Tuesday, May 16, 2017

E.E. Cummings | CIOPW

E.E. Cummings
New York City, USA: Covici Friede, 1931
119 pp., 12.5 x 9.5 x 1", clothbound
Edition of 391 signed copies

The title acronym CIOPW stands for charcoal, ink, oil, pencil and watercolour, the media used to create the ninety-nine featured examples of the poet's visual art. It can also be read, apparently, as the ancient Greek word σιωπῶ, meaning "to be silent", possibly a reference to the fact that the author's writings (beyond a brief introduction) do not appear in the volume.

The book contains 72 paintings and 27 drawings.  Two were scrawled on the backs of cancelled checks and another was torn from his sketchbook. The subject matter includes circus life, still lifes, nudes, landscapes and portraiture. Charlie Chaplin appears, as do several of the author's friends, including James Sibley Watson, Gilbert Seldes, Joe Gould and Samuel Jacob, the typesetter who also designed the book.

Cummings had already published an autobiographical novel (The Enormous Room, 1922), a play (HIM, 1927) and five volumes of poetry by the time of the release of this limited edition, but there was very little initial interest in CIOPW. It reportedly sold poorly at the time. This may have been partly due to timing - a deluxe edition artist book by a poet selling for twenty dollars during the time of the Great Depression seems somewhat ill-advised. Today, however, the book is offered for between one and three thousand dollars, depending on condition.

Read Richard Kostelanetz's article on the book, posted at Hyperallergic yesterday, here.

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