Kora in Hell: Improvisations, by William Carlos Williams, Arion Press (1998)

{Ed. Note: Thanks to Books and Vines contributor dlphcoracl for the pictures of this edition.}

Books and Vines readers do not need me to tell them about the high quality and splendid designs typical of Arion Press editions (you can see the full list of Arion Press books highlighted on Books and Vines here). While I tend to have a preference for classical works and classical designs, collecting Arion Press editions has positively expanded my horizons, both in terms of what I read as well as what works for me in book design.  Some of my favorite Arion Press editions are those that have challenged my intellectual ‘bubble’, be it the wonderful and brave illustrations by Julie Mehretu for Sappho, the innovative book design for Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities or the publishing of works by such ‘edge of canon’ writers Czeslaw Milosz and Elias Canetti.

Kora in Hell: Improvisations by William Carlos Williams, published by Arion Press in 1989, probably pushes my horizons about as far as they are capable of going!  I should state up front that I have not read this yet so my impressions are based solely on the a perusal of the edition itself.  That being said… I love the binding. The book is worth collecting just because of it! The black goatskin spine with title stamped in red, boards covered with laser-cut veneer replicas of woodblocks by the artist Mel Kendrick, inked in black, is simply genius and a real head-turner. The type and illustrations, both printed letterpress on mouldmade paper, are of typical Arion Press extraordinary quality.

The art itself within the edition, like most modernist art, is initially very challenging for me. Whenever Modernist art is used for book illustrations my own biases and lack of understanding of intent or meaning requires me to immerse myself in the work rather than trusting my initial visceral reaction (which often times is ‘huh’);  Does it enhance the reading experience? Does it conflict with it? Does it add to the depth or distract from it?  In this case, I will have to report back after reading the book. The artist, Mel Kendrick, certainly has an impressive background and body of work, and is well represented in public collections around the world. That, along with the track record of Arion Press leading me to see the Modernist light, means I will probably embrace Kendrick’s work for this edition once immersed in it. It certainly looks apropos for this edition!

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was an important and influential American poet, strongly associated with the American Modernist movement. He is best known for his collections Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), and Paterson (1963), with The Red Wheelbarrow being his most acclaimed poem. Williams won the first ever National Book Award for Poetry in 1950. His works in the first half of the twentieth century had significant influence on later writers, including that of Allen GinsbergKora in Hell: Improvisations is prose poetry from early in Williams’s career. It is quite experimental in nature, criticized as being ‘incoherent’ by his friend Ezra Pound. However, critic Lawrence Kart claims in the introduction to this edition that the great poetry Williams achieved “would not have been possible without the eruptive prose of Kora in Hell”, which certainly makes this an important work.

Here is the description from Arion Press:

Williams, one of the most important poets of this century, wrote this book of prose-poetry in 1917. He reflects on daily events over the course of a year, his readings, thoughts, observations. To these statements, made in language plain-spoken yet rising to the beauty and imagination of his poetry, he appended further comments or interpretations to make them more intelligible to others. An essay in which Williams explains himself as a figure within the modern movement was added as a prologue… The book includes prints by contemporary artist Mel Kendrick whose own work is in the modernist lineage. Twenty-one images from three series of woodblock prints, each involving seven separate blocks in the form of long vertical sheets that can be rolled up like scrolls, have been separated and each occupy the recto page of a leaf in the book, with pages of text in between. The three long woodblock prints as originally conceived by Kendrick in the scroll format are published along with the book.

All in all, another beautifully done leading edge edition from Arion Press. A no-brainer for those who appreciate Modernist literature and art. A limited number of copies of this edition are in stock at Arion Press, you can contact them here with any questions or to place an order.

About the Edition

  • 21 prints by Mel Kendrick
  • Introduction by Lawrence Kart
  • Proofs of the woodblock prints were photographically reduced to approximately 62% and made into photopolymer plates
  • The type and plates were printed by letterpress in black ink; Red ink is used on the title page
  • The binding is a black goatskin spine with title stamped in red, with boards covered with laser-cut veneer replicas of woodblocks by Kendrick, inked in black
  • 10 inches square, 106 pages, including 42 unnumbered pages for the 21 leaves bearing the prints
  • The types are Stymie Bold for the text and Franklin Gothic for display, in Monotype and hand composition
  • The paper is German mouldmade Zerkall
  • Numbered and signed by the artist
  • Edition of 300, $600.00 ($420 Subscribers)

Pictures of the Edition

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Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Spine and Cover
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Cover
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Title Page
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Famous cover emblem from 1st edition of Kora In Hell
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #2 (Prologue)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #1
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #3 (from Prologue)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #4 (from Prologue)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Title page from Improvisations section
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #5 (from Improvisations #1)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #5 (from Improvisations #3)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #5 (from Improvisations #5)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #5 (from Improvisations #13)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #2
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text  6 from Improvisations
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Sample Text #7 (from Improvisations #18)
Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Arion Press, Colophon

4 thoughts on “Kora in Hell: Improvisations, by William Carlos Williams, Arion Press (1998)

  1. I’m baffled why people are so afraid to criticize modern art. I mean, if it’s ****, call it ****. The truth is,
    great art is often appreciated “in it’s own time.” Modern art seems to run on the theory that if your contemporaries don’t get it, then it must be great art.

    1. I tend to agree with you, though through some fine press volumes I have learned to appreciate and even like some that I used to not give the time of day. In general, however, I agree with a tendency of modern art lovers to almost have a snobbery around ‘the rubes just don’t get it!’…I do try to keep an open mind though, especially in withholding my thoughts until I have read the work they are contained within.

  2. I’m baffled that they didn’t just do a selection of his poems or even In the American Grain. It’s truly a shame too, as I’m not aware of any other fine press treatment of WCW, perhaps 20th Century America’s greatest poet.

    I do quite like the binding though. The red on black looks great!

    Matt

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