Shaped Poetry, Arion Press (1981)

{Ed. Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl. Shaped Poetry was the eighth publication of the Arion Press, published in 1981 in an edition of 300. It is a typographic tour de force as you will see below. I believe Arion Press has one copy in new condition available to sell. This is an important work and should go quickly. Contact Lyssa at Arion Press if interested.}

As described in the Arion Press catalogue (1975-1995): “Shaped poetry is uniquely tied to typographical expression because the component letters and symbols of such poems are so arranged upon the page that they form a visual image reflecting the meaning or subject matter of the text.  The choices range from 300 B. C. to the present day.  This anthology of the genre was developed entirely at the Arion Press.  From our collection of some two hundred foundry types we employed an array of letterforms seldom seen outside a type specimen book.  The suite is also a representative collection of handmade papers from around the world.  Press editor Glenn Todd wrote the accompanying monograph on shaped poetry and Andrew Hoyem wrote production notes for each of the selections.”

This publication comes in a large custom,  cloth-covered clamshell box with unusual black foam walls measuring 18″ H x 14″ W x 1.5″ thickness.  Within the clamshell box are an enclosed book entitled The Companion Volume and  a folder entitled The Suite of Thirty Prints, both in  thick, black handmade paper covers.  Both the enclosed companion book and folio of pages containing the thirty poems measure 16″ H x 12″ W.  The Companion Volume (32 pages) presents the title page, an index of the 30 shaped poem titles, a fifteen page essay on shaped poetry by Glenn Todd, and a section entitled Notes on the Selections.  For each selection Glenn Todd discusses the poem, its poet, and the meaning of each poem and how it relates to its chosen shape.  Directly below, Andrew Hoyem then gives ‘Printer’s Notes’ regarding typography, choice of handmade papers, typefaces, etc.  The Companion Volume is printed from Monotype Times New Roman and handset Weiss Titling on Ruysdael paper.

In the open folder thirty poems are collected, each with its own unique type and handmade paper chosen specifically for that poem.  Twenty-nine of the poems are prints on individual sheets measuring 15 by 11 inches.  The thirtieth poem (Un Coup de Des Jamais by Stephane Mallarme) is comprised of ten panels, each 15 by 11 inches, bound in a circular accordion-fold.  A plexiglass frame for display of individual prints (not shown) is also included.


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Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Cloth-covered clamshell box 18 x 14 inches, with fountain pen for size and scale comparison
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Spine of clamshell box with titling to spine and front cover
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Clamshell box opened showing foam lined container housing the Companion Volume and The Suite of Thirty Prints
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Prospectus
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Loose folio containing the selected thirty shaped poems
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Companion Volume, page 1
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Companion Volume, page 2
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Companion Volume, index of thirty selected shaped poems
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Portfolio cover containing thirty prints/shaped poems
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Egg by Simias, Greece, 300 B.C.
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Pan Pipes by Theocritus, Greece, 250 B. C.
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Altar by Porfyrius Optatianus, Byzantium, 325 A. D.
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Acrostic by Eustorg de Beaulieu, France, 1537
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Altar by George Herbert, England, 1633
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, The Cross by Robert Herrick, England, 1647
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Chalice by Justus Georg Schottel, Germany, 1663
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Un Coup de Des Jamais (A Throw of the Dice) by Stephane Mallarme, France, 1897. Accordion folding box collapsed.
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, A Throw of the Dice by Stephane Mallarme. According folding box opened.
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Balloon by F. T. Marinetti, Italy, 1914
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, It Is Raining by Guillaume Apollinaire, France, 1918
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Bohemian Crystal Vase by Andre Breton, France, 1920
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Bohemian Crystal Vase. Macro view, bottom of page
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Vision & Prayer by Dylan Thomas, Wales, 1946. Macro view of the “Vision”
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Rebus by Andrew Hoyem, USA, 1981
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Opening page of essay on Shaped Poetry by Glenn Todd, from the Companion Volume
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Opening page of Notes on the Selections by Glenn todd and Andrew Hoyem, from the Companion Volume
Shaped Poetry, Arion Press, Discussion of poem #1, The Egg by Simias

7 thoughts on “Shaped Poetry, Arion Press (1981)

  1. Neil:

    “this book” is in reference to obtaining a copy of the Allen Press ‘Four Fictions’ , not the Arion Press ‘Shaped Poetry’.

  2. Neil:

    I have sent information for you with regard to obtaining a copy of this book (at a very reasonable price, I might add) on your Private Message at LibraryThing. Have a look.

  3. Thanks for the tip dlphcoracl.

    Allen Press books are hard to find in the UK. I was aware of them because Blair Hughes-Stanton had done all of his illustrative work for them during his later years.

    I have enjoyed learning a lot more about them through your posts on Books & Vines and was lucky enough to see copies of their bibliography and ‘Youth’ in a bookshop in London a few weeks ago.

    The bibliography is spectacular and has one of the best title pages I have ever seen. It was out of my price range, but gave me an idea of the standard of book design and production the Allen’s are capable of.

    I hope I will discover more of their books when I’m out browsing and I’ll keep an eye out for ‘Four Fictions’.

  4. Neil:

    If you enjoy collecting books that highlight the typographical expertise of a private press, take a look at ‘Four Fictions’ by the L&D Allen Press.

  5. When I saw this book in the ‘coming soon’ section, I got quite excited !

    I am always intrigued by the books that private presses create to ‘show off’ their typographical expertise – some are good, some not. This looks fantastic ! It’s an inspired idea to use shaped poems that give an extra dimension to a production like this. The perfect subject to give the greatest opportunity to show different typefaces, ornaments and visual treatments.

    The Arion Press has met the challenge with real bravura. I will pore over these images again and again. You can tell looking at all of these pictures that the production values are very high – the ‘real thing’ must be a real treasure and I bet it feels and smells as good as it looks.

    Poetry, Typography, Visual Effects, Ornamentation, Illustration, History………….a book you would never get bored with.

    An interesting and beautiful book – thanks for showing it to us.

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