CODEX V, the fifth biennial international CODEX Book Fair and Symposium, was the primary reason for my recent trip to San Francisco. In the words of Director Peter Koch, and confirmed by everyone I have ever talked to about being there, this is “the premiere world’s fair of the book considered as a work of art.” As a lover of fine press books and literature , I would hate to miss this event, and have been lucky enough to have it close enough that I’ve been to the last three. In fact, the several hours drive home after CODEX III was the inspiration for The Whole Book Experience. I wanted a way for those who may have missed the opportunity to see or hear about a limited edition book to have a place to go to read about them. And I wanted to find another way to enjoy fine press books myself.
My CODEX day began with a tour of the Prototype Press led by Mark Sarigianis and David Johnston. I have already reviewed some books from Prototype Press’ predecessor, the David Johnston founded Sharp Teeth Press, and so I am looking forward to the output of this talented collaboration. More on that in a future post.
The first thing I realized upon entering the Crane Pavilion in Richmond, is that CODEX had gotten bigger, too big for a single day. I remembered struggling to see everything two years ago and now was just going to have to do my best. I had two presses I specifically wanted to see because of their recently published books and a lot of old favorites and new participants to check out.
The first press I made sure to see was The Salvage Press, a first time CODEX exhibitor from “dear dirty Dublin.” That’s how James Joyce referred to the city of his birth in Dubliners and Ulysses, although it morphed into “teary turty Taubling” in Finnegans Wake. I love all things Joycean and so it seems does Jamie Murphy, founder and proprietor of the Salvage Press. He has printed two titles that simply must find their way onto my shelves, The Works of Master Poldy and Gas from a Burner. The first is a distillation of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom into a “collection of his wide-ranging thoughts and quips” and the second was written protesting the malicious burning of the 1st edition of Dubliners. Master Poldy in particular is a striking book printed in multiple fonts and colors. Even more impressive is that there was literally nothing on the Press’ display table that didn’t appeal to me, especially after hearing Jamie talk enthusiastically and lovingly about each of them. His Four Poems by Jonathan Swift are beautiful slim volumes. Interestingly, the poems were chosen because they were written over the same six years (1725-1731) that the Caslon type was being developed. His latest book, Maldon, is also beautiful. The amazing Simon Brett illustrates this Anglo-Saxon fragment describing a battle in 991. If you enjoy Beowulf, the Pearl, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this would be a nice edition to add to your library.
I had also wanted to see the Ninja Press and their recent publication of W.S. Merwin’s Lives of the Artists, a long poem inspired by the lives of two Native Americans, an Arapahoe and Northern Cheyenne, who recorded their experiences in the Plains Indian Wars of the 1860’s. Some of the drawings made in their ledger books were used to illustrate the edition. Alas for me, but good for the press, this latest edition of theirs had already completely sold out by the time CODEX rolled around. I will have to search a copy out in one of the Rare Book Libraries that have Ninja Press books. Despite my disappointment, time is never wasted with Carolee Campbell’s books. I spent some time looking through her magnificent edition of The Persephones by Nathaniel Tarn. Her books are wonderful indeed.
There were two standout books for me, one of which is definitely in the “ oh da actual money needed!” (OHDAMN!) category. The first was an emotional resonance with my long time love of Bob Dylan’s music. Edition Schwarze Seite was showing their very cool Bob Dylan, a collection of 15 lyrics with accompanying original illustrations of Dylan or inspired by his work. The pairing of illustration with lyrics was very well done. Unfortunately, I noticed the edition is not yet showing on their website and I’ve forgotten some of the particulars. The editions is selling well and may not make it on the website before selling out. But it is something that definitely appealed strongly to this Dylan fan.
The second standout, and probably my pick of the show, was 21st Editions edition of Les Fleurs de Mal or The Flowers of Evil. Having just read Roberto Calasso’s La Folie Baudelaire and started in on Les Fleurs de Mal, seeing the striking pairing of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs with some of Baudelaire’s poems was an interesting coincidence and a great treat. I’d love to spend more time with this book. It’s simply stunning. Credit to Kat Ran Press and 21st Editions for the beauty of this book.
There were so many other books that caught my eye that I just couldn’t make enough notes to remind me to mention them here. I spent a good deal of time at the Claire Van Vliet’s Janus Press table and really enjoyed looking through her Gospel of Mary. My favorite, in part due to my love for Spanish literature in translation, was her edition of García Lorca’s Romance de la Guardia Civil Espanola. I especially liked how she alternated lines in Spanish and English in different colors. I’m not sure I’ve seen a bilingual text done that way and it created a pleasing visual effect and would probably be a joy to read and puzzle through the translation. I don’t remember all the details but it is an older book, either from 1963 or 1974, depending on the edition. As a Whitman lover, I had an intriguing discussion with Barbara Henry of Harsimus Press about her edition of Whitman’s 1855 poem Faces. Whitman spent time as a typesetter and thus knew a lot about (type)faces, and this book reinterprets the poem in light of that knowledge.
I’m primarily interested in fine press books that provide a significant literary or reading experience, but occasionally smaller books and book art objects catch my eye. Usually they resonate with me because of a relationship to a favorite author or piece of literature. One such book object was Ximena Pérez Grobet’s alteration of Finnegans Wake. She has taken a 1965 edition of Joyce’s book, unbound it, cut each page into strips, knitted them back together, and then rebound the pages in order back into the original cover. The knitted pages will end up in four volumes by the time it is done and there will only be the one unique edition. So she will have each page of the book photographed and published in a small paperback edition of 100 under her Nowhere Man Press. The first volume is done along with its facsimile edition. The Joycean in me could not resist. Sue Huggins Leopard of Leopard Studio Editions had a beautiful set of miniature books titled Thanks, Walt that was wonderful (OHDAMN Again!). Just hearing her talk about the creation and genesis of the books was a joy. And finally, my favorite objects were Diane Jacobs’ woven paper undergarments made of strips of paper listing every derogatory name, allusion, or slang she could find for the corresponding body part that the object usually covers. Hilariously naughty and quite simply an incredible look into the errant creative energy used by the patriarchy to exploit women and denigrate breasts and vaginas. Her book Alphabet Tricks is another exploration of words in a similar vein that I would definitely like to have in my library.
By closing time, my legs were beat and I was only halfway through the Pavilion. Next CODEX I’ll try to allow two days. As I left I realized I had missed a lot people and presses I had hoped to see. I didn’t get a chance to check in with the Nawakum Press, the Littoral Press, Foolscap Press, Sherwin Beach Press, Barbarian Press, and so many others. I’m already looking forward to 2017 and I strongly encourage everyone with an interest in fine press and book art to add CODEX to their bucket list of book-related adventures.