Second Round: Bashō - The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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Second Round: Bashō - The Narrow Road to the Deep North

okt 24, 2022, 2:11 am

Bashō - The Narrow Road to the Deep North

One of Japan's greatest poets records his 17th century journey through the far reaches of of the Oku region, searching for the world of the old masters and new inspiration for his haiku.

Printed on a handmade kozo paper, illustrated by woodblock printings of some of the haiku. A cloth binding in black. The translation would be in copyright, but many good ones are available. If possible, Nobuyuki Yuasa (1966) would be preferred.

This proposal received 57 yes votes in the first round.

The proposer has been notified of this discussion thread, and may receive help or advice in expanding the proposal.

okt 24, 2022, 8:34 am

Hello all,

I'm the proponent of this work, and I can't tell you how pleased I am to see how many other people think it would make a good first selection for the press. Perhaps I can start by putting a few broad areas forward for input to see whether we can get the ball rolling.

1: Paper. In my imagination, this is one of the keys to the whole project. To me, the text is so connected to the natural world, and to the people and artisans of the time and place, that it's crying out for a really good handmade paper. I think this is pretty financially feasible for the project because it's not a work of exceptional length (probably 40-60 pages depending on typesetting?), and because I don't propose to do an exotic or expensive binding (more below). I think a heavy Japanese mulberry paper is really what's called for, but I don't have any experience buying paper for printing, so I'd love to hear from anyone who does or otherwise has ideas.

2: Translation. I had suggested Nobuyuki Yuasa because it seemed to have a number of factors going for it. It's very good, from both and artistic and scholarly perspective, it's stood the test of time and seems unlikely to be rendered obsolete (so the edition should be able to serve for a lifetime without regret), and I believe it's owned by Penguin (on the basis that my existing copy of the work is a Penguin Classics paperback). I do think it's worth taking a closer look at this aspect of the project though, and would be very interested to hear from anyone with an opinion. I'll report back any new thoughts I have as well.

3: Decoration. Keeping with the general theme, I think, I'd suggested "illustrating" with woodblock printings of the haiku in the original language. I'd love feedback on this aspect, both on whether it's the correct approach (engravings of some of the temples and sacred pines instead?), and if it is whether we want interlinear settings on approximately the same scale as the text (possibly parallel with the translation), or larger, even full page printings (thinking along the lines of Gaspereau Press' setting of Hopkins' Pied Beauty).

4: Binding. I my mind this was a place to be restrained, perhaps make some savings to keep the price more reasonable. A soft bookcloth, perhaps in black, with silver lettering on the spine and no other embellishment. Something pleasant to hold, durable, but unpretentious. However! If anyone thinks otherwise and has an exciting idea that's in keeping with the aesthetic I'd love to hear it. I think commission a slipcase as well? Solander seems too much, but I always appreciate the extra protection on the shelf.

Again, very excited to discuss this, and hoping for lots to chew on. Any other ideas? Endpapers, ribbons, inks/colours? Anything people can see that I'm completely missing? Thanks!


Redigerat: okt 24, 2022, 8:53 am

This is easily my number one choice out of the surviving finalists.

Agree with your thoughts on paper and translations. If mulberry paper is infeasible go as tactile and thick as possible. As for binding, Japanese book cloth in black or maybe plum (plus slipcase) feels like the way to go here.

okt 24, 2022, 8:55 am

>2 Didici:. I agree with you on the importance of the paper, and your suggestion sounds like a good one if it's feasible. For binding, I would like to see a traditional Japanese binding; I believe it's often called side stitching. I have a couple of books in my collection bound this way and it would be "in keeping with the aesthetic," as you said. Finding a capable practitioner might be a challenge, but an advantage could come in cost savings as not much in the way of material is used.

okt 24, 2022, 8:57 am

>4 AMindForeverVoyaging: I concur, stab binding would be very nice on this one.

okt 24, 2022, 10:04 am

While I agree that a generally restrained aesthetic is best, I'd love to see one color piece of art used for the end papers or a single frontspiece. I'd prefer a painter or wood block artist contemporary with Basho, not a later artist like Hiroshige.

okt 24, 2022, 11:36 am

Yes: A thick handmade paper, perfect in its imperfection. ;-) Too rough, though, and it may present a challenge for printing of illustrations, unless those are done on a different stock?

