Rare Book Highlights: Iowa Private Press books

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am highlighting several private press books that contain collections of poetry. Private presses are run by individuals and are driven less by commercial than personal interests. The works they create have limited press runs, and the goal is to create a beautiful book.

Iowa State University Library has collected the works of a number of Iowa private presses, particularly from those active in the 1960s-80s, and Special Collections holds a related manuscript collection, the Iowa Private Presses Ephemera Collection (MS 414).

Slesinger, Warren. Field with Figurations. West Branch, Iowa: The Cummington Press, 1970. Call number: PS3569.L4 F5

This book of poems by Warren Slesinger published by the Cummington Press in West Branch, Iowa, is quarter-bound with a lovely gray paste-paper with a wavy design. Many private press books use a colophon–a note at the end of the book containing various information about the book and its publication. In early printed books, especially those in the 15th century, the colophon was the only place to find information on the title and author of the work, the printer, place of printing, and date. Today in many private press and artists’ books, the colophon is frequently used to record details about the type, paper, binding, and other physical aspects of the book. In this case, we see that this book is part of a numbered edition–33 of 295 copies–as well as other details about the paper and funding source.

This book is number 33 of an edition limited to two hundred and ninety-five copies, printed on Alexandra Japan paper from Octavian type; its production has been enabled by a grant of money from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Colophon of Slesinger’s “Field with Figurations”.

Sjoberg, John. Hazel & Other Poems. West Branch, Iowa: The Toothpaste Press, 1976. Call number: PS3569.J6 H3

Here is another book with an interesting binding. The colophon indicates that this edition was bound in two different ways. The larger portion was sewn and glued into wrappers, meaning paper covers, similar in weight to a paperback book. Fifty copies, of which this one is numbered 41 and signed by the author, were “quarter bound in Japanese handmade Tomoe paper & cloth over boards by the Black Oak Bindery.” I love this binding. The paper has an almost furry texture, and the swirls have a lovely sheen in the light.

Hazel was designed by Cinda Kornblum; handset by Steve Levine and Allan Kornblum; then printed on Ragston paper in an edition of 500 copies by Allan Kornblum & a treadle-driven Challenge platen press. Of this first edition, 450 were sewn and glued into wrappers; 50 copies were numbered & signed by the author, then quarter bound in Japanese hand-made Tomoe paper & cloth over boards by the Black Oak Bindery. Numbered 41, and signed by John Sjoberg.

Colophon for Sjoberg’s “Hazel & Other Poems.”

Padgett, Ron, and Trevor Winkfield. How to be a Woodpecker. West Branch, Iowa: The Toothpaste Press, 1983. Call number: PS3566.A32 H68x 1983

Here is an example of a book sewn into wrappers. Sewn with a simple pamphlet stitch, I find it elegant in its simplicity. This book contains a series of 5 poems, each illustrated with a whimsical black and white print. These are also signed by the book’s creators.

(c) 1983 by Ron Padgett and Trevor Winkfield. Handset in Optima type by David Duer. This is number 213 of 600 signed copies printed on Ragston paper by Allan Kornblum and D. Duer. Handsewn in Canson wrappers by A.B. signed in black ink by Ron Padgett. Signed in red ink by Trevor Winkfield.

Colophon of Padgett and Winkfield’s “How to be a Woodpecker.”

Slesinger, Warren. With Some Justification: Nine Poems. Iowa City: The Windhover Press, 1983. Call number: PS3569.L4 W5 1983

This understated volume may be my favorite of all. Its textblock has been sewn onto cloth tapes that have been laced into the simple, light gray wrappers.

The nine poems are disguised as dictionary definitions. Above, below, and between the areas of text on each page are sections of uninked type impressions, type layered over type so that is creates a blurred impression. Cleverly, they carried over this idea of the blind-stamping type into the colophon. Half is inked, and half is like a secret message. Can you read it in the image below? (Click the images to view larger.)

Popkes, Wendy. Iowa Couplets. Art and printing by Ladislav Hanka. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Rarach, Press, 1982. Call number: PS3566 O62743x 1982

This book comes out a press from Michigan, but how could I resist including a book called Iowa Couplets? Bound in a paper with bits of grass, it gives a feeling of prairie before even opening the book. It includes a single poem and prints of rows of corn stalks.

I will leave you with the last lines of the poem,

A tall stalk

sprung from the living room carpet,

I become an acre,

a field in their old eyes.

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