’s signature; Father Adam’s signature; William Shakespeare’s signature; the still small voice of God, his signature; Aristotle, his mark; Satan.

The Fortnightly Intruder came out over a period of about two years. It started out arriving every fortnight, but the mere labor of writing and printing it resulted in issues coming out later and later. The March 15th issue would be coming out in June, and the June issue would be coming out in December, and so it went. But he did manage to finish the complete year’s issues, and I imagine that there are very few sets around. He then wrote and printed a book of over 100 pages on a variety of subjects — handwriting, spelling, toads, words, and the longest essay on blondes.

He was most intrigued with blondes at this time. One of my former students, a girl by the name of Jane Frampton, a magnificently beautiful blonde, was doing her master’s thesis at Occidental College. She decided to do it on

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the printers of southern California. I helped her in collecting material and took her around and introduced her to the various printers. One day I took her to Cheney’s house; he was living at 1913 West Third Street at that time. It was while the organ was still there, and he had a couple of ducks in the backyard. Cheney, with his shy whimsy, his awkward gait, showed us the place and served us tea. He was a little embarrassed, but for months after that I was getting letters about this beautiful creature that had come into his life. I’m not sure if the essay on blondes stemmed from this girl or whether he had an earlier inborn preference for blondes.

He wrote me on August 17, 1939:

Dear Ward,

I bound twenty of the books, then got sick of the damn’d things & threw the rest away.

      You don’t happen to know anyone, do you, that wants a ratty old proof press? I’m moving shortly & don’t want the useless expense of carting that thing along. Launcey Powell for some reason is trying to interest me in some poet that he has up in the San Joaquin Valley. I never cd bear poetry & don’t see why people have to keep telling me about it.



(This poet was William Everson, who later became a Catholic lay brother — Brother Antoninus.)

Cheney did more or less give up printing at that time, and it wasn’t until seven or eight years later that he came back to his old love. I had a note on August 1, 1946, from him:

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Dear Ward Ritchie,

One hot Tuesday forenoon recently I stumbled into your shop on Hyperion, where I was courteously received but failed pitilessly in my effort to see you. They tell me you stay downtown now where the climate, I conceive, is hotter and stickier and smokier by several degrees than it is on Hyperion.

Eheu! fugaces labuntus anni, swiftly glide the years. Five of them went by in the Engineering Division of Douglas Aircraft, where by dint of sheer being there I finally became an ‘A’ draftsman, a sort of designer & layout man, although I never did learn what it was all about. During those five years, buried in the factory by day & often by night, I received hints & delayed reports from time to time of changes in the old world of Los Angeles of the Thirties. A bookseller, named Terry or Kelly, from Beverly Hills, called to ask whether he could get two or three complete sets of the Intruder, a pamphlet of long ago. He had found out about this publication when he had bought Mr. Beaman’s library. This was the first I knew of A. Gaylord Beaman’s death. Then, in the summer of ’45, Lawrence Clark Powell at the Clark Mem. Library, writing to ask for any specimen of Stricker’s work that I might have, informed me that Stricker had died the year before. Others of my friends and acquaintances have scattered over the surface of the earth. The editor of the aforementioned Intruder, having served overseas in the Navy, formed an attachment to the Marianas and is now settled there with his wife and little daughter. Some have migrated to the apple orchards of the Columbia Gorge, to the black soil of Wisconsin, to Mexico, to Brazil, one is even trying to get permission to remain in England.

      Meditating these days I decided that I also should leave Los Angeles for somewhere in the surrounding countryside. But farms, it turns out, are beyond reason to buy now; and besides, I am not well instructed in the principles of husbandry, although I follow the comic strip ‘Dick Tracy’ in the Times whenever it shows B. 0. Plenty, so that I can learn how he does it & try to be like him: but this is all theory, not practical experience. Farming, I presume, will have to be entered upon gradually, over the course of years. Accordingly, pending the time when I shall have become an all-out farmer, my mind reverts to printing as an occupation. Indeed, come to think of it, a tiny farm supplying eggs, carrots and a few bits of fruit in season, combined

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with a tiny printshop in the neighboring country town, would promise an almost ideal existence, provided that the printshop made a little money. But what does one have to know to run such a shop? I don’t suppose that even the tiniest shop, run as a commercial enterprise — not as a tragi-comic affair like the Auk Press — can long endure without a linotype and an adequate power-driven press. I wrote to country newspaper offices in Needles (later the childhood home of poet Alice Notley, wife of poet Ted Berrigan and mother of poets Anselm Berrigan and Edmund Berrigan: see Wikipedia), Monrovia and such places, which had advertised in the Want Ads that they needed a ‘Printer & Operator’, telling them that I didn’t know anything about orthodox printing establishments and that I was somewhat stupid, but that I was willing to learn and would work for nothing until I had become of some value. They did not, however, fall for this line. Do you think it would be profitable for me to learn the linotype at one of the trade schools before again approaching one of these shops? If the schools had a course in Business Management of the Hick Printshop, that would be right down my alley if I am going to set up a place of my own. Business — that’s the hard part. But it is doubtless impossible at present to get equipment to set up for oneself. That’s two years off, at least. Meanwhile, perhaps I should try to find some sucker who will take me on & let me work for him. Are you still writing from time to time? I have not seen anything since The Romance of Gutenberg. But perhaps if I had kept up better with Paul Jordan-Smith’s page, in between drawing airplane parts & dreaming about being a farmer and having a hick printshop, I might know more of what is going on. For myself, as is to be expected, I’ve done no writing to any purpose. I can always excuse myself to myself by saying that, oh well, I have the critical rather than the creative type of mind &, therefore, don’t have to write. I reckon that if a guy write anything during his roaring forties, wch are said to be his period of greatest power, where the drive of youth, the purpose of middle age, and the judgment of age come nearest to meeting, he never will write.

      How is little Ritchie? Probably pretty big by now. I trust that you are well and able to endure the heat and haven’t any fool notions about farming, such as I have.


Will Cheney.

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Well, Will actually did get back into printing. He had sold his original equipment. Oddly enough, it was sold on December 7 , 1941, which was Pearl Harbor Day. And he sold it by advertising on the ‘Folger’s Coffee Hour’ on the radio.

He got thirty-five dollars for his press, his type and his linoleum blocks — the whole thing.

The house that Cheney had lived in on Third Street, evidently, had belonged to his grandfather. His mother and father died, and he was left with it and also quite a hunk of property down at Laguna Beach. I have noticed on the maps that one of the points down there is called Cheney’s Point, so I imagine that that was where the original property was. He sold this and bought a nice multiple residence in the western part of Los Angeles with several units; so Cheney was not hard pressed to go out and make a living. He lived fairly frugally, I would gather, and his wants were not excessive. He could devote himself, pretty much, to his writing and to his printing.

He had been married once before and divorced, and despite what he said in his letters, he evidently did find another woman because he married again later on and is still married.

After leaving Douglas, at about the time that he wrote this last letter, he put an ad in the paper: ‘Man with limited experience would like to work.’ He got a

    page 326 begins here

call from the Artesian News, and he went there and worked — making up the forms for the stereotypers, oiling the press — for over a year, until November, 1947. Then he got a job for a month at the Hollywood Mat Company, and while he was there, he saw an ad of a printing business for sale — a man who wanted a partner. He bought a sixth interest in it, which didn’t turn out too satisfactorily. The firm was called Muir and Watts. Cheney said that Watts was a pressman who could sing Welsh songs, hold a beer mug in his hand and feed the press at the same time. Cheney was there for about six months before it folded up.

Then in 1948, he got himself a small pilot press, which he operated in the basement of his apartment, and put out one of the first little tracts which he has continued to write and print. It was called ‘Type Stickers’. He then went with Grant Dahlstrom at the Castle Press and worked there for about six months and also at the Plantin Press, where he lasted only six weeks. By this time he was about ready to go on his own, and he bought a small 10 x 15 – inch Chandler & Price press, rented a small place on Pico Avenue and printed for the next several years.

In 1955, he moved into a little, back garage arrangement on La Cienega Boulevard, right by Jake Zeitlin’s Red Barn; for the first time, he had a certain amount of commercial work. Being close Jake gave him many small jobs

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and also steered other people to him. It was a good arrangement for everybody because Cheney, admittedly no businessman, loved to do the work for almost nothing. He didn’t need the money but he did enjoy being a useful and productive printer. It, however, did curtail the production of the interesting booklets that he had previously gotten out — not completely, however. After having worked with Grant, he started deluging Grant with letters and also various little printed pieces. He enjoyed creating odd things and sending them out as if Grant had printed them.

He also became interested in miniature books. I think he had always rather liked small things, and he had the time and the patience to set 6-point type, and his books began getting smaller and smaller and smaller. He also would write things such as an essay on pig Latin. Then he would write another book, a counterblast against what he had written; and then the third one would come out, a counterblast against the counterblast. He amused himself, and he certainly amused others.

The output of Cheney’s press is considerable. He has never had the style that Stricker had, for instance. He, probably, will not be considered as a great or important printer, but he is certainly the most interesting printer that we have had in Los Angeles. His type specimen books

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are charming because he writes them as he sets them.

They are all sizes, from fairly large, down to miniatures. There are additions to them from time to time.

Cheney seldom forgets anything, it seems; he has a mind like a tape recorder. He seldom enters into conversation when he is with a group, as when he attends the Rounce & Coffin Club meetings. But he sits with his ears open to everybody’s conversation, and it pours in and it stays in his memory. One of the most interesting parties the Rounce & Coffin Club had was when Dorothy Abbe came out from Hingham, Massachusetts to visit the West Coast. She was William Addison Dwiggins’ helper during the last years of his life. She lived down the street from him and catered to all of his wishes and ran the little Puttershein Press, which printed so many of Dwiggins inconsequential booklets. When she came out here, the Rounce & Coffin Club had a little party for her at Jake’s book shop. Cheney came to the party and he hardly uttered a word himself; eventually he recorded most of the conversation.