Japanese-style binding would be great. I've seen a cool three-panel chemise with bone/tab closures for Michael Kenna's photo book "Japan" -- something like that might work instead of a slipcase or typical solander box. Here are some pictures: (I don't like the cloth Nazreli press chose, but the mechanics are interesting.)

The only translation I've read is by Donald Keene. It was quite readable, but I have nothing to compare it to yet.

For illustrations, how about reproductions of relevant Ukiyo-e prints? I don't know what processes are involved in making satisfactory prints, but the Grabhorn Press seems to have done a decent job for their series of Ukiyo-e collections.

Redigerat: okt 24, 2022, 3:50 pm

>2 Didici: I love your attention to detail on the paper. If I could make one recommendation, it would be to print the woodblocks on handmade Yamagampi paper or the like to make a stunning contrast with the thicker text pages.

This is a favorite method of Richard Wagener and his Mixolydian editions, and creates a really stark effect with the thin almost transparent paper overlaying the text, but accommodating really bold and crisp prints.

Colored handmade Japanese papers such as Somegami or Bicchu could make gorgeous section dividers, though that all might get costly.

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 3:33 am

>2 Didici: This is one of my two favourite proposals, rooting for it!

Regarding the illustrations: I love ukiyo-e, but find that they work in the opposite way from haiku in my brain: in the prints there’s usually a lot of (often intensely colourful) information which I then need to parse / analyze. Haiku gives me the barest minimum of information, like an almost-empty canvas with just a prompt or two, which my brain then readily fills with images and moods. So I wonder if combining the two might end up being counterproductive for the reader.

So from my side, I’d either go with very sparse / suggestive illustrations (modern Japanese artist?), or maybe calligraphy? Which would be like illustrating with a print of the poem, just with a more tangible human touch.

Another idea could be the very same photos >7 kermaier: mentioned: for me, Kenna’s imagery of Japan has much of the same sparsely evocative feeling as Basho’s poems.

Edit: seems at least one of editions of Kenna’s photos “illustrated” them with haiku:

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 6:09 am

Living in Japan with a keen interest in Japanese literature, this is the proposal I am rooting for most. I agree with the idea of a restrained aesthetic, and would love to see it illustrated with calligraphy (is something by the late Toko Shinoda dreaming?) and/or photography like that of Michael Kenna. The Limited Editions Club version of A Portrait of Shunkin, with photography by Eikoh Hosoe and calligraphy by Shunkei Yahagi is close to perfection in my mind.

okt 27, 2022, 6:29 am

>10 mnmcdwl: Shunkin is one of my top 3 books on my shelves!

I still have to read Bashō so I can‘t comment on the suggestions in light of the text but calligraphy, stab binding and the use of handmade Japanese as suggested by >8 NathanOv: do all sound amazing.

I sometimes wonder whether a Japanese would share these aesthetics or deems them to be kitschy Western interpretations.

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 7:37 am

>11 SebRinelli: Shunkin is one of my top three too. Regarding what Japanese think of these aesthetics--it's a very limited survey of one, but in asking my Japanese spouse over dinner (who takes zero interest in my fine press collecting hobby), the answer was "minimalist woodblock prints" would be the best artwork.

okt 27, 2022, 7:45 am

Count me in the camp that likes the idea of calligraphic illustrations. Those seem the most in harmony with haiku.

NathanOv made a good suggestion about using ornamental paper to section off the pages, but how about using something like washi paper as actual illustrations? They would be cut and glued onto pages, similar to how marbled paper was used here:

In this case however the washi wouldn't be full pages, but inset as though they were photographs or drawings, or running down a page like a ribbon (or river).

okt 27, 2022, 8:15 am

>2 Didici:
>9 BorisG:
>10 mnmcdwl:

While calligraphy may be the most Japanese of the various illustration ideas, it would add little to my reading of Bashō aside from setting a proper reading mood. The suggestions from >7 kermaier: and >9 BorisG: regarding Michael Kenna's photographs of Japan would be my overwhelming choice for illustration as well. They are haunting, evocative and set the proper reading mood in a more lyrical manner.

okt 27, 2022, 10:43 am

>14 dlphcoracl: We'd need some input from the advisory board concerning photographic reproduction technologies available to the press.
For example, I think that giclee prints on text printing paper, tipped in, would be disappointing in terms of photo reproduction quality.
As an example of fine-art photography printed right, I'd look at LensWork magazine. In my opinion, the quality of their duotone reproduction exceeds that of most photobook monographs. (I believe they use a Canadian printing house.)
Maybe the same printers that Nazreli Press uses for Kenna's work could be used for this project as well.

