Poetical Histories

Xtin of Xtinpore

In the early 1980s, Peter Riley found an extraordinary stash of paper and came up with a plan to publish poetry on it. Poetical Histories No. 1 was published in 1985.

I found out about these wonderful pamphlets, touchable like fabric with the irresistible tactility of meticulous letterpress, because Pluvialis' 'Simple Objects' was No. 24 in 1993. I came across a copy during the Great Move to the house we shared in 2004, tucked somewhere unlikely in the tsunami of paper that followed us there: box upon box upon pile, where six-year-old academic journals rubbed noses with photocopies from American archives, elderly bank statements curled at the corners, telephone numbers on JSTOR articles, and reams and reams of irritable drafts of the uncapturable thoughts of a couple of terms ago. Every now and then, over the next couple of years, I'd come across another one of the Histories somewhere among The Paper.

When I moved, I had two copies of Simple Objects -- one on the cream Ingres Mongolfier paper, and another on the grey, which Pluvialis had given me as gifts. But I missed the others, drifting the house. Later, I found Peter's website, and all of a sudden I had a complete set.

I felt oddly guilty about that, as though I ought to have tracked them down, one at a time, drifing through bookshops and poetry this-and-thats and hiding among paper as they had always done. Pluvialis asked me if I was going to get a special box for them -- for she knows about my fetish for boxes. But I couldn't do it -- I already felt like I'd caged them.

I'm rather afraid of poetry much though I love it. Or perhaps I'm afraid of talking about it. There are lots of learned persons out there doing it. But I am going to plunge into my collection by telling you about each member of it -- what it is like to handle, what it looks like, what my favourite fragments are ... whether I like it. Each one is illustrated on the cover with a motif of one sort or another, which I'll use to illustrate my posts.

Most of these pamphlets contain only a single poem, so I cannot transcribe them. Many are only in print in this form. But if you are interested, many are still in print. Drop Peter Riley a line.

Poetical Histories No. 1 (1985)
Disguises of the Soul
Nicholas Moore

My copy is hand-numbered 88 in red ink on the reverse, and signed by the author in fading black fountain-pen ink. It is a warm poem, slightly grumpy but uncomplicated and satisfying to the touch, like putting your hand into grain.

My favourite lines:

I can, of course, make gods for you, too,
But you can make them for yourselves,
And worship them
Deplorably, endowing them

With inhuman powers. Superior beings
Daft as spacemen.
It is a story of the stories that we tell about the people that we love, how we make them into gods and goddesses. What I like best about it is that the poem doesn't do the obvious thing, which is to try to capture the elaborate fabulousness or transcendent perfection of the person we make up in our mind. Its finest flights of descriptive language are reserved for the ways that we try to pull this little trick, pulling mythological people fully formed from our heads, like Zeus.

The close of the poem allows his loved one just three properties: happy. Sad. Real.

My pamphlet is deckled on half its edges, and cut on the other half. It's slightly bumped on the top right corner, and there's the smallest inky smudge to the edge of the cover. And there's this winsome typographical quirk: the poem is divided into four sections, roman numbered. The typesetter has used "1" for "I", so that the sections are marked ".1.", ".11.", ".111." and ".1V."

Happy. Sad. Real.

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