June 21, 1954. Jake called Saturday, saying that the uninhibited Abbe girl was going to be at his house Monday night. The Chnys were invited over, wch implied that all sorts of other folk, big & little, were invited. Tomorrow you will learn who they were… Tuesday, A.M. 1954. We did not set out on the long dangerous drive by Hudson until 6:45, though we were supposed to be at Jake’s by 6:30. Arriving we saw a yellow car with the top down & mud spatters & political stickers all over it, parked out in front of the Barn, and knew therefore that Nell and Grant

    page 329 begins here

had shown up. Everyone else was even later than we, except the Abbe girl who had been squired about by Jake all during the day. The Wards didn’t pull in till 7:30. Muir came sine uxore. Carolyn Anderson was there. And that’s the works: the Jakes, the Grants, the Wards, the Chnys, half the Muirs, the Abbe girl and the Anderson girl. We had a choice of Jake’s sherry or Jake’s martinis, and almost everyone except Ward & my squaw cautiously took the sherry: this includes Grant, who, however, did consent to smell a martini before he accepted the sherry. Mrs. Jake, having developed an inferiority complex about cooking, we made the hazardous La Cienega crossing & went into the Encore across the street. The New England dame, and the Anderson dame, and Adrianne — I forgot to mention her (that’s Jake’s daughter): she was also of the party, up through the dinner; after that she was packed off to bed or somewhere — had a chicken dish, with peas, and egg yolks, and feathers, and turnips, and dumplings swimming in a grey liquid. The rest of us, including Chny, had steak tips. Nell told me (Nell is the name he gives to Mrs. Dahlstrom), that the shrimp creole would be swimming in tomato & that I wdn’t like it; Grant was going to order it for me anyway, but Nory said that I shd get the steak tips. Adrianne said that it was made up of what other people left in their plates. But I didn’t see anything else to order. It turned out to be all right. Nell & I had ours with French fries; Mrs. Jake & Mrs. Chny with baked potato; Grant got over & guarded his plate so, that I cd not see what kind of potato he had. The baked potato people got sour cream too. The vegetable was Brussel sprouts. Everyone said what a good dinner it was. Grant had tea; the others, coffee. Nobody but Chny had dessert: I had cheesecake, good. Nory told me afterward that the others didn’t have dessert because they didn’t want to make Jake pay for it; the dessert was not going with the dinner. Mesdames Grant, Jake & Ward discussed beach resorts at Carpinteria, Topanga and Corona del Mar. Mrs. Ward doesn’t like the beach because she hates to sit and doesn’t care to swim unless there is somewhere to swim to. But they go to Corona del Mar where the Wards have either leased or own a house. Mrs. Grant doesn’t like to swim anywhere, but to paddle a bit, and wade, and splash around in swallow [shallow?] surf with harmless breakers, and that’s what they have at Carpinteria. Mrs. Ward said she liked to get deep all of

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a sudden, and hang the paddling foolishness — deep the way it does at Corona del Mar and Laguna: but she still didn’t want to swim unless she had somewhere to swim to. Mrs. Grant said she had taken swimming lessons but that nothing much had come of them; but since she preferred dipping & splashing anyway, it didn’t matter. Mrs. Jake said she could swim but liked floating better. Mrs. Ward said she was a damn good swimmer and explained to Mrs. Grant how to swim if your left shoulder is weaker & stiffer than your right. Mrs. Jake said that she didn’t like to sit either, but at Topanga you didn’t have to sit; you cd go for walks and explore coves and hunt shells. Mrs. Ward said (in substance) to hell with that. Mrs. Grant said she didn’t like the trains going by at Carpinteria. Mrs. Ward said it was a hell of a long drive to Corona del Mar and she advised everyone to stay off the Santa Ana Freeway. Mrs. Grant said it was all right on weekdays. Mrs. Jake said it was no trip at all to Topanga. She had the last word in this matter, but for a time it looked as if Mrs. Ward had the other two ladies subdued. They talked about Dorothy Abbe’s driving across the country by herself. Mrs. Ward said she, herself, had driven all the way from Colorado in an old car with kids squeeling [squealing] and raising cane [Cain] all the way. Mrs. Jake said that she had driven with kids across the desert.

As you can see, Cheney missed very little during the whole evening. This account goes on for several more pages in which the complete recall of the evening and what every wife had to say is incorporated.

Cheney, now, is in his element. Lawrence Clark Powell, recognizing the peculiar talents of this man, took the old coach house at the Clark Library and converted it into a small printing shop. Cheney moved his equipment over there. He prints many things for the library. He has ample time to create his own little jobs there. He is in a handsome spot with an atmosphere adapted particularly to his temperament and methods of printing. One day, the

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story of William Cheney, the most curious of current American printers, will be written. It is a terrific story.

Many of the letters which Cheney has written — to Grant Dahlstrom, to Ted Freedman, to Richard Archer and others — were gathered and edited by Ed Carpenter. The Rounce & Coffin Club printed this book, called The Type Stickers of Los Angeles. In this, a great deal of the philosophy, the curious mental contrivances of Cheney are preserved.

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[«»] Tape Number : TAPE NINE, SIDE TWO
April 27, 1965

Ritchie: The various groupings of people in Los Angeles in the late twenties have always interested me. There was, of course, the young printers’ group, which I have been mentioning, but there was also a group of intellectuals and writers. One of the outputs of this group was a cooperative magazine called Opinion. There were twenty of these people who banded together, and each put up about fifty dollars. José Rodriguez, in one of his editorials, tells the philosophy of the magazine: ‘Opinion has no particular axe (sic) to grind. It seeks rather to grind all axes. For this reason it does not solicit advertising nor grant what the newspapers call publicity. It is paid for by some twenty men and women whose professions do not alleviate the itch to write.

‘These twenty opinions are reflected in each issue Of this magazine. Sometimes with a leaning towards certain prejudices, sometimes with a bias towards others. But Opinion will always consist of biases and prejudices, candidly expressed.’

The group is a most interesting accumulation of men. It consisted of Harold Allen; Louis Adamic, the well-known writer; Walter Arensberg, who was a poet in his youth and fortunately a wealthy mam who could collect post-impressionis art when it was easily available. His collection was once

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given to the University of California at Los Angeles, but inasmuch as they were unable to house it to his satisfaction, he retrieved it and gave it to a museum in Philadelphia. It was undoubtedly one of the great collections of the art of the early part of this century. It was most interesting visiting the Arensbergs. To a younger man, it seemed impossible that even a house of their size could be so crammed with masterpieces. The wall of every room, as I recall it, was covered with pictures — Klees, Picassos, Renoirs, and that great ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’, which he had on the wall of the staircase. I always enjoyed going to the bathroom at the Arensberg house because even there would be a dozen or two magnificent things on the walls. And I’ve even seen him open a closet, and there hanging on the walls inside would be a Kandinski, or an Arp. It was a great pity that his works weren’t allowed to remain here. In later years, he became increasingly interested in pre-Columbian art, and his collection of pre-Columbian was also one of the great ones.

Also included in this group were Merle Armitage, the impresario; Gustav Boehme; Salvador Baguez; Grace Marion Brown, a very capable artist; Will Connell, the photographer; Dorothy George; Patterson Green; Carl Haverlin; Phil Townsend Hanna, California historian and editor for a great many years of Westways magazine; Herbert Klein,

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whom I first knew when he was a graduate student at Occidental College doing his thesis on Robinson Jeffers. He later went to Germany and became quite interested in the Communist cause during the formative years of Hitler’s rise. He has written several books since then. Also there was Joseph Pijoan, who was a professor at Pomona College for a good many years and an authority on art; Carey McWilliams, a lawyer whose avocation was literature and who wrote a number of books on California, on Ambrose Bierce and was later editor of The Nation; Henry Mayers, a printer; Arthur Millier, who was art editor of the Los Angeles Times; Louis Samuel, who at one time ran the Penguin Bookstore in Los Angeles; Paul Jordan-Smith, an author and also literary editor of the Los Angeles Times; Kem Weber, a furniture designer; Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright and also a fine architect in his own right; Leon R. Yankwich, who was a federal judge here for a good many years; and Jake Zeitlin. The publication headquarters was at Jake Zeitlin’s Bookshop at 705½ West sixth Street. I imagine, though I don’t have a full complement of the magazine, that it probably lasted for about a year, starting in the fall of 1929 and ending in the summer of 1930, when the financial and literary contributions of each of the members gave out. As happens so often with this type of magazine, the original excitement was over. The contributors had all had an opportunity to express themselves once or twice and the continuance was no longer worth the effort.

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One of the interesting developments from this magazine however, was the emergence of Merle Armitage as a designer of books. Merle was co-editor of one of the issues, and he became quite excited with the possibilities of print. He gave a talk about this time, in 1929, at the California Art Club. It was a blast at many of the current artists, and Jake Zeitlin and other members of this group thought it was worth publishing. Grant Dahlstrom was involved in the printing (he was working for Henry Mayer at that time), and Grace Marion Brown designed a cover. Merle Armitage, inasmuch as he was the author, was also allowed to stick his finger into the pie. It was quite a heavy-handed, black-appearing little booklet, but it effectively stimulated Armitage’s interest in graphic design. He had had a quite successful career as an impresario; he had been manager of [the opera singer] Mary Garden for a good many years, and had conducted many tours for various visiting artists around the United States. [Encyclopaedia Brittanica: Mary Garden, (born Feb. 20, 1874, Aberdeen, Scotland, died Jan. 3, 1967, Aberdeen) soprano famous for her vivid operatic portrayals. She was noted for her acting as well as her singing and was an important figure in American opera.]

Then he became manager of the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. In his work he had to promote the artists and advertise the various events with ephemeral printing. He attempted to lift these from the ordinary run of theatrical printing, and so it can’t be said that he had no background at all in printing. The Depression curtailed many of his activities. But Merle Armitage is the type of man who must be busy, and if there is a lag in one of his activities, he immediately looks

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around to another. About 1931 or 1932, when the Depression was with us, he decided to design and publish books. Merle had been collecting art for a good number of years. He knew good art, and he knew artists. He decided to write and print a series of books about southern California artists. Most of them were flattered to think that they could be perpetuated in a book, and though I have never had any corroboration on this, I have always suspected that the books were paid for in the most part by the artist. Merle wrote them and collected the material, and they were printed by Lynton Kistler, whose father, Will, had been one of the pioneer lithographers of Los Angeles.

