Friday, April 3, 2009

New Venture, But a Family Tradition

It feels appropriate to launch this journey into alternative publishing after having just attended the opening of an exhibit of my late uncle’s work: James L. Weil: Master of Fine Printing and Poetry. The exhibit is at the Grolier Club of New York, a venerable society for bibliophiles (that would be “lovers of books"). It is a genteel, even gentlemanly place, a reminder that there are still those who regard books as objects worthy of study and admiration. My Uncle Jim was a lover of the word--master of the word, I can say--and of high-quality printing, a writer of poetry and a maker of books. In 1963 he began the Elizabeth Press, devoted to modern Elizabethan and Metaphysical poetry, genres he felt were getting short shrift. He started with Elizabeth magazine then limited himself to books, publishing writers who became influential in the world of poetry: William Bronk, Robert Creeley, Cid Corman, Diane Wakowski.

From Portrait of the Artist Painting Her Son: Selected Earlier Poems

As a child and young adult I would periodically receive a beautiful package from Uncle Jim, a volume of poems or even a single poem. It would be impeccably printed and designed, often with a beautiful woodcut print on the flyleaf, the small book tucked into a slipcover that was itself placed in a linen folder—a veritable matryoshka doll of a book. Each was numbered and specifically inscribed to me. I was proud to own these special keepsakes. I cherished his poems (those I understood, that is) phrases of which I would turn to and sing in my mind like beloved melodies. It never occurred to me that his books or poems were worth any less because he published many of them himself.

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