Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jack Gilbert once told me that when he received copies of his first book, Views of Jeopardy, in the mail, he slept with one under his pillow. It’s an emotion that I can totally understand – I react viscerally to the design & production values of each of my books. When people ask me what my “favorite” book is of my own poetry, the answer they’re likely to get has to do with binding & cover design, not the text inside.¹

All of which is to preface the fact that Metro, by Curtis Faville, has a fair shot at being the most beautiful small press volume I’ve ever seen – certainly in the “under $100” division. It is printed in an edition of 300 copies done in two separate bindings, 26 lettered & signed copies done bound in cloth, 274 numbered copies bound in “decorative paper covered boards.” Mine is one of the latter, the decorative paper being a mostly pink map of Paris’ le Marais district. The 12-point charcoal typeface looks almost industrial on the Rives Heavyweight buff paper stock – the deckling is ample & lovely – and what I take to be 36-point leading (my own type gauge doesn’t go above 15, tho it has type samples up to 60) gives every page the visual clout most volumes reserve for a book’s title.

I’ve discussed Metro before, when Kirby Olson’s RealPoetik ran a selection last April. But if ever there were a test case of the impact of reading work in either email or html format & reading it in print, this is the one-sided example by which print wins hands down forever. For one thing, html is not a format designed with poetry in mind. Faville, who is co-editing the Eigner collected with Bob Grenier (whom he thanks “for a lifetime of inspiration”), is every bit as attuned to the nuances of spacing on the page as either of them. Thus you get relatively straightforward, if untitled, poems such as

cows used to

come to the fence

whereas on the previous page, the exact same spacing appears to articulate title & text, a very different relationship between lines:


to whoever feeds it

One page before that, it is the words themselves that are “spaced”:

d o t s   d a s h e s

r u n n i n g   t h e   b o a r d   f o r   s p e e d

The mind is tempted to ask if that first line is a title. I don’t think so, but the question itself makes me wonder about the title’s role – any title’s role – as a line in a poem, one that is both privileged & problematic. What then of the poem all in caps?



Or the poem that offers but a single line of text?

I was asked but was declined

Not all of the poems are this short, nor, for that matter, this successful.² There is one poem I could not print here at all, because its font is “hollowed out,” albeit in the same face as the rest of the text. Another I actually misprinted here last April (or, rather, I replicated RealPoetik’s misprinting) in that, in the following, the title is in something akin to Courier, albeit not the text:



imagine Oscar in St. Louis

One might characterize these poems as Grenieresque in their basic dimensions, albeit kin to a writing that Grenier himself has moved fairly far away from over the past few decades. There is a dynamics here to the “short-short” poem that I hope to take a further look at later this week. In Faville’s work, at its best (which is quite often), the poems “get” exactly what these dynamics are & use them powerfully, with just a hint of that bad boy humor that Curtis likes to deploy throughout.

That this is the third book in the past several weeks that I’ve recommended here that comes with a $50 list price – and, at just 87 pages, by far the slimmest – makes me queasy. I don’t want poetry to become like linguistics, where access to the texts is largely prohibited by exorbitant pricing. I know this is just a sign that $50 ain’t what it used to be, but you can still find copies of Ginsberg’s Howl with the 75¢ price tag on them.³ Them were the days.


¹ That answer has been known to vary, by the day of the week & even the hour of the day.

² The least successful is the only overtly political poem I’ve ever seen Faville write.

³ Yes, I’m aware that you won’t pay 75¢ for one of those. It was, in fact, a City Lights Pocket Poets volume – Robert Duncan’s Selected Poems – that was the first book I paid $50 for, the $1 original price still printed on its cover.