In that first year he did books by Warren Newcombe; Eugene Maier-Krieg; Rockwell Kent, who was a friend of Armitage’s (and that possibly was the one book which wasn’t paid for by the customer); Richard Day and Edward Weston. They were all, with the exception of the Kent, rather large and impressive books. There was a flare [flair?] in these books that was unusual in those days. Armitage had had no training in design or book work. His background was such that he approached the book much as an advertising man would look at a book. It was perhaps fortunate. He became one of the forerunners of modern book design. He was not constricted by tradition in any way. He blurted out design. There had been a certain amount of experimentation in Germany by the Bauhaus group of which Americans had become

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aware, but their work didn’t seem to have influenced Armitage. He was always fortunate in his collaborators. Lynton Kistler was a printer who helped him a lot. William Stutz aided with his hand lettering of the titles of many of his early books. These books are exciting examples of Armitage’s intrusion into modern book design. The traditionalists, of course, have never had too much use for Armitage, but it hasn’t deterred him. Armitage can fight better than any in-fighting boxer I have ever known, and he is his own best press agent. He’s never been critical of himself because he doesn’t believe that he’s ever done anything wrong. At any criticism he blasts right back.

I got to know Armitage in 1932. I had known him before, but I got to see more of him when he was working on a book for Eugene Maier-Krieg. Maier-Krieg at that time lived in the Adobe Flores, an old adobe up at the end of Milan Avenue in South Pasadena, which had been the headquarters of General Flores during the Mexican-American War. Local tradition had it that General Fremont used it as his quarters also when peace negotiations went on there between Flores and General Fremont. I lived on Milan Avenue, just a few blocks down from this house. My press was in the backyard, and Merle used to drop by on his way, to or from Maier-Krieg’s. We would chat and even talked about my doing some printing for him, but it was quite obvious that my equipment wasn’t sufficient to do the type of books

Note: Errata: page 337 does not exist. Page 330-A exists to correct the pagination.

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which he wanted. (At that time I had only a Washington Hand press and a Gally Universal platen press).

Armitage, in addition to be ing an energetic man, was also a very lusty man. I don’t know exactly how many times he has been married. The first I heard was when he was married to Fanchon, of Fanchon and Marco who, during the twenties, used to put on great stage extravaganzas in movie theatres.

During 1932, when I got to know him, he lived in Los Angeles on Orange Street in a little bungalow. I was quite intrigued at that time with Armitage because the most interesting room in his house was the bedroom. And it’s the first time that I’d ever seen a super-king-size bed. He had the biggest bed that I’d ever seen, and it had a purple bedspread, as I recall. I wondered about the size of the bed, and he explained to me that two women were living with him at the time, so he naturally needed a large bed.

He also had another girl in whom he was interested by the name of Elise Cavanna. Elise was an artist — he later published a book of her paintings. She was also a most intriguing woman. She had been an actress and was W.C. Fields’ foil in the Ziegfeld Follies and in a number of the early W. C. Fields movies. She was a very tall, skinny girl, with angular features and not at all pretty.

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W.C. Fields liked her because she was the opposite to him in appearance — a half head taller and thin. Painting was probably her avocation, but she was competent at it. How she and Armitage managed to live together so long, I don’t know. But she had great affection for him. She was a perfect companion for him. She always wanted Armitage to shine. She loved to exploit his ability to tell a good story. She was a complement and a foil. An evening with the two of them, after they were married, was a most pleasant experience because there was never a dull moment. She would question him, she would build him up, and then Armitage would talk; Armitage would expound; Armitage would show off. They built a little house overlooking Silver Lake in Los Angeles, and here Armitage continued with his book work, in addition to other things he was doing.

We became involved later on with him in several books. One of the most important was one which Merle wrote about the United States Navy, which we printed ourselves and [which] was published by Longmans, Green and ourselves (we sold part of the edition and they the rest). We did another book, So-Called Abstract Art for him. Then we collaborated on a book for The Limited Editions Club. Merle’s life is probably as well-recorded as any man’s, due to the fact that Merle has been publicity minded.

He wrote me back in 1937 a letter:

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Dear Ward:

Coming out of a clear sky the firm of Weyhe, who have published about half of the twenty-one books I’ve designed, want me to do a book on them and have suggested as a title, Twenty-One: An Adventure in Book Designing. There will be articles by a number of critics and book men, and I would be very pleased if you would contribute to it. As you know, my approach has been to ‘let the punishment fit the crime’. Or to let the subject of the book dictate its design and format. I have the greatest respect for book tradition, but believe that in many cases certain forms are outmoded and empty. And when they are perpetuated they tend to draw the spirit of the book back into the periods of the past which have no identification with today. If you have any conviction about the things I have and will write, it will be a real contribution to the book. And you have two months in which to do it. A complete file of the books can be made available if you want to refurbish your memory.

This book was issued and printed under the title of Designed Books, with half a dozen articles about Armitage and his work by various friends of his. Not having looked at the book for a good many years, I don’t recall exactly what the other contributions were, but my recollection at that time was that mine was a little more practical than most of them. Generally, when people write about their friends they extol all of their virtues, and it gets a little mushy. But I tried to analyse Armitage’s work and how it had come about and what he was contributing to the art of bookmaking. Armitage was pleased with the book. I believe it was the first one about his work. He naturally sent copies to many key people in the book business,

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including George Macy of The Limited Editions Club. George was considering issuing Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. He wanted an experimental designer to do this book with a fresh, different concept suggesting what a book might look like in the 1980s, the years in which the story was supposed to take place. On receiving a copy of Designed Books he decided that Armitage was the man to design the book.

Cover of the Ticknor and Co. first edition of “Looking Backward”, 2000-1887.

Also, at that time I had a letter from Macy saying that he had read the Armitage book carefully and that the only article in it that made any sense was the one that I had written about Armitage, which led him to ask me if I would be one of the contributing editors to a publication he was getting out, The Dolphin, which I did. We also made arrangements to do the printing of Looking Backwards, on the West Coast. Armitage was to design the book; Elise was to do the illustrations; and our press was to print it. It would be a complete West Coast production. This worked out fairly well for us, though I suspect that many of the subscribers to The Limited Editions Club felt that modern book designing was not what they liked or wanted. Certainly, it has not been one of the most sought after of the Limited Editions Club books in recent years. But I felt for the type of experimentation that it was, it was fairly successful.

One of 1500 numbered copies, designed by Merle Armitage, printed by Ward Ritchie, and signed by the artist. The impossibly impractical, and occasionally destructive, plastic slipcase was mercifully jettisoned from this copy. – See more at: http://www.williamreesecompany.com/

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At least Macy was happy enough with it to suggest that we do another book. Macy wanted to do Leaves of Grass, and I believe that Armitage suggested that he should get Edward Weston to illustrate it with photographs of various scenes in the United States. Macy gave Weston the commission and advanced him travelling money. Weston got into his old car and travelled from one end of the United States to another, trying to capture in pictures what Walt Whitman had put into words.

On April 10, 1942, Armitage got a letter from George Macy:

Dear Merle;

You will have already have heard the good news that Edward Weston has completed the illustrations for Leaves of Grass and has sent me a set of proofs. I have wired him, and written him, to tell him that I’m overjoyed; they are wonderful photographs, and they do the job of illustration wonderfully well. I am proud of him for having made the photographs and proud of myself for having thought of the idea.

Until now, all of us have been taking it for granted that you would design the book and Ward Ritchie would print it. Therefore, I earnestly hope you will not grow apoplectic when I tell you that I would like to change this plan. As you know, I was not happy over the dummy you prepared, although I was unable to express my unhappiness in words. But now I want to have your permission, to turn about and give this job to Kittredge at the Lakeside Press in Chicago. As I look over the photographs, I get the feeling that he is the man to make the kind of job which I would like to have.

Possibly you will not grow apoplectic at all, you may be so busy with your war work in Detroit that you cannot possibly undertake to produce this book for us; you may even have been wondering how you could let me down. If that is so, I will be greatly relieved. If you have been planning on designing the book, and will now conclude that I am letting you down, I will […] [to be continued]

[This, the foot of typed page 342, is the end of John Tranter’s transcription of part two of the four parts of the interview with Los Angeles printer and book man Ward Ritchie.]

Anthony Howell: 3 poems

  Anthony Howell

  3 poems:

  Annulling the Contract
  It is not so much through
    a Fertility of Invention

It is always the same window, one out of which they have climbed

Into the garden; leaving the house to its dreams at the fringes of sleep:

Out of it by the back stairs or in by my half of the bedroom;

Always the same low window in a corner of that parlour into which

And out of which they have climbed in bare feet in the moonlight.

Water their dreams in the back of the parlour with its low window

Opening onto that wing of the garden which has the forest branches hanging over it.

That aria in the parlour which is climbing up and up to the bedroom

By the window then opening so freshly onto that sleep into which they glide,

Is climbing in through a low window and then up the back stairs

To the door of the guest bedroom or to that of the Moorish bedroom

Next to it. The window-sill is merely a ‘has been’ following the secluded smells

With the same edge of that water which Boy and then Igor, Burhardt, Rudi and Eric

All pronounce bare to the moonlight. The back door of the garden

The guest so obscured is through the next window up the stairs.

Jenny and Arja — all pronounce it ‘Aria’ — wash their

feet in the house, or wash my feet

In the parlour opening onto that secluded corner half obscured

By a rhododendron. Always the same back window climbed. Always,

Always the same low pair of branches out of which they wing,

To glide up the stairs and into the forest. Burhardt is bare and, boy, they

Are in through that window, getting their legs over Arja and Jeanne;

Rudi is hanging over the stairs next to the Moorish ghost which hides in the wall.

The lawn slopes up to the edge of the low brickwork where the window

Is always the same; the opening, out of which they have climbed onto the fringes

Of kilims where the lawn slopes up to it, a window into and

Out of which they have climbed, Giacomo and Jeanne, getting

Their legs over the sill, or following a ghost which is merely a pair

Of split pantaloons up the back stairs to the guest bedroom which has been

Freshly decorated or to the Moorish one next door where the walls are hung

With kilims, one of which hides the door to the bedroom. Which? The one

Next door. Then it is Igor and Eric, at wing in the moonlight, is bare brickwork

Which has feet in it, low in the wall where the walls of the house are hung

With decorated Moorish pantaloons, and into the garden next door

To the window Jenny and Giacomo climbed through — or they split a guest in.

