Sunday, March 21, 2010

Poetry Is Blue: Brief Descriptions of Material Properties

Barnes & Noble Sherman Plaza, Evanston, IL, 21 March 2010:

Progeny of Air, Kwame Dawes. Peepal Tree Press, 1994, reprinted 2003. Price in pounds. Matte cover, predominant color note: blue. The book is small though not pocket sized unless you've got giant pockets. Maybe 7 by 4 inches and a third of an inch thick. Top of each page slightly darker than the rest, ring-around-the-collar style. A slightly ragged serif typeface, clearly computer rendered, squished in spots. The ink has a slightly ghosted, unsaturated quality. Pages of average thickness, rough grain. Back cover author photo shows a tight black-and-white but really blue-and-white closeup: glasses, facial hair, lips parted, hands at cheeks, looking down as though reading. What is this book doing here?

Mean Free Path, Ben Lerner's latest. Big, glossy blue, shows handling. Inside white space luxuriates around a clear hard serif typeface. 66 official pages and some extras. A comment card, TGIFridays-style falls out on the cafe table. A sort of bookmark. Smooth pages with a faint taupe coloring, deceptively impervious. No author photo but six emblems appear on the next to last page:, The Point, Golden Lasso, Lannan, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington State Arts Commission. And Copper Canyon's own logo in the upper left corner followed by their explanation: "The Chinese character for poetry is made up of two parts: 'word' and 'temple." If it's accurate to read left to right the "word" looks like a lowercase "i"; the temple is a man in a hat, possibly drunk, gesturing obscenely at the "i."

Where's the Moon, There's the Moon, a hardback by Dan Chiasson. Glossy black dust jacket, wider than a novel but no taller, much thinner. The actual cover's paper, green with blue spine and the Borzoi Books imprint a literal imprint, communicative to the fingertip. The relative whiteness of the page seems identical to Lerner but now I am starting to see or imagine a faint brownness to the top of each page of every book I look at. The typeface is large and clear. The author in the photo on the right inside jacket flap has trees behind him and confronts the camera frankly, handsomely, with wavy hair slightly askew and an open-necked polo shirt, enough of the right arm visible to guess that it's hooked at his hip, Whitman style. Near the bottom of the page the borzoi returns, abstracted to the point of flight: a green gull with a tail.

Shoulder Season, Ange Mlinko, Coffee House Press. A frenetic painting or painted collage gleams under the cover's gloss; an indigo stripe discreetly marks its territory at the very top. Typeface startlingly large, making the poems easily available one imagines to the elderly and eyestrained. Poem titles all caps in a typeface made to resemble a stencil; somehow more Caribbean-looking than Dawes' book. Paper really isn't white, is it? The typeface is Erhardt, designed by a Hungarian; Mlinko too is Hungarian; I am a half of a Hungarian Jew, which is immaterial. Three logos on the last page: National Endowment for the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, Target.

The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929 - 1940. Cambridge UP. Massive gray hardcover with pastel black and white image of the artist as a young man, lettering white and pastel blue. More blue on the back; this cover shows wear already. The physical hardcover is black and satisfying textured and pointillist to the touch with gold lettering on the broad muscular spine. Inside pages bright, slick, thin, feels somehow foreign. Distance from title page to first letter (address suitably to Joyce, dated 23/3/29 from Kassel, Germany): one quarter inch. Distance from conclusion of last letter ("Love to you both & to Tom. / Sam") to endpaper: one third inch. Heavy fucker. Type of the letters seems too big; type of the voluminous footnotes, too small.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. FSG's fish rendered cartoonishly by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, along with the rest of the cover, which is mustard yellow, matte, easy to grip in one hand. Thin coarse pages, indifferent print job indicates the disposability of this book, inversely proprotionate to the sales it is likely to generate. Covered with cartoons of Chaz's trademark worried-looking neurotic New Yorkers, some of which are reimagined as Russians. Nobody looks Turkish but what does Turkish look like? Author photo on first page, cropped black hair, looking down and away from camera to show off her profile, her sexy blade of a nose. The pages already have a slightly wavy quality to them: they will absorb moisture easily. Nowhere close to white.

Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Wave Books. Deep blue with white flecks as befits the title, which I first misread as "blurts"; initial excitement at combination of inelegant name with elegant volume now faded. Handsomely printed on thick paper, feels tight in its spine, almost as high in quality as a Coach House book. Numbered blocks of prose discreetly bordered with whiteness. No photos of any kind. A mute flawless illegible object like the monolith in 2001, its cover may not be intended to be but nevertheless is representational of stars.

1 comment:

Peli Grietzer said...

Not a material property but "The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" is one of the best theory/memoir hybrids since Tristes Tropiques.

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