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Barbarian Press
Books Forthcoming


Wood engraving by Edwina Ellis
(from A Christmas Carol, 1984)

Ten Poems with One Title
Poems by Robert Bringhurst
Images by Richard Wagener.
Early 2022

Bordering on the Sublime
Ornamental Typography at the Curwen Press
Early 2023

Books Forthcoming from Barbarian Press

We are aware, as probably you are too, that this section on forthcoming books is always written with a certain determined wistfulness. Making books as we do, almost entirely by hand, and often with substantial texts, is an occupation haunted by haps and mishaps. While the books announced as under way are indeed in process, and will be finished, we have learned that projected dates are endlessly flexible – not because we wish them to be, but because those metaphysical bureaucrats, the Fates, become increasingly jocular as we get older. So we ask your patience, and invite your trust. The books will emerge. This, together with death and taxes, is sure.

Bordering on the Sublime: Ornamental Typography at the Curwen Press is now well under way, with David Jury’s section substantially set. The first complete gathering, comprising the Introduction and first chapter of David Jury’s section of the text, ‘Harold Curwen: Old Style Modernist’, has long been printed and stored – although the printing was delayed because of Jan’s injury to her foot, which prevented her printing at all for some months. (Jokes about operating a press with the feet will be greeted with mild condescension.) Crispin has set the second chapter, and is now (September 2021) setting the third and last as the presswork continues. He is also continuing to research and write the second part of the text, a survey of the history of typographical ornaments, and a discussion of their aesthetics and use at the Curwen Press. And of course, there are several appendices to be written and arranged.
In addition, we have realized – fortunately in plenty of time – that a book as complex and full of detail as Bordering on the Sublime will have to have an index, so Crispin is now planning for that as the book progresses. This is no light undertaking, of course. Compiling an index is rather like child-rearing: it is full of constant surprises, the ongoing necessity of throwing out preconceptions, and the need to reconsider the relative importance of a variety of elements. More than anything else, an index demands clarity of organization, and organization must necessarily arise from chaos – an axiom from which Crispin takes comfort whenever he views the state of his desk.

The page devoted to Bordering on the Sublime has more information about the book.
The second half of the book is growing to be considerably longer than we imagined at first. Thanks to the diligence of Bob Richardson at St. Bride Printing Museum in London, we have now discovered some solid information about Bert E Smith – the compositor at Curwen who created most, if not all, of the borders – and it seems likely that we will be able to find more. We now know Bert’s full name, his date and place of birth, the year he began his apprenticeship, and the names of his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, along with some other little tidbits of his life and interests, including his love of gardening and his purchase of an Adana press for hobby printing upon his retirement. Given that at first we knew nothing at all about him apart from his work at Curwen, it is wonderful to see how he has begun to take form beyond his reputation as a designer and compositor of brilliant and distinctive decorative borders. Bob has been able to contact one of Bert’s grandchildren, and later this autumn (2021), Covid permitting, he will be meeting her and several of her relatives to talk about Bert and see what further information he can glean.

We estimate now that Bordering on the Sublime will not be completed until the first months of 2023, at the earliest – and by ‘completed’ we refer to the completion of the presswork; after that must come the folding and collating of the books, and the binding, which is certain to take several months. This means that, if we are to survive financially, we must as usual produce some smaller books while the Curwen project is ongoing. While working on two projects simultaneously might be seen as distracting attention from both, in practice this is not the case. It is certainly true that ‘multi-tasking’ is too often touted as a desirable and admired skill, when it is frequently only an indulgent excuse for not paying sufficient attention to anything one is doing. However, we find that this sort of balance between a large and complex book and a smaller, more homogeneous one can be mutually illuminating, one acting as a counterpoint or descant to the other, each allowing a chance to stand back and view the other objectively. We enjoy working on every book we produce.

At nearly 300 pages, Sudden Immobility, our volume of Molly Holden’s selected poems, can hardly be classified as a ‘smaller’ book, but it is sufficiently different from Bordering to have provided a refreshing change of pace. It has now been sent off to Alanna Simenson at Mad Hatter Book Binding, and we are now embarked on another collection of poetry which dropped into our laps, this one a major new sequence of poems by Robert Bringhurst.

