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After Words

In the reading-machine future
Say by 1950
All magnum opuses
Will be etched on the
Heads of pins
Not retched into
Three volume classics
By pin heads
—Bob Brown

In January 1931, Bob Brown worked with Nancy Cunard's Hours Press to publish Words —two sets of poems printed in a single volume. The book was subtitled I but bend my finger in a beckon and words, birds of words, hop on it, chirping . One set of poems was printed in 16-point Caslon Old Face, a classic font style used in allHours Press publications. The other was relief-printed from engraved plates at less than 3-point size (perhaps, according to Cunard, less than 1-point).Because the subtitle was also printed in the microscopic text, archives, libraries, and bibliographies often mistakenly omit it.

Although Brown was, for Cunard, "at the very center of his time, a zeitgeist in himself," they printed only 150 copies, and the book passed into relativeobscurity. It is generally mentioned only as a footnote in discussions of Cunard's life or in reference to Readies for Bob Brown's Machine , Brown’s better-known anthology of experimental texts by modernist writers, including Cunard herself (Cunard, Hours , 177 and 181).

One can place Words at the intersection of three lineages. Nancy Cunard wanted to produce elegant modernist works in the fine-press artists' booktradition that Hours Press helped initiate: "to achieve impeccably clean things with fingers grease-laden" ( Hours , 9). Brown wanted to demonstrate how microscopic texts for his reading machine mightappear if printed next to poems set in 16-point type. A reading of the book from the perspective of an avant-garde audience places it in the tradition of art-stunts. (In this regard, Brown's friends, George Antheil and Marcel Duchamp, influenced his interest in art-stunts involving machines and mechanisms.) As aperformance of reading strategies, Words , with its magnifying glasses and hidden clues, alludes to detective stories or tothe paranoid's micrographia and art brut .

Only a handful of scholars have had the opportunity to read Words , which this new edition makes widely available, and even fewer have discussed it outside of apassing mention or footnote (for exceptions, see Dworkin, 2003, or Ford, 1988). The current moment seems ripe for a rediscovery of this work precisely becauseof contemporary interests in book arts, reading technologies, conceptual art projects, and interdisciplinary modernist studies.

Nancy Cunard, famous for her iconic glamorous fashion with African bangles and bobbed hair-style, was part of a thriving groupof small-press publishers in the 1920s, including Contact Editions, Beaumont Press, Ovid Press, Nonesuch Press, Fanfrolico, Seizin, Sylvia Beach'sShakespeare&Company, Black Sun Press, Black Manikin Press, and Bob Brown's own Roving Eye Press. She announced Words in a December 1929 edition of transition , the English-language modernist art and literary journal published in Paris. Shestarted talking about the possibility of the project after Brown had sent her a copy of his " beautifully produced" 1450- 1950 . The title refers to the evolution of printing, and its meaning was immediately clear to Cunard, a printer; but the poet William Carlos Williamswrote to Brown wondering what the "numerals meant” ( Hours , 177; Williams, n.p.).

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Source:  OpenStax, Words. OpenStax CNX. Feb 01, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11168/1.2
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