Dana Gioia


Ex Ophidia, 1986


Designed by Richard-Gabriel Rummonds and printed by him, with assistance from Antony O’Hara and Cary Wilkins, at Ex Ophidia, Cottondale, Alabama, USA.

Published in an edition of 90 copies.


Fine press printing really doesn’t get much better than this example from master of the iron hand press Richard-Gabriel Rummonds. Indeed, with its impeccable presswork and exquisite poems and etchings, this benchmark for the finest of book craft has become a new entry in my Top Ten.

Despite knowing of Rummonds’ status as one of the world’s finest handpress printers, I had only ever seen one example of his printing, which was The Ship of Sounds, a small booklet printed for Gruffyground Press. Although a lovely edition, it wasn’t substantial enough to give a proper representation of the printer’s capabilities. Thankfully, this situation has now been rectified by the arrival of this magnificent, all-but perfect publication. Simply put, everything about Journeys in Sunlight is exemplary.

The author, Dana Gioia, is a highly accomplished writer, and the poems he presents here are some of the most beautiful and evocative I’ve read in a long while. They present a classical idyll of a rural Italy that could really only exist as such in our imagination. The first of the six poems, An Emigré in Autumn, is my favourite, with images so rich that I’m transported to a place I feel I know, yet have never been to. To paint so clearly a scene with just a handful of choice phrases is masterly. To compliment the text, the artist Fulvio Testa was asked to create three etchings. His resulting exquisite illustrations of Italian countryside landscapes could not have been more suitable.

As for the general design and typography, Journeys in Sunlight just keeps on ticking all the right boxes. The choice of Dante for the type is spot on, looking classical and elegant on the pages, while the presswork – on a tactile textured Magnani handmade – is immaculate. Such an incredibly high standard of presswork is a rare and beautiful thing, and puts a great many practitioners to shame. The layout is, like the publication in general, classic and refined. It relies – as the greatest examples of typography do – on nothing but the well-judged restraint of its designer. There are no frills or fancy tricks here, and the only hint of any kind of typographic boldness’ is the beautiful calligraphic J on the title page. And that is by no means extravagant, but rather a most pleasing touch.

The binding, as with the rest of the book, is suitably subtle, with a simple, unlettered leather spine, and boards covered in the most delicate example of less-is-more paper marbling I’ve seen. And it is literally delicate as it was done using high-pigment colours that aren't exactly paper-fast. The balance between paper-fastness and strength of colour was tipped in favour of the colour, and as such, all the copies come with a glassine wrapper to protect the marbling from the great ease in which it can be smudged. This minor element of physical fragility is the only down side to this publication, and the sole reason for the earlier all-but perfect’ statement. If such care was not needed in the handling of this edition, I reckon the all-but’ could be removed.



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