By the way, the Michael Kenna monograph "Hokkaido" is beautifully bound in quarter white cloth over flexible wood veneer sides in black cloth-covered slipcase.

okt 27, 2022, 11:12 am

>15 kermaier: good point. Phil from Hand & Eye mentioned 2 years ago that he is able to letterpress print photographs with pleasing results ( Otherwise, anything less than photogravure would be a disappointment and a showstopper for me. Thornwillow‘s reproductions in Sherlock give me still a cringe.

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 12:20 pm

Photographs can be printed letterpress if they're converted to halftone. It's how newspapers used to print photos. It's stylistically interesting, and adds unique physical depth to a photograph, but in terms of actual resolution or fidelity it's about as bad as it gets.

Giclée just means "inkjet printing for fine art," and in reality everything depends on the original, the scan, the printer setup, the inks. The aforementioned Sherlock photo reproductions were printed on 9-ink $10,000 machines. What went wrong? ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

The problem, as I see it, is when photos are pulled too forcefully into the fine press world. For example, trying to print photographs on our papers. Photo papers exist for a reason, and though they may be a little incongruous with the "fine press aesthetic," they produce the best results for the photograph. I think one of the biggest mistakes Arion Press' has made, for example, was printing the gorgeous and colorful photographs in The Leopard on the text stock (something laid) rather than separately on proper photo paper and then tipped in.

okt 27, 2022, 12:41 pm

>17 grifgon: Exactly. There are a number of ways of reproducing photographs, and the technical process and materials have to be appropriate to the desired final artistic result. To that end, I very much doubt that Michael Kenna would allow reproduction if his photos in any form even slightly reminiscent of inkjet on Mohawk Superfine.

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 12:57 pm

If there are to be tipped in high-quality prints, the only way I can imagine these fitting >2 Didici:'s original fully hand-made and natural aesthetic would be to have them tipped in at the top to the Japanese papers, and ideally printed with a matte or textured finish. I think full-page glossy sheets would be distracting and disruptive, no matter the quality of the printing or paper.

Perhaps something akin to to Foolscap Press's "Despatches," but of course with higher quality photography and photo printing (those were intended to be relatively lo-fi candids to fit the concept of a travel journal).

okt 27, 2022, 1:04 pm

>19 NathanOv: I think this sort of thing is where we get into trouble. As I said before, "when photos are pulled too forcefully into the fine press world." Its a really tricky tightrope to walk, and fine presses have a loooong history of falling short when it comes to photographs.

Redigerat: okt 27, 2022, 1:11 pm

>20 grifgon: I think if it's a case where the photos simply can't be incorporated into the overall concept without sacrificing the quality of the art, then they probably aren't an appropriate choice of illustration for the edition.

That said, I don't necessarily think that the photo finish would be a compromise unless the artist were against it, and the more important part of my suggestion was how they're attached to and presented within the book.

okt 27, 2022, 1:32 pm

The photo printing method used for the Shiff-era LEC version of A Season in Hell is wonderful, but might greatly increase the price? Here is what the relevant monthly letter says about it:

This book marks the first collaboration between Daniel Kelcher and Jon Goodman. Goodman—who this year set up his studio at Wild Carrot Letterpress—is one of the few craftsmen in the world able to make dust-grain photogravure plates on the level of quality achieved in this edition. This extremely fine process will be discussed in detail in the Dubliners letter—a project which will be the second collaboration between Goodman and Keleher.

