In the Direction of the Beginning, by Dylan Thomas, Melville Press, 2003

I will admit to not having read Dylan Thomas before. Mainly, I had it in my head that he would be ultra-modern in a James Joyce Ulysses sort of way, and so extremely laborious to read and excruciatingly meaningless for mere mortals without some sort of ability, via clairvoyant osmosis from the author’s brain, to understand what the hell he is trying to say. Yet, I wanted to read Thomas as, despite a short life (he died at 39), he is certainly one of the major poets of the twentieth century.

Melville Press comes to the rescue! Always on the lookout for finely made private press books, I was thrilled when I stumbled upon their website and saw a beautifully made book called In the Direction of the Beginning, a prose poem of love and the sea by Dylan Thomas.  Best, it is a short prose poem, so my introduction to Thomas, even if painful, would be short!

The quality of the book is fantastic, as I expected once I noticed that it was printed letterpress and bound by Peggy Gotthold and Larry Van Velzer of Foolscap Press (Books and Vines readers may recall that Foolscap’s Phisicke Against Fortune was one of my favorite finds from last year). The black silk book cloth with shell clasp looks wonderful and is unique. The illustrations from artist Catherine Kanner (who is the publisher of Melville Press) match nicely, and seem to flow with the story in a symbiotic way.

As for the poem itself…yes, it is laborious and difficult to follow. Yet it still manages to resonate. There is a beauty in the writing that embraces you. I found myself re-reading blocks of text over and over again, initially just trying to follow his thoughts, trying to understand what Thomas is trying to convey; then, while still foggy on the meaning, I found myself entranced by the melodious wording. Perhaps reading the beginning on the poem will help you understand my meaning:

Beginning of In the Direction of the Beginning, by Dylan Thomas, illustration by Catherine Kanner

After reading In the Direction of the Beginning twice, I will say I admire the ability of Dylan Thomas to string words together that flowers in your soul, if properly watered. I will read more from Thomas, though I still will admit to needing to be in a mood where deep reading and thinking are possible.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was a Welsh poet whose best known works include Under Milk Wood and Do not go gentle into that good night. His work often centered around themes of the unity of life and the cycle of life and death. He was influenced by  the Bible, Welsh folklore and Freud, along with Mother Goose rhymes. He loved words, and had an uncanny ability to inject musicality into his verse.

Catherine Kanner became publisher of The Melville Press in 1995, and has worked as a free-lance designer and illustrator since 1980.  She has written, illustrated and designed more than 17 books including her own texts, as well as numerous books for other authors. She has won numerous illustration and design awards including the Society of Newspaper Design Award, Print’s Regional Design Award, the Louie Award and Rounce & Coffin Awards for excellence in book design. She teaches illustration and design at the Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles where she has been a faculty member since 1981.

About the Edition

  • Designed by artist Catherine Kanner
  • Nine images have been printed letterpress from Ms. Kanner’s original linoleum blocks
  • Black Silk Japanese book cloth self-closing cover with shell clasp
  • Printed letterpress and bound by Peggy Gotthold and Larry Van Velzer of Foolscap Press
  • Pescia 100% cotton moulde-made paper from Fabriano/Magnani
  • The typeface is Centaur
  • 8 1/2″ x 12 1/4″
  • Commentary by Nathan O. Reynolds
  • Signed by Ms. Kanner
  • Limited to 200 copies, mine is #58

Pictures

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In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Cover Spine & Shell Clasp
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Front Cover
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Front Cover Illustration Detail
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Detail of Cover Shell Clasp
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Title Page with Book opened flat
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Title Page
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Text #1
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Sample Text #2 (Postscript)
In the Direction of the Beginning, Melville Press, Colophon

2 thoughts on “In the Direction of the Beginning, by Dylan Thomas, Melville Press, 2003

  1. We’re bad(good?) influences on each other, Chris. After seeing this post, I checked out the Melville Press and ended up ordering their edition of Cetus, The Whale. I met Catherine Kanner to pick up the book today and she is a delightful lady and bookmaker. I’ll post a review soon on The Whole Book Experience.

    1. You are sure right — We should stay away from each other or we’ll both be broke! I really look forward to the review of Cetus, it looks very nice. I am very tempted by her Stevenson book also, will probably order that the next time I have some book funds!

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