Bowery Press, 1982
Designed and printed by Carolyn Bennett, Jim Carroll, Laura Hammond, Elizabeth Leake, David Webster, Cary Wilkins and Rollin Woodyatt, under the supervision of Steve Miller and Ken Botnick at Bowery Press, Centre for Book Arts, New York, USA.
Published in an edition of 70 copies.
Here we have yet another standout piece of Dana Gioia fine press, with this the author’s first publication outside of magazines and such.
This attractive and highly sought after treasure was produced by the students of Steve Miller and Ken Botnick’s printing class at New York’s Centre for Book Arts. As is customary in US Book Arts programs, the teachers gave their class projects an imprint under which they could be published. In this case it was the short-lived Bowery Press (short lived because the imprint stands only until there is a change of personnel). Miller went on to run the major MFA Book Arts Program at The University of Alabama.
Miller and Botnick had approached Gioia, asking if they could print a proper edition of a pair of poems that had recently appeared in The Hudson Review (the beautifully titled ‘An Elegy for Vladimir de Pachmann’ and ‘Lives of the Great Composers’). The resulting booklet was this little ‘most wanted’ item on the lists of Gioia collectors. As the poem titles suggest, they are centred on figures in classical music. But they are not what you might expect, as both pieces portray the broken madness of creative genius rather than being centred on the music. In ‘An Elegy’ the renowned eccentric behaviour of Russian pianist de Pachmann is described, presenting a manic figure verging on clear lunacy. Amongst other things, we see such curious antics as him screeching and dancing like a monkey whilst alone, and performing to hotel furniture that he gets to clap by knocking together. In ‘Lives of the Great Composers’ the portrayal of madness is more subtle. Here we have the German composer Robert Schumann in an asylum during his last years, writing compositions on his cell window. His depression is echoed in the gloom of the constant rain referenced throughout. These are two deeply poignant works.
The typography and presswork are high quality, with the quirkiness of the types (Kennerly and Forum) aptly fitting the poems. My favourite design element is the use of pastel lilac-blue for the titles – it’s particularly attractive on the page. The wrapper, printed with the image of an old antiphonal music sheet, is also a fine choice.
Two Poems is, despite there being seventy copies, a rare-as-hen’s-teeth booklet, with copies all-but impossible to get hold of. Many were distributed to people associated with the project, while the remainder were sold out on the publication night reading by Gioia. I am beyond pleased to have managed to obtain one.
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