The plates were printed in two colours, an alizarin black with a surface roll of yellow tint, by Greta Lintvedt, Peter Pettengill and Robert Townsend. The consistent quality of the printing deserves special admiration, considering the delicate tonal changes and richness which make this technique so luxurious.

okt 27, 2022, 1:46 pm

>11 SebRinelli: re: risk of kitsch:

I think calligraphic illustrations would be attractive, but I would worry about our collective taste level regarding commissioning and curating a selection of illustrations sufficiently impressive to match the text. If someone here is an expert in this area that's different (does anyone claim such expertise?), but otherwise I suspect we'd end up with the equivalent of a Kanji tattoo that means soup or something like that, and the contrast would be particularly glaring against a fine-press background for any readers with sufficient cultural background. (I am just knowledgeable enough in this area to know how perilous the artistic project would be for people without the cultural grounding.)

A thought: what about taking the Macy route and commissioning a printer or artist in Japan? There must be some artisans in Japan that still work with traditional East Asian press methods.

Redigerat: nov 4, 2022, 12:51 pm

How wonderful many of these ideas are, and I'm so pleased to see the people who support and care for the idea. Some of my thoughts at this point:

1) I'm very taken indeed with the idea in >4 AMindForeverVoyaging: of stab binding the edition, which I think suits the work and my envisioned aesthetic wonderfully. I don't have any experience with it, so am looking into durability and readability, and would be happy to hear about others' experiences in this vein.

2) Assuming that continues to seem feasible, I think it would make sense to have a housing other than the usual 5-sided box slipcase so as to avoid wear on the external threads of the binding. The 3 panel chemise in >7 kermaier: seems intriguing indeed, and would be an opportunity to introduce a bit of variation to the overall package. I wonder a bit about bottom-edge shelf wear and whether members think that's a concern. Personally I shelve essentially all of my books vertically on wooden shelves, and so it's something I think about. Would be interested to hear further thoughts.

3) I am inclined to resist the idea of including photography, no matter how beautiful it is on its own terms (as Michael Kenna's obviously is). I think that the challenge of getting the work printed to an acceptable standard is an added hurdle to the success of the project that is better avoided, and I think that the inclusion of such a disparate paper (and I think it would have to be a variety of specialized photographic paper) within the text will feel wrong and break up the flow of the book, both physically and sensually. More prosaically, it would be another set of rights to acquire from a high-profile artist.

4) I think that the point in >11 SebRinelli: point about tipping over into kitsch is one to bear in mind. In particular, we are not making and probably cannot make a Japanese book, and there probably is a line in here we could trip over. I worry we would do so if we tried to go ukio-e for illustration, particularly if we did so without a serious commitment to finding a contemporary printer versed in the associated technique.

5) Which essentially is to say that I agree with all those who think that calligraphy is the right way to go. I won't be proposing a bilingual edition (though don't threaten me with a good time!), but rather to use calligraphic settings of certain haiku as broadly decorative elements. I like the idea of doing them at scale and using them in section breaking, possibly in conjunction with a handmade somegami or similar, per >8 NathanOv:, and depending on practicalities. It may still work well even on the base paper, though. >23 abysswalker: (which I just saw as I was about to post) is very much on the money about regarding the downside risk here, and I certainly claim no expertise in the field. I think the overall idea about commissioning at least an artist in Japan for the blocks is very much the correct one, and exploring printing is worthwhile.

Thank you to everyone who's commented so far, and I hope we can keep the discussion going.

okt 27, 2022, 2:59 pm

>24 Didici: Regarding no. 2, my LEC Kwaidan, made 90 years ago, has that type of chemise and the bottom edge of the book looks outstanding.

okt 27, 2022, 4:51 pm

>25 AMindForeverVoyaging: Not to be too off topic, but how do you like it? I’ve had my eye on a copy for a little bit now!

okt 27, 2022, 6:39 pm

>24 Didici: Regarding a stab binding, I would advise against it, for a number of reasons:

1) the paper is usually folded in on itself, so you are only using one side of each sheet. As a result, the paper is usually thinner and cheaper then it would be otherwise.
2) Stab bindings don't lie flat and are harder to read. Really large books the the Taschen Japan art books do okay reading flat, but it's still not ideal.
3) You really don't see this style of binding much in Japan either anymore, probably for the above reasons. It tends to be mostly art reproductions of classic texts that get this treatment.

