Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pale Star

This is a unique book art project made as a gift for Jack, and inspired by his poem 'Pale Star,' which reads:

Pale Star:
K.M., 1923

(after Xu Zhimo)

Unintentionally imitating Chinese style
her hair was pitch black & straight

Her features seemed to me
like the purest Indian jade

or pristine snow in the Alps
Her brightly-coloured clothes

might have aroused some criticism
had they been worn by anyone else

on her they looked becoming
like green leaves on a flower

Her figure was so fragile
that a man standing beside her

felt his breathing to be too coarse

And here's Jack's account of how the poem came about:

The poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) visited Katherine Mansfield only once, shortly before his return to China from Cambridge, where he'd been completing postgraduate studies. The account he wrote of this visit (available in translation in A Fine Pen: The Chinese View of Katherine Mansfield, ed. Shifen Gong (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2001): 117-28), designed as a poignant pen-portrait of the dying beauty, reads - at times - rather more like a French farce, as the poor poet begs and cajoles the watchful Cerberus Middleton Murry to allow him just a couple of minutes alone upstairs with his wife ...

I thought myself exceptionally unlucky. There she was, confined to her own room, into which it seemed that only old friends were allowed. I was a foreigner and a stranger, and it would be impossible for me to gain access. It was now half past ten, and with some reluctance I stood up and said my goodbyes. [122]

Wonder of wonders, at this point Murry relents, saying "with great earnestness: 'If you wish to, you may go upstairs and see her.'

The conversation that follows sounds - to an outside ear, at any rate - extremely perfunctory on KM's part, extremely earnest on Xu Zhimo's.
Most of the time, she was giving her opinion on some of the novelists then popular in England: Rebecca West, Roma Wilson, Hutchinson, Swinnerton and one or two others ... She had always had a respect for China, and now she found herself becoming one of its warm admirers. She said that what she liked best was Chinese poetry in the translations of Arthur Waley ... But she was disappointed with Amy Lowell's translations. In this context she used one of her favourite expressions: 'That's not the thing!'

Towards the end of this brief twenty-minute chat, Mansfield seems to liven up a little, though:

She asked what I was going to do when I returned to China. She hoped I would not get involved in politics. Politics was such a cruel, wicked mess the world over, she said with great indignation.

After that we talked about her own writings. I said that her work was such pure art that it might be beyond the reach of ordinary people.

'That's just it,' she replied. 'Then, of course, popularity is never the thing for us.' [126]

No, indeed. At this point, Mansfield had less than a year to live. As it turned out, Xu Zhimo had an extremely interesting career awaiting him at home. Considered one of China's foremost modern poets, he was also legendary for his love affairs and romantic idealisation of the feminine principle in general.

The picture below comes from a recent movie about the triangle of lovers who dominated his short life:

My own poem is extracted from certain phrases in the 3 or 4 pages of description Xu Zhimo dedicates to eulogising Mansfield's physical appearance and general elegance before even getting to the details of their discussion (another 5 pages are required to give an account of his stay in the Murry's downstairs downstairs drawing-room).

I guess I wanted to get across something of the poet's wonderful innocence and admiration for everything he sees, mixed with his slight reserve and distrust of the Bohemian ways of these radical European artists ...

One can see why (in the words of his Wikipedia entry, cited above) he is regarded "one of the first Chinese writers to successfully naturalize Western romantic forms into modern Chinese poetry", dedicated to "pursuing love, freedom, and beauty" all his life. It's as visible in this article as in the rest of his work.

Nice to see that he's now the hero of a feature film - and hopefully a more successful one than Leave All Fair (1985) ...

- J.R. (19/1/11)

Materials: 300 gsm acid free watercolour paper, wallpaper, Canson cardstock, acid free tissue tape, PVA glue.
Dimensions: 3o.5cm (w) x 21.5cm (h) x 4cm (d)
The text is printed on calico bookcloth using an HP printer.

Further images of the design and construction of the 'Pale Star' picto-poem can be viewed here.

It's also (now) been reproduced on the Katherine Mansfield Society website.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Brandywine Bookman's Repository

We've just received a very nice review from Australian-based fine printer Jurgen P. Wegner, in the thirtieth issue of his Brandywine Bookman’s repository for Australia & New Zealand [pp.9-10]:

30.4. The Pania Press

What are the limits of the private press or of fine printing today? With the advent of new technologies — or rather, the demise of traditional ones and the fact that it is increasingly difficult to source material and equipment, especially out here in the “colonies” — private printers are adopting a variety of new technologies for their work. A recent Australian private press book, for example, was printed letterpress from polymer plates ... which — so I gather — is quite the done thing nowadays. Is this an indication of the limitations of the private press or a sign of its expanding horizons? Anathema for the purist? But then artists’ book produced by photocopy are old hat ...

I was looking for the name of the chap who prints some rather nice stuff as the Fernbank Studio down in Wellington. Of course, nothing is to be found online. With the welcome serendipity of the Internet I did however find the name mentioned amongst notes of her favourite books on the “blog” of another press — the Pania Press. The press name harks back to her childhood in Hawke’s Bay where there is a bronze statue in Marine Parade of Pania of the Reef, a character from a Maori legend. Proprietor Bronwyn Lloyd is a freelance writer with a Ph.D. from Auckland University. The press is located in Auckland’s seaside suburb of Mairangi Bay “where I spend my time writing, crafting and making limited edition books for Pania Press, a bijoux publishing company that I co-founded with my husband Jack Ross in 2006”.