  Annulling the Contract

Originally the genitals of Pegasus provided a moisturiser
That eased the infinite present into a finite self.
But everything is peripheral now: potentates and pop-stars,
The lover who rejects you, able to provoke heart-attacks
And erect road-blocks as the bride returns to France.
I don’t think you’re for me, thank you.

The chance number sentences what relates to expression
To the hold. Force a disappearing art to love anything disarmed.
Watching generates an underlying number and is all together
As you’re never to agree – for the lover eased is in mind.

And when you say ’agree to anything’,
What specifically do you have in mind for
A woman to agree to? A dice-throw
Never abolishes chance. Good macroscopic form always
Depends on microscopic processes.
The disappearing number is what ‘relates to my body,’

But I don’t think you provided moisturiser for me.
The trial of Phryne is a microscopic dice-throw
While the heart-attacks at road-blocks always
Have thank you in mind. Avoidance of what you do
Is good form. Originally into the self,
Pop-stars The Who erect a clock in my body.

The irrational number generates an expression
Underlying art while I put together all is sentences.
Delusion or avoidance is the final force in France,
And love disarmed is watching the clock at the trial of Phryne.

The woman now abolishes the final present
That put able potentates on Pegasus specifically.
A macroscopic infinite is peripheral, I hold,
And when you say ‘agree to provoke delusion’ or
‘The bride rejects the genitals,’ everything
Returns to irrational finite processes. Depends.

  It is not so much through a Fertility of Invention

‘It is not so much through a fertility of invention

that we occasionally
find expedients, as through a poverty of judgement,
which makes us listen to everything
that imagination presents
and hinders us from discerning what is best.’

Imagination makes such a monstrosity of the poet,

who’s as inexorably
moved by ecstasy as by aromas of a blood-bath;
yet pilots whisper of fishermen,
and of barbed harpoons to the shark
— thus Hermes guided the singer out of Hell.

We create more fuss when an entablature of commandments

from some authority
calls for penalties, than when the evidence uncovered
directs a question at remedies
which our situation prefers
and shows us how some deception furnished hate.

Illumination fades with a diversity of enchantments

that will invariably
end as flickerings—until obscurity is total:
the darkness mingles the mountainside
with accumulations of cloud,
and underneath this tarpaulin where’s our tent?

What denies the drought is this entirety of the language

that so continually
spreads its influence, and some propensity for listening
which brought the forest to meditate
where sands would blaze in the sun,
and kept the lamb by the lion’s side unharmed.

Annulling the Contract and Rhododendron work with the notion of a limited vocabulary; the constraint being that every word in the poem has to be used twice, or an even number of times. Thus ‘Pegasus’ might appear twice while the definite article might appear four times. A word cannot be used an odd number of times. There is never ‘a remainder’.

A poem or a text using this process I have named a Statheron — derived from the Greek word for stability. It can have many shapes, being a process rather than a form.

I have worked with limited vocabularies for many years, sometimes in texts where each and every word in a paragraph has to be employed in another paragraph. The process is then repeated for several more paragraphs.

Another strategy has been to work with palimpsests — this was in the days when Tippex was essential to corrections! A sentence could be replaced by other words which exactly mirrored the rhythm of that sentence, thus a second (third, fourth or fifth) sentence could be ‘overlaid’ on the initial one, engendering new meanings. This method generated Orpheus and Hermes, a book length poem derived from an original root of some thirty-six sentences. It is not so much through a Fertility of Invention is a lyric from this work. Each verse is a sentence scanning in its entirety with the first sentence (which happens to be a maxim by La Rochefoucauld)

 — Anthony Howell


A.J. Carruthers: The Long Poems of Rochelle Owens

  A.J. Carruthers

  The Long Poems of Rochelle Owens

  A Fragment Catalog Paste-up of the 20th Century
The American revolutionary
written in the form
of a collective
or a mass-biography
is a study of an individual
in conflict with society
The heroine of the story
emerges first as a bizarre
figure whose goal
is to transform herself
into a poet so that by
asserting her courtliness
she can win a place
in society
— Rochelle Owens, W.C. Fields in French Light

This article was first given as a paper for Experimentalities, a conference at the University of Adelaide, 17-18 September, 2015.  — A.J.C.

Rochelle Owens has a website at http://rochelleowens.org


twentieth and twenty-first century North American long poems / expansive women’s poetry / poetry and experimental form / social poetics


The long poems of Rochelle Owens have been little explored within the developing field of studies in modern and contemporary expansive poetics. Owens’ long poems present a reworking of the epic tradition. They construct a social subjectivity where voices, tonalities and subject-positions are legion. Varied in genre, style and form, they are incantatory, intersubjective, modern, ancient, monodic, lyric and choral. Professing a ‘kaleidoscopic’ sense of form, these long poems rework the details and capacities of the page, unsettling modes of reading and writing long poems, and reanimating contemporary practices of sustained reading.

Rochelle Owens in a café in the Ardèches during a riverboat cruise up the Rhône. Wikimedia has received an e-mail confirming that the copyright holder has approved publication under the terms mentioned on this page. This correspondence has been reviewed by an OTRS member and stored in our permission archive. The correspondence is available to trusted volunteers as ticket #2010032510047478.
Rochelle Owens in a café in the Ardèches during a riverboat cruise up the Rhône. Wikimedia has received an e-mail confirming that the copyright holder has approved publication under the terms mentioned on this page. This correspondence has been reviewed by an OTRS member and stored in our permission archive. The correspondence is available to trusted volunteers as ticket #2010032510047478.
Reading Owens Today

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The long poems of Rochelle Owens join Anne Waldman’s The Iovis Trilogy and Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts as some of the major long poems of the second half of the twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries. The breadth and volume of Owens’ use of expansive poetics since the 1970s makes the scarcity of critical work on her work surprising, especially given the remarkable continuation of the long poem well into the twenty first century not only in the USAmerican context, but in other literary contexts and hemispheres.

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To say ‘North America’ is, of course, now fraught: for no longer is the epic a thing of Nation-State or of Empire. Rather, the USAmerican long poem can be considered in the context of the Americas; it is firmly transnational, global, oriented across multiple hemispheres and continents. We might think of the long poems that have jutted their way into the twenty-first century as world poems.


Owens’ long poems and the worlds in which they appear help us map the continuation of the epic into the twenty-first century, now in a feminist mode, transformed and transmogrified and with a different freight of characteristics.


Reading Owens can, I think, broaden the scope for future criticism on long poems and for poetics. This inquiry, at least in part, emerges out of research into techniques and forms of the postmodern long poem, various unresolved historical problems and questions, and some interest in how the long poem has fared more recently and how it might (or might not) continue to fare for contemporary poetics.

Rochelle Owens, portrait.
Rochelle Owens, portrait.


Because Owens writes very much within the epical tradition at a time in which the Olsonic field of the page, with its bricolage and broken striations, has become very old hat, and because she writes very much in the experimental tradition, there is much to grapple with on the level of both literary surface and cultural depth, much to answer in terms of either her reworking of, or departure from, this tradition.


For USAmerican readers: I read these works from across a large ocean (I am Australian, or more precisely, Asian-Australian) working in the field of expansive poetics. I have paid attention to Owens’ contexts (the multi-hemispheric tradition of the long poem in [mainly] the Americas, 1961-2011), and the poetics of these texts. Recently I acquired a good deal of the Owens oeuvre in Berkeley’s Small Press Distribution warehouse, happily covering some gaps and providing a fuller picture of her work.


Born 1936 in New York, Owens is probably better known as a playwright than a poet. She has produced a number of classic avant-garde plays, perhaps most notably Futz (1962), Futz and What Came After (1968) and The Karl Marx Play (1974), all of which are situated as monumental avant-garde plays of the Off-Broadway movement, and all of which went through multiple productions and achieved international success. Futz was made into a feature film in 1968, and is readily available online. A 1969 production of Futz at Toronto’s avant-garde Theatre Passe Muraille gained notoriety for causing obscenity charges against the entire company. The charges were later dropped.

US poet Jerome Rothenberg
US poet Jerome Rothenberg


Owens is, or has been, associated with the ethnopoets, and if she is, in fact, classed an ‘ethnopoet,’ she is one of few women to be included in this loose nexus of (mostly male) affiliations including Jerome Rothenberg, David Antin, Armand Schwerner, Nathaniel Tarn and Dennis Tedlock. The poem ‘Hermaphropoetics’ / ‘Desire’ curated by Rothenberg appeared in Jacket2 in 2013, including a note on the then forthcoming Selected. Link: https://jacket2.org/commentary/rochelle-owens-hermaphropoetics-brown-dust. The ethnopoets began experimenting out of the 1960s and through the 1970s and 1980s, and their concern was for the origins of culture and cultural systems, the origins of language, and for a poetics of ritual (sometimes live, performative) and carnality in conjunction with these cultural aims.


The ethnopoets also maintained a poststructuralist insistence on the importance of disjunction verbal and syntactic surfaces and referential decentering, at the same time as staging a mythopoetics that would both surmount, and intersect with, these textual aims. These contradictions are present in the ethnopoesis of Owen’s work: how mythic and shamanic ambitions come through the scattered field of the page.


This article will provide preliminary readings for the vast body of work that constitutes Owens’ experimental long poems. The aim is to first of all situate these large-scale works as long poems, and further as experimental long poems, before differentiating within this the kind of expansive poetics Owens’ constructs.


I want to first determine the historical, cultural and social location of these works before pointing towards ways in which her writing can, here and now, inform contemporary practices of inventive reading and writing.


Several things I have not had the time to adequately cover. For example, future research might situate her practice in ethnopoetics as a nexus and an institution, with its ideals and materials, its networks of exchange and affiliation. Future research might further attempt to unpack the several books which select shorter poems, like her first book Not Be Essence That Cannot Be (1961), Salt & Core (1968) and I am the Babe of Joseph Stalin’s Daughter (1972), linking the long and the short poems. Scholarship might take to a comparison between her plays and her poetry.


However my focus here is confined to her sequential and modular expansive poetics, coextensive with her poetics of culture. These long works have that sense of capacious volume, that long-poem-curiosity for the epical relation to origins. Oftentimes I have had difficulty understanding Owens’s treatment of culture, ethnicity and the raced subject. Does a cosmopolitanist poetics confront power structures, or reinforce them? I think, however, that this difficulty in Owens has manifest in ways that are productive of knowledge in and around cultural poetics of an historical era.