Don't get me wrong, there are great example uses of stab bindings, like Folio Society's recent Studies from Nature limited edition reproduction, but I think a simple binding in Japanese book cloth would be safer and less kitschy.

okt 27, 2022, 8:32 pm

>27 mnmcdwl: These are all good points; if employing a stab binding (which is easy to do, and less expensive, actually, than hand- or even Smyth-sewn) I'd want the book to be landscape for this purpose.

I think James' Hercules is potentially a great model for this edition.

okt 27, 2022, 11:29 pm

>28 grifgon: Another wonderful stab-bound book is The Seafarer by Old Stile Press. I also love the case and illustrations for this one, and wouldn't be adverse to this book dwelling in a similar realm.

PS - Does anyone even have a cache of Zerkall Silurian anymore? What a delightfully Doctor Who kind of name that is.

okt 28, 2022, 4:23 pm

>22 abysswalker: Photogravure seems to be the obvious choice of reproduction, should that end up being the illustrative medium (which I'm personally very much in favour of). While Jon Goodman is undoubtedly the master at metal plate gravure, I have gorgeous examples of polymer gravure on my shelves from other practitioners (the frontispiece to the Plain Wrapper Press Redux 'The Kallima Butterfly' is exquisite). And I think they would print beautifully on whatever Japanese paper the edition would get printed on.

Redigerat: okt 28, 2022, 4:36 pm

>24 Didici: I genuinely don't think photography need be a problem at all. I've just responded to an earlier comment on here regarding such (see just above). My proposal would be to use the polymer gravure process, which can yield beautiful results. And I think this would print really well on a Japanese paper, as is your plan for the edition.
I'll be happy to see this edition in whatever form, should it be the one that goes through, but I admit my preference of illustration would be the photographic route.

okt 28, 2022, 4:41 pm

>27 mnmcdwl: I agree with these points, both from a technical point and an aesthetic one. I just feel that a stab sewn binding might be a bit of an 'obvious' choice, whereas a well-considered Western-style binding may better suite a Western treatment of the poems.

okt 28, 2022, 4:44 pm

Obviously, the above comments are just my humble thoughts on some of the aspects of the book. If, for arguments sake, it did get chosen I will be happy to see this in whatever form it appears. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any preferences.

okt 29, 2022, 11:41 am

>22 abysswalker: Whenever I think of photogravure, I think of the LEC Dubliners. If this book can get something of that quality, it would be special indeed.

okt 29, 2022, 11:58 am

My preference, for whatever it’s worth, would be no photographs (or at most one as a frontispiece); I think they would detract from the text.

okt 29, 2022, 1:32 pm

>34 ultrarightist: I always think of Jon Goodman's plate gravure in the LEC 'The Man Who Planted Trees'. Shockingly good! I'll have to look at a copy of 'The Dubliners'.

okt 29, 2022, 1:38 pm

>35 ambyrglow: I'm not sure they would detract, but I agree that there need not be loads, with perhaps one striking frontispiece being enough

Redigerat: okt 29, 2022, 1:53 pm

>37 ChestnutPress: well, if didici is overall reluctant about photography, I think one well-printed and well-selected Photogravure frontispiece would be a fantastic addition, and perhaps a nice compromise (though the proposer is of course free to make any decisions).

okt 29, 2022, 2:28 pm

For what its worth, I am all for no photos.

okt 29, 2022, 2:39 pm

I'd prefer a more abstract route (calligraphy, blockprint patterns, washi paper) over photography myself, but I can see where monochrome photos would fit the feel. I probably wouldn't stab bind an edition with tipped-in photos, but go for a more standard binding instead. (Not that it couldn't be done, mind.)

Redigerat: okt 29, 2022, 6:34 pm

>38 NathanOv: I like that we can all put forward various thoughts of our own into the mix, knowing full well that they are just a handful of our many opinions (sometimes differing, sometimes not). At the end of it all, whichever book wins, and whatever routes are gone down in the many choices of its production, will doubtlessly be a handsome and enticing volume!

okt 29, 2022, 6:35 pm

>39 Glacierman: Fair play, they're not everyone's cup of tea 👍🏻

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