Note the use of the term “bijoux publishing”. Her website — or rather “blog” — provides a good descriptive listing of the items produced to date. I would have liked to have had some more bibliographical details such as libraries and collectors find useful: how each work is printed, the type of paper used, extent of the item, &c. Lloyd replied to me that “we produce such small numbers, often gift editions for family and friends, so our ‘audience/ market’ is fairly small and intimate and in truth, I hadn’t given much thought to potential collectors [sic]”[1].

The Press’s “blog” shows some of the wide variety of work produced. The texts are mostly fiction — poetry and short stories — though, as with all her publications, there is a great deal of inventiveness and craft involved. Writing about the origins of the Press she says that she and her husband:

“... were talking about how frustrating it was that our talented writer friends were struggling to find publishers. We thought that if we controlled the means of production [sic] then we could publish small editions of their work and get them some visibility. We have a very limited budget and we don’t have access to a printing press or any book-making tools, to speak of, so we opted for a design aesthetic that has handmade elements (stitched covers, hand-binding, screen-printing, collage (etc)) but with a commercially printed text. I source nice papers (normally laid vellum) through my local printer and I teach myself new construction techniques as I go, which is my favourite part of the process”.

And these publications are quite remarkable. Their overall design aesthetic I would regard as craft-based rather than trade, with inspiration from the recently very popular revival of making your own scrapbooks &c &c. From the illustrations provided on the “blog” the texts seem professional enough but the cover designs are really delightful. Each one is an experiment in design and production. I especially like the use of such things as sewing machine stitching not only as part of the design but as a means of creating whole illustrations[2]. An example of the latter is in the covers for Jack Ross’ Love in wartime[3]. Produced in a limited edition of 30 signed copies, each of the 10 specials has its own sewn illustration from cup and saucer to flower pot motif[4]. Another favourite technique is collage and a further work by Ross produced last year, Silhouette[5], is also comprised of unique copies with each illustrated with a collage of vintage fabric samples as well as fashion cuts from issues of 1950s Ladies home journal.

Other works include a collage of wallpaper and also one with a key! A favourite interest and illustration process is the pop-up (or pop-out) book. These range from a simple abstract design as found in Katharina Jaeger’s Fold[6] to the more complex constructions as for Jorge Luis Borges’ The minotaur[7] with its fine, fold-out series of steps and other protrusions. Then there is the extraordinary Notes found inside a text of ‘Bisclavret’ as well as a “wine box” theatre. And even an artists’ “book”: an edition of Guillaume Apollinaire’s Je donne à mon espoir[8] in a limited edition of 21 copies. Further craft/art information is available at her: http://mosehouse.blogspot.com/. Check out the websites and buy the books! The Pania Press titles are distributed through Parson’s bookshop in Auckland.

Name: Pania Press
Contact: Bronwyn Lloyd
Address: 2/5 Hastings Rd., Mairangi Bay, North Shore City 0630, Auckland, N.Z.
Email: bmlloyd@xtra.co.nz
Website: http://paniapress.blogspot.com/
Catalogue website: http://paniapress.blogspot.com/2008/02/catalogue.html

1. This and the following quotation is from an email to me from Bronwyn Lloyd dated 27/11/2010.

2. Ever since my own experimental portfolio of P.J. Proudhon’s What is government (Sydney : Blackdawn Press, 1986) which used a ripped and torn collage of papers, tickets, forms, &c, and sewing machine stitching for illustrations.

3. Jack Ross, Love in wartime, Wellington, Pania Press, 2007, (Pania chapbook; 1). Limited edition of 30 signed copies.

4. As above but a special “limited gift edition” produced in 2006.

5. Jack Ross, Silhouette, Auckland, Pania Press, 2010. A4, signed and numbered edition of 12; sold out.

6. Katharina Jaeger, Fold, Auckland, Pania Press, 2008, (Pania artbooks; 2). Includes an essay by Bronwyn Lloyd titled: The half-life of haberdashery; sold out.

7. Jorge Luis Borges, The minotaur, translated by Jack Ross from the poem Laberinto, Auckland, Pania Press, 2009, (Pania peculiars; 2). Fold-out pop-up in a hand-printed slipcase; edition of 21 copies; sold out.

8. Guillaume Apollinaire, Je donne à mon espoir, translated by Jack Ross, Auckland, Pania Press, 2009, (Pania peculiars; 1). Hand-written text with hand-printed imagery on deckle-edge cotton rag paper in slipcase; edition of 21 copies with 7 for sale at NZ$25.

I guess it's understandable that he finds it odd that we haven't put in full details, measurements, details of printing, etc. with each new title. The collector's market is, after all, the one we're most likely to access in the future. It's a good point, and one we'll certainly take notice of from now on.

As a book designer and printer himself, Jurgen Wegner seems to appreciate Bronwnyn's design innovations more than the actual texts of the books we've produced. His write-up is so positive overall, though, that there seems little place for misplaced author's vanity. Bronwyn's handcrafted covers and other design features are the innovative aspect of Pania Press, and it's nice to have this pointed out so unequivocally.

Thanks, Jurgen! I hope your own endeavours continue to flourish! A complete run of your newsletters would no doubt be extremely valuable in itself. I see the Australian National Library itself boasts only a partial set ...

- Jack Ross


(December 25, 2015) Antigone . Poem by Jack Ross. Design by Bronwyn Lloyd. Pania Singles 3. Auckland: Pania Press, 2015. Every Chri...