A poet like Owens deserves critical attention despite, perhaps even because of, her sometimes zany corporeal poetics and the cultural questions it raises. By investigating an unexplored aspect of Owens, her expansive poetics, her sense of modularity, sequentiality, partition and continuation, some of these cultural strands I hope will come more closely into focus. How the long poem has the capacity to critique culture through expansive form is crucial to this (and nor should the burden fall solely on the long poem to provide a model for culture, even though it might opt to envisage the utopic).


Discussions of Owens’ work have occasioned discussions of dynamics of neglect, recovery, recognition and reception: peers of mine have wondered why her work has not developed as strong a critical following as many of her contemporaries. One reviewer has claimed that Owens’s lack of ‘academic’ ambition has led to a neglect of her work (See Weinstein 290). But this can only refer to a certain understanding of what ‘academic’ (in the pejorative) means, not if we are talking about critical and poetics-based analyses of her work.


If one goes on her publication record alone, there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s a sustained output. Every decade since the 1960s at least three books are published, disregarding an assortment of chapbooks. And her books now will routinely include the bionote phrase: ‘A central figure in the international avant-garde for fifty years.’


This kind of claim has not been taken up (yet) by criticism on the international avant-garde. Despite the fact that she is undoubtedly a central figure in international avant-garde theater for over half a century, to my knowledge, no academic journal article has yet been written on her poetry, and no monograph.


The recent publication of Out of Ur: New & Selected Poems 1961-2012 by Shearsman introduces her work to a larger readership, but as the economy of a Selected requires, Out of Ur puts an emphasis more on single poems than longer sequences. The New & Selected does confirm the difficultly of assigning any one stylistic tendency to her work, showcasing her variability across sequences and forms, her flexibility in approach to concept and narrative.


Owens has published an extraordinary number of long or lengthy poems, rather than one totalising life poem. The narratography of these works means the notion of ‘life poem’ does not apply. Given the number of extended works Owens has written, and given the modularity and the vastness of their subject matter, Owens might actually be the most prolific twentieth century writer of the long poem.


The bulk of this article will isolate what I perceive to be two major groups of books that appear throughout her oeuvre as long poem works, or works-in-progress, 1. The first series, begun in the 1970s, the Joe Poems and 2. The second series on painting, particularly the Discourse on Life & Death series Luca, Discourse on Life and Death (2000). This latter series is developed from these studies of art and close portraits or personas that weave through the long sequence. Though these seem to be two major works, her entire oeuvre can be read as a plotting-through, or chain of interconnected books that build upon and supersede one another.

Image: cover of the Joe 82 Creation Poems.
Image: cover of the Joe 82 Creation Poems.

The Joe Series: 1970-1985


The first major long poem series of Owens, the Joe Poems consists of several books and chapbooks, Poems From Joe’s Garage (Burning Deck 1973) The Joe Eighty-Two Creation Poems (1974) and The Joe Chronicles II (1974) both with Black Sparrow Press, by then a ‘big’ small press, so to speak, then Shemuel (1979), and a projected choral work, The Joe Oratorio, that did not seem to ever materialize, but that is mentioned in the book jacket to The Joe Chronicles II.


Constructs, a 1985 chapbook, further explores the Joe character in a series of prose fragments which she considers ‘watercolors’ (the beginning of a larger preoccupation with painting that paves the way for the later ‘Discourse on Life and Death’ series). Though Constructs could be said to sit between the two major works—right at the end of the Joe series—at least for well over a decade Owens was preoccupied with literary character of Joe.


The front matter to several of these books contain information about how they fit into this proposed sequence. A note to The Joe 82 Creation Poems announces that it is ‘Written in four parts,’ and will recreate ‘the tragic, joyous, and complicated journey of a mystical consciousness through the world and time. Within its structure–based on a ‘free’ juxtaposition of events–Wild-Man and Wild-Woman, the two personae who embody physical and spiritual nature, reveal the primordial and multitudinous levels of human experience.’


In front matter to The Joe Chronicles Part II, Owens notes that this is the ‘second installment of a continuing series of poems begun in 1970, and are about the multitudinous levels of human experience and the totality of the world.’ Shemuel bears the description ‘Imagination is generator of the word as act/event. In Shemuel the journey begun in The Joe 82 Creation Poems and The Joe Chronicles Part 2 continues to explore through patterns of force the conjunction of the old and the new, the spiritual and the physical.’


With this kind of breadth and continuation of theme and character, Owens is thoroughly engaged here in the idea, the writing and the plotting of a multi-book, experimental long poem, one in which the ‘installment’ marks a cumulative stance or vantage point from which to view both a totality and a sense of incompleteness, a vantage point to imagine what comes next. The succession of books strives toward the impossible, perhaps a totality, in a way that materializes the spirituality that lurks behind any striving toward the negated whole (a difficult assignation for the expansive poem, apt nonetheless in Owens).


Brian McHale would call this the ‘obligation toward the difficult whole,’ a phrase which captures the duty, discipline and fidelity that binds practitioners of the long poem to their projects.


For McHale, Armand Schwerner is one such postmodern long poem poet (Schwerner blurbs Owens’ Shemuel). In fact, the tonality of spiritualist carnality and shamanic wildness binds Owens to Schwerner in interesting ways, particularly Schwerner’s experimental long poem The Tablets (1968-1999).


The Tablets is decidedly hybrid with its materials (it includes, among many other things, a musical score), and is counter-Poundian (to use Alan Golding’s phrase), and uses a similarly textured language of emboldened totemic genitality and carnality, but its conceit involves a mostly singular subjective position, a male Scholar-Translator, whose task is to translate a series of Sumerian tablets. The poem includes scholarly commentary throughout, and this commentary is intimate to the poem and its reading.


While The Tablets is an epic told through what ultimately remains a single voice (though this singularity is always under threat), The Joe 82 Creation Poems is divided along an axis of gender difference, with two persons or registers, Wild-Man and Wild-Woman, a division that according to the experimental poet and performance artist Jane Augustine is there to enact an ‘androgynous re-vision of the word-world.’ Augustine writes:


Owens has undertaken not only the creation of this androgynous re-vision of the word-world but also has attempted to press it into the depths of our psyches where it must take root. We cannot go back to the old dichotomies. The revolution of androgyny has already begun, and Rochelle Owens is its prophet. (89)


In a 1989 interview with C.B. Coleman, in which Owens makes a case for both the radical feminism and the radical avant-garde experimentalism of her work, she likewise references the androgynous as a horizon beyond patriarchal culture (23). The book itself is divided into four parts, Part 1: Magnetic Flux, Part 2: The Enfolding, Part 3: Fire Clay and Part 4: Basic Information. Within these four parts are a total of eighty-two sections.


This is a common long poem synecdochal division of parts, or parts within parts. Part 4: Basic Information, breaks away from the first three in that it introduces the figure of the father (the book itself is dedicated to the memory of her father, Max Bass), and is a series of incantatory songs, including an Equinox Commandment and a Kaddish hymn. This puts the book’s ending in close proximity with Anne Waldman’s monumental feminist epic The Iovis Trilogy, which contains and critiques a gamut of male personas and characters, including her own father, disrupting the mythopoetic and psychosocial expectations of the long poem. With The Iovis Trilogy, the Joe 82 Creation Poems shares an incantatory and shamanic vocality, an archaeopoetics in which the cultural breadth of its personas and characters is again of the world, decentered and well aware of both the regional and cultural stranglehold of Empire and the godhead-patriarchs of war.


In the Joe 82 Creation Poems, the lines are a performable score for incantatory vocalities, but a score replete with broken utterances. The form of each modular section is often disjunctive, occupying the full field of the page. The size of each modular section rarely exceeds one page in The Joe 82 Poems or two in The Joe Chronicles Part II.


In this way, Owens appears to be composing by page, with the page as a kind of constraint but with horizontal and vertical vectors pulling language across and down:


Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book
Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book

Father’s Expression Into Air

                                                              Towards the Atomic century
the Alphabet       driven into fire       two demons
                  keeping commandment
              a motorized fiend
          concluding the

                                    a pig’s dialogue/

                  1,2,3,      touching    the     concrete
              the next knife closing the
        mystery of wondering &
                                    both devils are happy.

of my
laugh &

(The Joe 82 Creation Poems, 132-33)


In the ‘Atomic century,’ the expression of language ‘into air’ moves sounds into the regulatory system of alphabetization. It might not seem so austere, particularly if two stories are told at once (which Owens will accomplish, we will soon see, using another kind of textual geometry). Note the divisions and radical graphic moves in the following section:

Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.
Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.



Wild-Man And The Influence Of The She

                                                                      his Torture
        divides         With all Temptation/           All creatures
there singing
        &     &
          &     r w n
          &   g o i g     O growing by force, power
      groin!       wild woman with hanging breasts!
              the bloody intensity / the dance
        of veins         spleen of the wedding
    party / the masked Sun        dragging the Virgin
    woman of birds, rubbing her stomach with
                                            pitch/cutting her
                              & forcing her to eat
                      /it did         haunt her/
              the naked wylde       birds. He Saw.
              walked into the

(Joe 82 Creation Poems 56)


These might very well be wild scores, a wilderness of language in which the gendering of influence (and the influence of gender) seems to palimpsestually blot letters out. The referential center is dispersed. A 1975 symposium on Owens, which resulted in a special issue of Margins edited by Karl Young, featured a piece by Jackson Mac Low titled ‘Rochelle Reading Rochelle’ in which he imagines her disjunctive poetics to be the result of some kind of aleatoric system:


I first read a poem of Rochelle’s sometime in 1961, or very late 1960, when I read her ‘Humble Humble Pinate’ in Trobar 2. 1 was struck then by what seemed to be similarities with my own chance-generated work, especially the numbered Asymmetries I was then writing. There seemed to be extreme disjunctions between lines and even parts of lines. There seemed to be no continuing referential center. I even surmised that she might have used a nonlogical, nonsyntactical, or even an aleatoric system to make the poem. Tho there seemed to be emotion involved, it seemed continually to be broken and interrupted, as if some collaging technique had supervened between the original emotion and the final work. It was puzzling. (83)


Mac Low goes on to contrast Owen’s outbursts of emotion, anger and fear to his own work for which ‘Very little personal emotion was involved’ (83). For Mac Low this impersonal approach was an oddity, given his association of the aleatoric with decentered (nonegoic) and notational poetics. An example of what Mac Low calls the absence of a ‘continuing referential center’ can be found in Part II, where the disjunctive patterns form unconventional axes on the page, or gather around an absent central axis. The section is titled ‘King Lugalannemundu Also From The Cruel Cube Derived And / Or Betrayed’:

Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.
Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.

