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This report is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

Archive Corner 6: Wallace Stevens Stella Halkyard

In July 1945 a poem, or rather a group of fifteen poems, written by Wallace Stevens and entitled Esthétique du Mal, was published by the Cummington Press, Massachusetts, in a fine, limited edition of 340 copies. The poems are accompanied with pen and ink drawings by the artist Paul Wightman Williams. This book conforms to what Robert Bringhurst would call 'a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs'.1 As a collaboration between a poet and painter, it exemplifies the ethos Stevens espouses in his essay, 'The Relations Between Poetry and Painting'.2 As a poet, Stevens always paid particular attention to artists because 'except technically, their problems are the same [as poets']'.

Three hundred copies of the book were printed on Pace paper from Italy which Harry Duncan, Cummington's printer, described as 'the most lavish investment in paper we've yet made'.3 Forty additional copies were, according to the book's colophon, signed by both author and artist with the drawings coloured by hand on Van Gelder paper from the Netherlands. The deluxe signed copies of the book were bound in leather, whilst Italian (Fabriano) and Japanese (Natsume) papers, in hues of rose and green, were reserved for the others. In 1944 Stevens had confessed to Duncan that he had a predilection for 'bright colours, even in bindings'. His advice that 'these quiet down after one has had them for a bit' has certainly been born out in the case of number ...


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