Nathan Heller has a good piece in Harvard Magazine about Andrew Hoyem’s Arion Press , “a fine-edition publisher in San Francisco. Some of the books it has produced are set by hand, and all are printed in small editions whose volumes sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Following tradition, Hoyem either melts down the type or returns it to its cases after the run is complete, preserving the volumes’ uniqueness.” I have very mixed feelings about this. Intellectually, I can appreciate the fine-art appeal of such editions, and I can imagine admiring the physicality of Hoyem’s edition of John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror“:
In pursuit of that perfection, …[Hoyem] imagined the printed pages as a physical object shaped by the poem’s imagery and cultural vernacular. He decided the pages would be round, rather than rectangular, with an extra-large 18-inch diameter. He printed the lines of the poem like spokes, radiating outward from the center of the page, with generous space between. He stacked the round pages in a custom-made, film-reel-like canister for each copy, in lieu of binding, and, on each canister’s exterior, fitted a convex mirror in which the viewer would see him- or herself. (“I see in this only the chaos / Of your round mirror which organizes everything.”) He commissioned eight artists, including Jim Dine and Willem de Kooning, to respond to the Parmigianino painting, and interpolated these new works among the wheels of text. Ashbery [’49, Litt.D. ’01] contributed a recording he’d made of the poem, and Hoyem included the LP, with the Parmigianino on its cover.
And he got Helen Vendler to do the critical introduction; they’ve been frequent collaborators ever since. But there’s no getting around the fact that these are luxury objects for rich people, and while in the abstract I have no objection to that—why shouldn’t rich people have works of art, and why shouldn’t publishers get some of the dough?—it rankles my populist soul. Oh, and then there’s this: “When Hoyem and Vendler hoped to produce an edition of Emily Dickinson poems, the Harvard University Press, which still holds rights to Dickinson’s oeuvre and exercises them actively, wouldn’t let them be printed even in a small fine-press edition.” The hell with Harvard! At any rate, I like my late-’70s Viking/Penguin paperback of Ashbery’s poem just fine; here’s a nice bit:
That is the tune but there are no words.
The words are only speculation
(From the Latin speculum, mirror):
They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.
We see only postures of the dream,
Riders of the motion that swings the face
Into view under evening skies, with no
False disarray as proof of authenticity.
But it is life englobed.
(Thanks, Paul T.!)