This WordPress version of the same poem is typed into a two-columned float.


little woman in Thessaly
sitting on a hill
sees Fallen down
a person and her palm o’
the hand holds a
collection of elements
she sits on the
throne, her yellow
whining parakeet
names in healing
the earliest hope
of some undetermined
idolatry the
Ice which lies
combined and laid
across the surface
the people remember
the committed junk
              the borne up
Noah’s ark
in midday on all
fours that myth
plucks its skin
& descends
with noiseless

(The Joe Chronicles, Part II, 30)



This complex passage spatially sets out, or up, certain geometries of divided attention. That is, the eye-ear can trace its reading vectors in multiple ways. Going ‘across’ from left to right columns is sometimes possible: ‘Thessaly’ and ‘idolatry’ carry between the columns, likewise ‘animal / shrieks’ would meaningfully be read together, and if so go against the oxymoronic ‘noiseless / shrieks.’


Other times this non-normative pattern is foreclosed, enforcing a separate attention for each column or voice so that mythic elements are told in succession: the eye might, but is unlikely to hear ‘her yellow… Noah’s Ark.’ Poems like ‘Anthropologists at a Dinner Party’ (in How Much Paint Does the Painting Need) are divided into two columns or axes, again suggesting a double voice or split subjectivity. In this poem the elements are juxtaposed (arguably) to challenge the anthropologist’s authority. Another poem that doubles its registers is ‘ME HOGGISH (HOD)’ in Not Be Essence That Cannot Be:

Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.
Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.

This WordPress version of the same poem is typed into a two-columned float.


Ducs ME hog
To two untied
Object balls
Psammos sand
    Siccus group
At the bitter
Tupi frondosa
Annu Is-sue
Target marquesas
Me either uva
Of bean door-keeper
Depend ikik
Of axis
Ab hallowed
Hotch Potch
Or alight
On the water
Ab dead
Heil wood
Marked fop
Head fruit
Not lay by with
7 stomachs
Sun drying.




How to read is uncertain: should one read the left column first before moving to the right, ‘Of axis’ or off-axis, taking stock of lettristic drift from right to left to right? Should the reader pause, as in antiphonal reading, making their way down the page in equal measure? Even more radically, are two readers required to read sections such as these?


If two, this is a strategy that redefines not only what happens on the page but also off it (in performance, in scenes of reading). Whichever way passages such as these are read, they will require increasingly complex geometries of divided attention, and hence interpretation.


Indeed the ‘HOD’ of the title, meaning ‘splendour’ or ‘glory’ refers to the eighth Sephira of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, a force that is key to the mystery (and language) of form; hence the energetic geometries of passages such as these and their ‘Kabbalistic’ hold on interpretation. In Part 9 of Section 1, the ‘Book of Kin Lugalannemundu The Course of the Blood,’ she writes:

Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.
Image of Rochelle Owens poem taken from published book.


    And Songs.     ?     where.     My own interpretation
    done most
    faythfully.     ?     where.     My own condemnations
today.  My prophecies
                                        exult and I see myself
                                        for the first time.

                                        I am the woman, Say I
            who arranges
            the book and brings together
              e m b o d i m e n t

                                            see Myself?
                    my plea
                                my writing helps hear
                                the center of Mirth
                                I go anywhere

(The Joe Chronicles, Part 2, 26)

Available from Small Press Distribution Available from Amazon[ir.gif]  New and Selected Poems 1961-1996 1997, Junction Press
Available from Small Press Distribution
Available from Amazon[ir.gif]
New and Selected Poems 1961-1996
1997, Junction Press


A statement of subjective intent by the arranger of the book, the gapping of the letters ‘e m b o d i m e n t’ seems to lead to a centering of the subject, a ‘center of Mirth,’ but this is followed by a radical opening out: ‘I go anywhere.’ This in many ways encapsulates the question of subjectivity, difficultly and complexly, in Owens’ work. In another long poem, one that needs to be accounted for but that does not seem to fit either into the Joe series nor the next (the Discourse on Life and Death series), ‘French Light’: W.C. Fields in French Light (1986), something more centered takes place, centered in voice and in its conceptual arc. The fuller quotation, taken from Part 2, and which serves as the epigraph to this article, reads:


The American revolutionary
assaults courtly literature
abstracts it
The assault on courtliness
is as follows:
The American revolutionary
written in the form
of a collective
or a mass-biography
is a study of an individual
in conflict with society…
The heroine of the story
emerges first as a bizarre
figure whose goal
is to transform herself
into a poet so that by
asserting her courtliness
she can win a place
in society
by the end of the tale
she stands as a quixotic
individual pathetically
positive to the insistent
mendacity and grossness
of a world which subverts

(W.C. Fields in French Light, 7)


The American revolutionary, who must stand for a collective / mass biography, contrasts with the heroine, who serves a courtly function in order to enact a kind of social failure; becoming quixotic, internalising its limiting function, her downfall is ‘pathetic positivism,’ the game of courtliness. Thus the poem reads not only as an allegorical meeting-point between two States (or two ‘worlds’) founded on revolution, France and America, but also an assault on the Quixote, a figure of exceptionalism, idealism and subjectivity at odds with the ‘world which subverts courtliness.’ The chivalric narrative, which aspires to courtly love, is one in which the social mass threatens to overcome, to become the narrative. So W.C. Fields precisely is one of these figures, when seen in French light, an individual ‘everyman,’ or American ‘funnyman’ going against the mendacity of a world (America) that both courts the cult of the individual and sets up an obscure conflict between it and the ‘democratic’ socius.

Cover, W.C. Fields in French Light.
Cover, W.C. Fields in French Light.


That is to say, that in these passages and in the narrative development of the poem, its claims and its concepts are divided, deeply paradoxical, courting contradictions, most of all the contradictory status (or conflict) between the individual and society in the USAmerican unconscious. The recurrent place (and sonic motif) of the poem is the ‘Sacre Coeur,’ a monument against Revolution. The sacred heart, as it were, is the failure of revolution, the failure of the American revolution, even, to produce a lasting revolutionary (gender) consciousness. Most of the poem proceeds spatially just like the above, with relatively thin lines running down the page mostly without breaks, following the revisionary mythopoesis of H.D. A singular voice, if it is so, it is more choral than courtly lyric.


Another way of saying it is this. The summative congealing of these lines, their taut faceting and scale, functions to bind the thematic of the whole poem: they are, in effect, synecdochal. What becomes the text is a dissident but totalising analysis of the American subject as an anti-heroine or anti-American, the (anti-)American person as poet-heroine-misanthrope-everywoman. Still the text, or counter-text, is the thing that drives the dissonant and dissident subjectivity of the poem: she can say ‘The text is behind/the revolution’ (11).

Rachel Owens: Available from Small Press Distribution Available from Amazon[ir.gif]  Luca: Discourse on Life and Death; 2001, Junction Press
Rachel Owens: Available from Small Press Distribution
Available from Amazon[ir.gif]
Luca: Discourse on Life and Death; 2001, Junction Press
The ‘Discourse on Life and Death’ Series: 1988-2010


Light and darkness, painterly poesis and ekphrastic poetics become central topoi for the next wave of multi-decadal long poems Owens would attempt, beginning in the late 1980s. Unlike the harsher lexical segmentivities of the Joe Poems, where the concern is more how to get inside the word, to shatter the material surface, phrasal repetition of this formal and thematic kind will continue in the later long poems, perhaps with more intensity. Still, perhaps even more so, the narrative component will drive the long poems to come. Marjorie Perloff writes a preface to Luca that situates it as an ekphrastic long poem that uses a poetic version of the Renaissance painterly technique of sfumato. Perloff further designates Owens as a ‘proto-Language poet’ with her ‘marked ellipses, syntactic oddities, and dense and clashing verbal surfaces recalling the long poems of Bruce Andrews and Ron Silliman’ with the added exception that


Owens is angrier, more energetic, and more assertive than most of her Language counterparts, male and female, and she presents herself as curiously non-introspective. Hers is a universe of stark gesture, lightning flash, and uncompromising judgement: it is imperative, in her poetic world, to face up to the horror, even as the point of view is flexible enough to avoid all dogmatism. (Luca 12)


That is to say, the Language writing comparison for Perloff is only valid to a point; there is a directness to the disjunctive surface that is imbued, slightly less introspectively, with a certain energetics. But compared to the even more disjunctive surfaces of the earlier long poems, the ‘Discourse of Life and Death’ series interrogates poetry and painting intersections arguably via more constrained syntactic oddities (that are odd still, nonetheless). The roots of the project and its painterly narrative, particularly the characters of Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci and Sigmund Freud, lie in the 1980s with French Light (1984), and the aforementioned W.C. Fields in French Light (1986), How Much Paint Does The Painting Need (1988), and extend beyond the project, potentially, to Solitary Workwoman, published in 2010 by Junction Press, her most recent long poem publication, and which is not explicitly aligned with the ‘Discourse of Life and Death’ series.


In her first new and selected poems, published in 1997, she says the project started in 1988. But the books that are explicitly associated with the project are LUCA, ATELIER: Discourse On Life & Death (1989), which was partially published in the 1994 selection Rubbed Stones, and Black Chalk (Texture Press, 1992). All of these books are subtitled ‘Discourse on Life and Death.’ A contemporary example of a running subtitle is Claudia Rankine’s transitive ‘An American Lyric.’


Owens too writes unmistakably lyrically in these books. This is a long poem lyric that is more smoothly continuous, difficult yet phrasal, loquacious rather than faceted or compacted, a lyric encased in the long poem container. Among other things, having a recurring subtitle bequeaths a kind of long poem sequentiality that is aware of bookhood as accumulation. Alongside accumulative logics, it also gives the sense of majorness, of making a statement over time.


