A title from The Old School Press 


An alphabet book of tanka by James Kirkup

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About the book

Out of print

In 1924, the bookseller-editor René Hilsum commissioned the great poet Paul Valéry to write twenty-four prose poems to accompany lettrines (ornamental capitals). The letters K and W which are rare in French were omitted. The series, representing the twenty-four hours of the day, were engraved by Louis Jou. Valéry published a few of these alphabet poems, but the collection itself remained unfinished and unedited.

Drawing on the archives of Valériana in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, Michel Jarrety established an edition under the title Alphabet, published in 1999. For certain letters, more than one prose poem was composed, some of them accompanied by the poet's own delicate watercolours. James Kirkup was inspired by this unique literary/ typographical concept to compose a tanka sequence, twenty-nine in all, on the letters of the alphabet. The use of the 31-syllable Japanese tanka form in 5-line stanzas gives the concept a unity somewhat lacking in Valéry's interpretation.

About the edition

Kirkup's delightful and poised verses are printed in Monotype Fournier Molé Foliate initials on a stock of pre-1914 Renage près Rives hand-made paper originally bought by the Carthusian Monastery at Parkminster, Sussex. The verses and introduction are printed on five half sheets of the Rives, and each half-sheet is folded to form four horizontal panels, the folded sheets then being wrapped in a cover of heavy hand-made paper from the Larroque mill in a delicious blue-green and tied with a ribbon. There were 190 copies at 15 each.

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Copyright Martyn Ould 2023