Words for Worlds Upended, J. R. Carpenter
Illustrated by Antonia Glücksman
Guillemot Press, 2020 £8.00
Seduction by design?
Guillemot Press produces beautiful books and pamphlets. Each title is visually unique; there is no ‘house style’ apart from a commitment to making each square-format book a joy to handle and to match the poetry with the artwork. The website details the papers used, usually Mohawk Superfine with Fedrigoni for the covers. Publisher Luke Thompson aims to find the best paper for reading, as well as giving the poems their proper space.
These books are seductively touchable and this can be a danger. Suppose appearance dominates and edges poetry into second place?
The distinctive feature of Words for Worlds Upended is that each page is doubled; the paper is folded and the edge is uncut. So not only is each page twice as thick as usual but there’s the suspicion that the fold might conceal something. (It doesn’t; I checked.) The technique, I learn from the publisher’s website, is called ‘french folding’.
What this extra thickness does offer is greater substance, a stiffer page that shows to advantage the delicacy of both the text and accompanying artwork. The illustrations by Antonia Glücksman (who also designed the pamphlet) are finely-dotted maps, compass points, ships and plants. They sit alongside the text, picking up themes.
This pamphlet comprises a single poem, tracking the Mayflower and Speedwell from their building and naming, right through their journey from Plymouth to Cape Cod. ’From what does a ship spring?’ asks the opening page:
The poem is as tentative as the journey to a new world must have been, questioning the water and winds as it travelled.
But before the journey starts, Carpenter explores the significance of ‘mayflower’ — was it hawthorn? could it be lily of the valley?
This poem is not a history but a probing of connections, a sketch of water and coastlines that reach into the twentieth century. The Titanic enters; a naturalist records plants in the 1850s. It’s a continuum of experience and nature.
There is no new England.
Only new names
for harbours and bays
fish and maize.
Design and text are in perfect balance. Reading it is deeply satisfying.