The book jacket for Black Chalk describes it as ‘the latest segment of a major work-in-progress, Discourse on Life & Death… other earlier segments of Discourse on Life & Death have appeared in prestigious publications of experimental poetics, including Temblor and Abacus. ‘Prestigious’ experimental poetics publications situates, moreover, the work in its own poetics history, as something major in this poetics territory.


In an interview with C.B. Coleman, Owens gives a detailed description of her work-in-progress Luca: A Discourse on Life and Death and how it creates the dynamism of process and is the continual assembly, deconstruction, and re-assembly of subject matter. It has a lot of voices, multiple voices, and I feel that it is a definite evolution from my dramatic work. The fact that the work is called ‘Discourse on Life and Death’, creates the dynamics of description.


The poem is a loose personal narrative around the themes of Mona Lisa and Da Vinci. Pattern, contrast, and juxtaposition is an important aesthetic concept. Pattern finds expression in the repetitions and the integration of images into a kaleidoscopic form which deals with all elements of culture — from primitive society to modern technology, as well as personal and universally experienced reflections on history, mythology, and art. The various voices of the narrator and the characters create psychological polarities of experience.

 — (Interview 20)


Epical in its narratological processes, and dramatic in its polyvocal registration, the ‘kaleidoscopic’ here is how the multifarious elements of culture and character come to concatenate in form. Luca, Discourse on Life and Death can be read as an extended ekphrastic work. It critiques the Male Creative Genius, bringing to life the characters Leonardo Da Vinci (Lenny), Mona (of the Mona Lisa), her friend Flora, and Freud (Siggy), weaving them in a complex and continuous epic narrative that runs over 200 pages.


She then goes on to say, towards the end of this interview, that ‘the process of writing itself is unpredictable, immediate… inherently experimental.’ This notion of an ‘inherent’ experimentality is curious (what does it mean to have an essential drive to experiment?). Certainly in Luca the reflection on the process of writing becomes allegorical for the painterly act:


space   breaks away spontaneous plague
new & clean enlarging its incessant
swelling   in Mona’s posing
the thought that the model
is looking out
the maximum of distance   pleasing
to Mona water compresses the easel

(Luca 40)


When reading passages from Luca the subtlety of its sonic layers combines with an imagism which can, as long poems do, offer a summative characterisation of the century in which the poem takes place while imaginatively calling up multiple temporalities from Early Modern to Modernity itself and beyond (Da Vinci; Freud; the present). Several pages later the text tunes in to a moment of incision:


Mona hearing the flap of the abdominal
cavity fibrous circles the depths
of the edge of the masterpiece burnt
on the left side
the blocked breath & punishment she
was the legitimate daughter passed
her adolescence winters are long
in Vinci
Why   at the end of the 20th century
the laying on of hands

 — (Luca 52)


After this, the interpretative gesture of the paint as it is applied turns chemical; the burnt edge of the canvas exposes its surface to combustion. Mona becomes a chemist, herself responsible for thinking the arrangement of her own face as the result of a reaction (or more accurately embodied impression) and to the ‘deposit’ on a shroud. This shroud becomes a motif for the book, but more than a motif it becomes a ‘discourse’ or extended metaphor. Through Mona, Owens mounts a lyric theory of impression that approaches the allegorical:


Mona says theorizing what might be
grouped combined accumulated coded
collected the substances
onto the shroud   14 feet   3 inches long
death may be gist essence
Flora intoned without end
14 feet   3 inches long   the shroud
bears faint hidden forms

 — (Luca 54-55)


Mona’s ‘slow molecular smile’ (53) thus shows up on the text as a face might deposit its chemicals onto the shroud. The shroud as textual surface solidifies in the lines:


maneuvering the text
onto the shroud   one can sit wondering
in the same position thinks Mona
nailed into space

 — (Luca 55)


Space is, despite the positions from which we view these characters, indeterminate. Its nailing or quilting is the very maneuvering (and maneuverability) of the text, following us like Mona’s smile. Alongside narrative and characterological thematics are phrasal motifs repeated throughout that function as quilting points for the narrative, a common practice in the Discourse series.


Some of these are ‘I’m a hungry bum,’ ‘death may be gist essence,’ ‘a lira here a lira there’ (lira can refer to a Ukrainian folk musical instrument, the currency in Turkey), ‘in the space of the atelier,’ ‘the smile of Giaconda,’ ‘in a poetic mood,’ even individual words: ‘hayre,’ an archaic form of ‘hair’ (which also appears ten years later in Solitary Workwoman), ‘paysanne’ (French for peasant woman), and ‘Leo na r do’ (gapping within words, demonstrating a penchant for lexical segmentivities). Reading these motifs is, analogously speaking, a fugal patterning of the textual fabric. The theme of the shroud continues in a section titled ‘Frightened of Exposure’:


her resistance of imitation consists
embodied buried black in the museum
trusts her glance theorizing the image
was caused
a belief implanted when she was
scrutinizing the precise texts on
the face of it the portrait is a steady
logic drawing attention until scientific
studies accumulate a photographic
telling of the other things
she saw there   she looked up and saw
hand-written words on the masterpiece
saw the atelier after the fire saw
whirling wrath in the space

 — (Luca 58)


The photographic negative again is an x-ray image of the work, to use the Adornian phrase, which is not quite an imitation, but rather a ‘mutation’ (60), closer to a molecular or chemical manifestation of the work, suggesting that the work of poetry, like the fugally-discursive patterning that so characterises Luca, is analogous to the act of transmission and imprint of the staining body and stained textual surface:


complex chemical dyes subtle color
through your light brown hayre
and how the cloth said breath in
the image sonnet sequences patterned
like the portrait of the merchant’s

— (Luca 61)


The extraordinary persistence and consistency, long past exhaustion, of the poem means the key phrasal motifs will return even hundreds of pages past these. Anatomies of perspective are the long ‘sittings’ of the long poem, its notational breadth in time. The time of this series is, indeed, not up.


The most recent long poem Owens has written, Solitary Workwoman, might be considered (in both style, form and in its politics of the body), an extension of the Discourse series. Her poetry begins from the mouth of an American Hag, also Below Ground (the opening section title), out of the grave, so to speak:


This treacherous possession
of words of a HAG
a hag’s words are SEVEN
then she tightens
your black silk hood
Her life is among the ELECT
seen in SCENES of
Daily life in a rural
American town
And then the thought
of mundane domesticity
washes over me

 — (Solitary Workwoman 11)


The siting of the American town recalls W.C. Fields in French Light, and like that poem, the cast of characters in the poem center around the hag-workwoman, a central character who could be multiple but is most often the speaking of a singular voice. The ‘solitary’ of the workwoman reworks questions of the characterology of the previous long poems:


A SOLITARY workwoman ONE who asks
nothing more from her climate-controlled
DOMAIN than that household tasks be done
And that the DOMAIN wherein dwells
the hag of patterns and sound
in her domain in the hag’s domain
LET sound be AMPLIFIED with her breath
her breath forming WORDS

 — (Solitary Workwoman 17)


This is curious because Owens’ poetry reading voice, which can give untold pleasure if accessed (there is a generous amount of it online at Pennsound), with its incantatory qualities, held notes (long and short), and its matter-of-fact violence and profanity, seems to be this voice, singularly recognizable, ‘AMPLIFIED,’ zany, uncompromising. Yet still the model of subjectivity, though drawn from a single source, ‘breath forming WORDS’ is social.


But even so the question of the surface of the text, and more complexly the question of notationality; of the transmission between print and voice, is reflexively raised:


An imprint penetrating OPENS
toward us UTOPIA six letters
backwards spelling
DEFEAT scratching OUT mistakes
daily the words envy/sloth
these are a SMOKE of automobile
Burning tone daily saying this is
UTTERANCE pressing your lips
while the words loshon hora BLOCKS
your speech…

 — (Solitary Workwoman 127)


The loshon hora, or ‘evil tongue’ refers to derogatory speech, and seems to put a blockage on the speaker. What information or gossip is passed around, that is, the social power and value of speech, is at stake. Implicit in one passage, a clue perhaps to Owens’ vision for the subject, is the role of the scholar in relation to the subject. The subject is assembled, dissembled, designed (its impact is subject to interpretation and information, one might say ‘socialised’), but the scholar brings the subject ‘down to earth’:


A scholar offers motives
MEANINGS and draws conclusions
to bring her SUBJECT down to earth
wanting to be an ally not an
A subject is assembled   designed
and the IMPACT it makes on us
depends on interpretation
and information

 — (Solitary Workwoman 22)


In perhaps the most powerful passage in the poem, Owens can be heard to show poetic subjectivity at its most discordant but delightful moment of splitting, under the pressure of multiplicity:


Neither a POETRY pure or a RANCID
verse EXPELLED pieces of a
SCROLL a scroll of multiple colors
unrolling from the MOUTH of an old
WOMAN looking upwards COVERS over
this detail splitting
splitting into SIGNS and WONDERS
signs and wonders splitting
into questions   a SOLITARY workwoman
thinks Lucy
a solitary workwoman LIFTING and LOWERING

 — (Solitary Workwoman 134)


The work of expansion that makes long poem poesis so vast is, considering its history, this kind of expansiveness: the ‘splitting into questions.’ Interpretation, the work of the scholar, is never far behind the long poem poet and her unfolding poetic information. Whichever way passages such as these are read, it will always be indeterminate.


Divided attention, splitting, also manifest in spacing and gapping the letters in words, the majuscule capitalisation, the accents, emphasis, or even holding of the words, are part of this kaleidoscopic scroll of ‘multiple colors’ that rework the details and capacities of the expansive poem.

The Work of Expansion as Allegorical Time Lapse


Now that some of this historical work has been laid out (and it is of course incomplete), I want to make several observations (or discourses) that might accompany critical readings of these long poems. The first has to do with the kaleidoscopic, ‘open’ field of the Owens page. Its geometries are notably wide, Olsonic, holding vectors that are unusually extreme, or harsh, and lexical segmentivities that are sharply fragmented. We might put it in a longer timeline of the long poem: they can be said to follow Robert Southey’s defense in the Preface to Joan of Arc: An Epic Poem, where he writes ‘With respect to the occasional harshness of the versification, it must not be attributed to negligence or haste. I deem such variety essential in a long poem’ (8).


