Monday, April 4, 2011

d.a. levy Electric Greek Poems by Jon Beacham

My love of typography especially that adapted by great designers like Jan Tschichold and others has led to an appreciation of the concrete poets working from the 1950s onward. These were poets who refused to think of words as mere indifferent vehicles without a visual life of their own that could further communicate by their physical arrangement on the printed page. People like Dick Higgins, Claus Bremmer and Emmett Williams are among the well known but my favorite who isn't usually cited would be Ferdinand Kriwet, who for photobook lovers, created the circular "poem" that precedes the photographs in Ed van der Elsken's classic book Sweet Life.

One poet who I knew little about before discovering a facsimile of his work produced by local Brooklyn artist and printmaker Jon Beacham is D.A. Levy. Levy was a Cleveland based poet and artist working in the 1960s and his self produced mimeograph books were his main medium.

As primarily a bookmaker, his most widely distributed works The North American Book of the Dead, Cleveland Undercovers, Suburban Monastery Death Poem, and Tombstone as a Lonely Charm count as only a few among over 160 publications he produced in his short lifetime before committing suicide on November 24,1968 at age 26 (11 days after I was born).

In the fall of 1968, Levy was invited to Madison to be a poet in residence at the University of Wisconsin by David Wagner and Morris Edelson. During this time he created a series of concrete poems and a collection titles Electric Greek Poems - a reference to the originators of visual poetry which were used as decoration for religious artworks and alter shaped poems dating back to the 2nd century BC. This facsimile collection contains some of the last works created by Levy before his death.

19 individual sheets printed by hand on a Vandercook, Jon Beacham has published an edition of 165 copies faithful in every way exactly to the original but for use of a brown cover stock instead of the original blue. The physical aesthetics of craft - the imperfect typewritten covers (set with an IBM Selectric typewriter) and the slight impression of the ink into the paper from the pass of the Vandercook's drum - are a welcome distraction from the digitized detachment from objects not touched by hands.

Go here to order and find out more about Beacham and his other projects.