As part of my daily #todayspoem tweeting routine, I recently accompanied my selection of an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s poem “Spelling” with some pictures of the treasured limited edition chapbook from which the poem came, entitled Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written (published in 1981 by The Nightshade Press). It’s a slim, striking, verging on unwieldy, utterly unlikely rendition of a chapbook. Its somewhat thorny but beautiful physical demeanour, complete with stitched string binding that just might be sending some kind of a message unto itself, almost seems to echo the acerbic, urgent poems contained within. (Hmm, let’s think about writing book reviews that include a review of how well the physical book supports the book’s thesis, themes, tone, etc. Yes, I know that will be a challenge, but perhaps a healthy one, in this increasingly digital world.)
Inspired by interested comments about the Atwood chapbook pictures from Twitter book friend @barbhowson, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration.
Today, I dipped into Charles Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems (1992, Black Sparrow Press). Many of not most of the works comprising Bukowski’s prodigious output were published by fabled Black Sparrow Press in handsome, well-crafted editions that gave to his and the works of other avant-garde writers of the 1960s and 70s a reverence that was often a long time coming from a broader audience and readership. That was due in large part to the vision of Black Sparrow founder John Martin, whose literary legacy is described here and has still been kept alive today. As David R. Godine, the licensed distributor who took over the Black Sparrow backlist when John Martin retired in 2002, points out:
These are not reprints: they are the original publisher’s editions, trucked direct from John Martin’s former Santa Rosa warehouse to ours. Most of the books are hand-sewn, on creamy, heavy, acid-free paper, with distinctive cover and text designs by Barbara Martin. Most of the books, once they are sold out, will not be reprinted.
Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems is a fine example of Martin’s publishing care and craft.
This limited edition of Charles Bukowski’s The Last Night of the Earth Poems includes tipped-in doodles from the poet himself.