So too the kaleidoscopic toolbox of microscopic formal strategies Owens deploys accomplish this long poem ‘variousness,’ albeit with modernist means: spatially fixed axes, vectors or registers come into play. Compositional techniques — because that is what they first are — that Owens is prone to use in her expansive poetics, like splitting of the page into two or more registers or ‘axes,’ have consequences for reading (and writing) practice that are significant.


But much of these questions concern temporality and temporal capacities particularly with regard to the political and cultural horizons of gender. At this point it is apt that I make some mention of revisionary mythopoesis as both a process of poetic abstraction and as feminist strategy.


The work of comparison, as I noted earlier in this essay, is advisable. Such a strategy parallels gender discourses in Waldman’s Iovis in its attempts at a subversion of the patriarchal male / war-godhead, a subversion singed with utopic strivings that, as noted, envisage androgyny its horizon. Like Iovis, Owens’ Luca, for instance, reworks myth in jutting syntactic skips and cuts.


The final horizon for gender poetics is not a world without gender, but one in which gender is no longer worked into binary logics and is rather flattened, perhaps even ontologically flattened. The genderless horizon, more than androgyny, would cancel-out gender to the extent that gendered multiplicities take the role of subjectivity, or at least the subjectivity that Iovis constructs.


Gender poetics is, simply and truly, a question of subjectivity. The Joe poems sarcastically burlesque the gender binary and cast in-betweens and crossovers as counteracting its rigidity. Like Waldman, her poems are led by hags and heroines, models to reclaim the pejorative.


There is also the question of (gender) performance. Like another ethnopoet, Schwerner, author of The Tablets, Owens is also interested in the literary hoax and the idea of autoreferential or sarcastic conceit, the poetic arras. Comparison has been made with Charles Olson’s Maximus poems, even if slightly differently attuned to the page-scape; Owens’ page is too an unpredictable field, open to variegated line lengths, syntactic cut, thinning, blocking out and striating its surfaces.


But the role of heroine-poet as American Revolutionary and archaeologist, borne out most trenchantly in both Luca and W.C. Fields in French Light, challenge the male long poem in that the female-gendered subject is never fixed, but rather a heroine and a contradiction. In the Joe Poems (Owens at her most Olsonesque), the woman is an abstract cultural personage written into the fabric of a poetics, and poetic politics, in which the founding myth is situated alongside an apocalyptic teleology (the ‘Atomic century’).


There are other differences with the male long poems of the twentieth century, particularly in subjective configuration. The American revolutionary is an (every)-woman who is both partially responsible for the calamities of a century and, though not a utopic counterpoint to Hegemony, and not untainted by Empire, is positioned as thoroughly opposed to its workings.


For the long poem including culture in the late twentieth century, the stakes were high, and in their wake the stakes remain high. Having written some of the most sustained long poems of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, perhaps Owens’ Luca can stand at the culmination-point of much of this work, labour, and poetic thinking. To try to achieve length, to carve out capacious space in time, is a tactic peculiar to the long poem poet. The temporal element needs stressing: long poems inhabit the form for a long period of time, and not just time in composition but the reader’s time. As commitment to labour over the period of not just days or months but years and decades, the long poem both stands within subjective time and resists time; it bridges cultural changes and political styles, inhabiting, hoping, failing, beginning and starting again.


Getting beyond the patriarchal long poem is the provenance of late twentieth and early twenty-first century long poems by women. The gender projects of both Owen’s long poems and Waldman’s Iovis seek a horizon other than the M-F binary that buttresses the power relations that are.


What are the larger consequences of this study, one which only begins to scratch the surface? Having written some of the most sustained long poems of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the long poems of Rochelle Owens need to be given some more attention within the developing field of studies that is expansive poetics. My project has been, and will continue to be, historiographical, but with urgency for the work of poetics: these works need to be brought into the field and the vocabulary of expansion.


These modes of expansion are incantatory, intersubjective, modern, ancient, monodic, lyric and choral. Owens has developed not one but many means to expand and contain work. There is no one life poem here. Her long poems rather present a reworking of the epic within a subjectivity where voices, tonalities and subject-positions are legion. Owens inhabits, in her own words, a ‘kaleidoscopic’ sense of form, which reworks the details and capacities of the page, unsettling modes of reading and writing.


Owens’ long poems need to be read, in my mind, alongside other North American epics in the postmodern era, Iovis, Drafts, The Tablets, and other, participating in the same kinds of poetics, but with different strategies and narratologies. They can be read as paradoxically anti-monumentalist cornerstones for the history of North American long poems in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, epics that question the very centrifugal forces from which they have arisen.


Just as crucially is the capacity to read her works as part of an international and transnational mentality of experimentation. The characteristics of these expansive works are increasingly understood as cumulative of an array (or arras) of experimental techniques that we draw on today for our own experiments. These long poems test the limit-points of disjunctive fields, lyrical and antilyrical tonalities, modular sequentiality, extraordinary discipline and devotion over long periods of time, transformative of linguistic textures (of what can constitute the discursive layering of a poem), are boldly and avowedly experimental, and, as an unlikely term for poststructuralist criticism, totalising.


Not culturally totalising, but reaching toward a totality of the Book, a totality of multiplicities. To rehearse once again that phrase of McHale’s on the postmodern long poem, the ‘obligation toward the difficult whole’ remains at the conceptual core of all long poem projects even if these totalising aims are ultimately thwarted.


A long poem in this sense both sits in time and catalogues time warp and time lapse; a writing-through swathes of time that decelerates and accelerates, carves up and distends time. The long poem, in its multiple variables and guises, across books and through the deep axes of concepts and the superficial shifts of these concepts, persists as an allegory for a period of time, whatever length of time that period takes up. A temporal container that might stand for other, larger things, extending and metaphorising questions of culture, empire, whole decades or centuries. As collage, the allegorical long poem fragments the time of the century; to end with the beginning of W.C. Fields in French Light:


A fragment catalog paste-up
of the 20th century
a time lapse
a naive father allegory
She says: The scruples
of myself should be
the scruples of the world
the woman as wrongly treated

  Works Cited

Augustine, Jane. ‘Androgynous Re-Vision of the Word / World: Rochelle Owens’ Joe 82 Creation Poems.Margins. A Symposium on Rochelle Owens (1975): 88-9. Print.

Coleman, C.B. ‘The Androgynous Muse: An Interview with Rochelle Owens.’ Theater 20.2 (1989): 19-23. Print.

Economou, George. ‘The Early Poetry of Rochelle Owens.’ Margins (1975): 79-80. Print.

Mac Low, Jackson. ‘Rochelle Reading Rochelle.’ Margins. (1975): 83. Print.

McHale, Brian. The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole: Postmodernist Long Poems. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2004. Print.

Nash, Susan Smith. ‘Apocalyptic Enactments in the Work of Rochelle Owens.’ Norman: Texture Press, 1994. Print.

Owens, Rochelle. How Much Paint Does the Painting Need. New York: Kulchur Foundation, 1988. Print.

——— The Joe Eighty-Two Creation Poems. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1974. Print.

———. The Joe Chronicles II. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow, 1977. Print.

———. Luca: Discourse on Life and Death. Preface by Marjorie Perloff. San Diego: Junction, 2000. Print.

———. Poems from Joe’s Garage. Providence: Burning Deck, 1973. Print.

———. Shemuel. Kensington: New Rivers, 1979. Print.

———. Solitary Workwoman. New York: Junction, 2011. Print.

———. Triptych. Guilderland: Texture Press, 2006. Print.

———. W.C. Fields in French Light. New York: Contact 2 Press, 1986. Print.

Southey, Robert. Joan of Arc: An Epic Poem. Bristol: Manning & Loring, 1798.

Weinstein, Norman. ‘Nocturnal Remarks Regarding Selected Poems of Rochelle Owens: Eros Speaks from Northwest of Basra.’ Great Writers Occupy Golden Handcuffs Review: Anthology of the New. Ed. Lou Rowan. Seattle: Golden Handcuffs Review Publications, 2015. 289-92. Print.

Rochelle Owens
Rochelle Owens

Rochelle Owens (Wikipedia) is the daughter of Maxwell and Molly (Adler) Bass. A native New Yorker, Owens studied at the New School for Social Research (now The New School) and University of Montreal. After a brief marriage to David Owens, she married the poet George Economou on June 17, 1962. She has taught at Brown University, the University of California-San Diego, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). A pioneer in the experimental Off-Broadway Theatre movement and also influential to the poetry at St.Marks Poetry Project and Deux Megots as a founding participant as well as being involved in the ethnopoetics movement, Owens is widely known as one of the most innovative and controversial writers of this century, whose ground-breaking work has influenced subsequent experimental playwrights and poets. Since its first publication in 1961, her play ‘Futz’ has become a classic of the American avant-garde and an international success. Toronto banned it, an Edinburgh paper dubbed it ‘lust and bestiality play’ but New Yorkers queued around the block when it was first produced in the sixties. In 1969, it was made into a film, which has attained a cult following. [The name ‘Rochelle’ is taken from the name of the French city La Rochelle, meaning ‘little rock’. It first became commonly used as a given name in America in the 1930s, probably due to the fame of actress Rochelle Hudson (1914-1972) and because of the similarity to the name Rachel.]

Andy Carruthers
Andy Carruthers

a.j. carruthers is an experimental poet and critic, member of the New Wave poetry movement in Australia. He is the author of the academic book Notational Experiments in North American Long Poems, 1961-2011: Stave Sightings (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and the first volume of a lifelong long poem AXIS Book 1: Areal (Tokyo: Vagabond, 2014). Other titles include The Tulip Beds: A Toneme Suite (Vagabond 2013) and two downloadable online books; Opus 16 on Tehching Hsieh (Oakland CA: GaussPDF, 2016): at http://dl.gauss-pdf.com/GPDF221-AJC-O16OTH.pdf, and Ode to On Kawara (Buffalo NY: Hysterically Real, 2016). Download the E-Book here: http://www.hystericallyreal.com/post/150137803670/ode-to-on-kawara-by-aj-carruthers-pdf. He is poetry reviews editor for Southerly magazine, essays editor of Rabbit Poetry Journal and the founder of SOd press.