Ten Poems with One Title

We have known Robert for nearly fifty years, and although we have published two of his translations as broadsheets (from Greek and Chinese, respectively) in Albion Broadsheets (1981) and Under Strange Sail (2007), and two of his essays in Hoi Barbaroi (2004) and as a separate pamphlet, And, much more, not ourselves: The Work of Jan and Crispin Elsted (2005), we have only published one of his books. That was the first of his excursions into writing for voices, The Blue Roofs of Japan (1986), so after thirty-five years it seems high time for another book. This sequence is a strong, measured meditation on language, its sources and progeny – both intellectual and spiritual – and their relation to nature and thought. It is a calm, compelling group of poems, and we are deeply pleased to be able to publish it. Ten Poems with One Title will appear in late 2021 or early 2022.

Pastoral Elegies

The third book of the ‘Curwen companions’ we anticipate will be published later in 2022. Pastoral Elegies will comprise two of the great poems of 18th century England: Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ and Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village.’ This is a pair of poems we have long wanted to publish as a continuation of our ongoing project to re-introduce great poems from the canon in beautifully illustrated editions. These have so far included Shakespeare (twice), Keats (twice), Spenser, Clare, and Clough – and (why not?) the Reverend R. H. Barham (a.k.a. Thomas Ingoldsby). Gray and Goldsmith are the first from the Augustan mob – although Gray might well be seen as a proto-Romantic – and we have future plans for more Clare, and possibly Tennyson, who is far more condescended to these days than read.

These two poems of course beg for engravings to illustrate them, and we are very happy to have engaged Christopher Wormell to provide them. His work as an engraver is widely known, though perhaps not always recognized as his. Among other things, the new design for the arms of the Royal Opera House is his, and he has provided jacket illustrations for many Penguin Books, including some for Philip Pullman’s novels. Visitors to Hampton Court will have seen his engravings marking the kitchens, wine cellars, and other areas, while supporters of Aston Villa F. C. will have toasted his version of the team’s Lion. More to the present point, he has illustrated several books from the Folio Society, notably Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. It was this last, in fact, which inspired us to ask him to illustrate Pastoral Elegies.

. . . and coming later . . .

Other projects are in the early planning stages, but at this point we have only limited information about them. Nevertheless, here is a taste of three of them:

True North: The Art of Eric Bergman

We have firm plans with the family of Eric Bergman, the brilliant German-Canadian engraver and block-printmaker of the mid-century, to publish a major book on his work, which we have long admired. This will include over 80 engravings printed from the original blocks, which have been carefully preserved by his grand-daughters, Karen Paul and Norma Bergman. Eric Bergman was a close friend of the painter and printmaker W. J. Phillips, who is well known as an engraver, but who is also credited with introducing the Japanese-style colour woodcut into the Canadian art scene between the wars. Bergman learned this technique from Phillips, and our book will include a number of examples of his colour woodcuts, which will be printed from inks applied with brushes to blocks and hand-rubbed in the Ukiyo-e style by Sean McLachlan, a young printer from Winnipeg who is studying Ukiyo-e methods, and is a friend of the Bergman family. We hope that Sean will come to the press and work in our studio with us. Karen Paul and Norma Bergman will provide a biographical essay on their grandfather. There will also be a critical appraisal of Bergman’s work by Canadian Art Historian and Curator Senator Patricia Bovey, and plates of other works and photographs. Discussions and plans for this are ongoing, and it will go into the press immediately following the publication of Bordering on the Sublime.

The Shepherd’s Calendar

We have long wanted to publish an edition of John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, to be illustrated with engravings by Andy English. Andy has long wanted to illustrate this jewel of pastoral and romantic poetry, and the project has been the subject of many conversations over the past ten years. This will certainly come along in the future, but at the moment we have no more details to offer.

Ovid – Englished by Arthur Golding

And of course – beyond all these there looms, tantalizingly, our planned edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the 1567 ‘Englishing’ of Arthur Golding, with engravings by Peter Lazarov, about which we – and Peter – are very excited. This will be another major work in at least two volumes. The text is fascinating, written in high style in ‘fourteeners’, a favourite largely pre-Shakespearean meter. As fourteeners are difficult for a modern reader to sound out without galumphing, we intend gathering a group of professional actors to record several of the best known stories from the Metamorphoses in Golding’s version, probably including Daphne and Apollo, Echo and Narcissus, Pyramus and Thisbe(!), Actaeon and Artemis, and one or two others. We imagine this will inspire readers of the book to read the poem for themselves with greater ease and subtlety.

We have had several conversations already with Peter Lazarov about the illustrations, and anticipate extraordinary results.

We will continue to post news of ongoing developments here, with the hope that something irresistible will catch the unsuspecting eye.