“Printing Paris” is the blog of ArtSlant’s Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Shoshana Kessler. Kessler is undertaking a contemporary resetting and retracing of Hope Mirrlees’ experimental poem, Paris: a Poem (1919), employing a combination of traditional and modern printing techniques. The blog will feature small essays following her research on the poem and Mirrlees as she resets this forgotten masterwork.
RUE DE BEAUNE (12)
In the seventh book of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, there is a moment where the narrator implores the help of the muse. Picked up off the streets of London, the poet is placed on a “nook” and raised far away from the crowds. Safe from the morphing wen of London, he watches the spectacle and monstrosity of St Bartholomew’s fair.
On the seventeenth page of the poem, Paris changes dramatically in tone.
3 Rue de Beaune is now a building site, but it was once the Hôtel de l’Elysée, where Mirrlees (and Harrison) lived as she wrote Paris. Though we have previously taken small moments of rest along the route, this is the first time that feet are removed from ground. Lifted off the street, we are no longer walking. We are taken from a multi-conscious, multi-eyed stream through the city, and placed into a single gaze. We did not realize that we were in the mind of a person. We are now trapped in the narrator’s trance.
Julia Briggs speculates on the possibility that the entire poem has been “generated by this ‘tranced’ moment.” Besides aligning the poem within a form of automatism, anticipating André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto (1924), this second interjection of “trance” also works to draw us back to the Tuileries, and the typographic mappings of the gardens. And from here, we can perhaps read Mirrlees’s visual experimentations not only as communication, but clue (year 7 literature analysis style).
Mapping a garden from above necessitates a bird-eye view. The pigeons, perhaps, take on a greater symbolic resonance. The influence of Cocteau and the celebration of flight, as well as the impact of the flying woman, draw our attention towards the sky. The dreamlike movements of the poem, from one side of Paris to another—the Arc de Triomphe to the Musee d’Luxembourg—mirrors the movement of a gaze.
Ignoring the “laws of solid geometry”, the buildings flicker into the other. Even the frantic darting of the route itself—moving backwards and forwards, from the Louvre to the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe to the Etoile—these could be many glances from a single spot. It becomes not only possible but wholly probable that the entire poem has been traced and tranced from this viewpoint atop the city.
And from this spot, we never retouch the ground. The dead—previously racing the streets—become concretized and blind, like the windows in L’impasse des deux anges (14). The dead and dying lie trapped (both physically and linguistically) in their separate squares.
The pavements, from our viewpoint, bend “proudly to the stars,” and taxis howl like tom-cats. Night falls behind le Petit-Palais (15), and is briefly alive through the light of the Moulin Rouge (16). In one of the poem’s most startling lines, Freud dredges the river, scouring for dreams, “grinning horribly” in an electric light.
There are few inclusions of the first person pronoun within the poem, and each instance mirrors these moments of trance. These are tender instances of subjectivity, bounded within a mind, each acting, in a way, to privatize the poem.
The route ends; the poem ends. Mirrlees calls first to the city, and then, finally, to Harrison, through the coded inclusion of the constellation of the Great Bear:
NOTES ON PRINTING
What has been fascinating about the re-printing of Paris: A Poem is beginning to understand the way in which printing becomes a matter of interpretation, forced by the hand of technology. I’ve realized how Woolf had to offer her own subjective reading of the poem through the nature of its construction.
By virtue of type-setting, Woolf’s setting becomes a work of active editorship. Type-setting involves using a chase; a metal structure that slips into the printing press. Regardless of the size of the press itself—whether a small adana, which is the machine I use, or larger presses such as a Heidelberg or an Albion—the length of the sentences must reflect the size of the chase. Within the chase, you set pieces of type, alongside en spaces (blanks that create the spaces in between words) and “furniture” (little pieces of wood or lead that work to keep the lines evenly spaced).
Mirrlees, as I’ve previously mentioned, was hugely influenced by the impact of concrete poetry; utilizing the visual elements of language to pace the reading. So, too, does Woolf’s setting. In order to maintain the correct margins (bounded by the length of the furniture), Woolf seemingly had to choose sentences in which to double, or even triple space. And this creates an unusual tension. You have a poet indebted to spacing to create meaning in writing, and a printer using the same medium in publishing. The words that Woolf chose to double space demonstrate her personal reading of the poem: these are words that could afford to be double-spaced.
The re-printing of the poem, therefore, becomes a matter of replication, encrypting a communication between author and printer.
I’d like to thank to the ArtSlant team for giving me the time to research and print the poem, and all of the help and patience. I’d also like to thank Berkeley Books of Paris for allowing me to use the space to exhibit the books.
Shoshana Kessler is a printer and publisher at Hurst Street Press.
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