The Yellow Book

edited from Wikipedia The Yellow Book

Cover of the Yellow Book by Aubrey Beardsley

The Yellow Book was a British quarterly literary periodical that was published in London from 1894 to 1897. It was a leading journal of the British 1890s and lent its name to the “Yellow Nineties” and the magazine contained a wide range of literary and artistic genres, poetry, short stories, essays, book illustrations, portraits, and reproductions of paintings.

It was published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, and later by John Lane alone, and edited by the American Henry Harland.

Aubrey Beardsley was its first art editor, and he has been credited with the idea of the yellow cover, with its association with illicit French fiction of the period. He obtained works by such artists as Charles Conder, William Rothenstein, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, and Philip Wilson Steer. The literary content was no less distinguished; authors who contributed were: Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, “Baron Corvo“, Ernest Dowson, George Gissing, Sir Edmund Gosse, Henry James, Richard Le Gallienne, Charlotte Mew, Arthur Symons, H. G. Wells, William Butler Yeats and Frank Swettenham. A notable feature was the inclusion of work by women writers and illustrators, among them Ella D’Arcy and Ethel Colburn Mayne (both also served as Harland’s subeditors), George Egerton, Charlotte Mew, Rosamund Marriott Watson, Ada Leverson, Netta and Nellie Syrett, and Ethel Reed.

It was to some degree associated with Aestheticism and Decadence, but also style. The first issue of The Yellow Book‘s prospectus introduces it “as a book in form, a book in substance; a book beautiful to see and convenient to handle; a book with style, a book with finish; a book that every book-lover will love at first sight; a book that will make book-lovers of many who are now indifferent to books”. The periodical was priced at 5 shillings.

Cover: The Yellow Book‘s brilliant colour immediately associated the periodical with illicit French novels – an anticipation, many thought, of the scurrilous content inside.  It was issued clothbound.

Art separate from text:  Harland and Beardsley rejected the idea that the function of artwork was merely explanatory: “There is to be no connection whatever [between the text and illustrations]. [They] will be quite separate”. The equilibrium which The Yellow Book poses between art and text is emphasized by the separate title pages before each individual work whether literary or pictorial.

Page layout: The Yellow Book‘s mise-en-page differed dramatically from current Victorian periodicals: “… its asymmetrically placed titles, lavish margins, abundance of white space, and relatively square page declare The Yellow Book’s specific and substantial debt to Whistler”. The use of white space is positive rather than negative, simultaneously drawing the reader’s eye to the blank page as an aesthetic and essentially created object. 

Typography: The decision to print The Yellow Book in Caslon-old face further signified the ties which The Yellow Book held to the Revivalists. Caslon-old face, “an eighteenth-century revival of a seventeenth-century typographical style” became “the type-face of deliberate and principled reaction or anachronism”. A type-face generally reserved for devotional and ecclesiastical work, its use in the pages of The Yellow Book at once identified it with the “Religion of Beauty”.

Use of catch-words on every page enhanced The Yellow Book‘s link to the obsolescent. Both antiquated and obtrusive, the catch-phrase interrupts the cognitive process of reading: “making-transparent … the physical sign which constitutes the act of reading; and in doing this, catch-words participate in the ‘pictorialization’ of typography”. By interrupting readers through the very use of irrelevant text, catch-words lend the printed word a solidity of form which is otherwise ignored.

Concrete poetry

Source: edited from Wikipedia. References to be followed up and expanded as part of my exploration of experimental typography.

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Concrete, pattern, or shape poetry is an arrangement of linguistic elements in which the typographical effect is more important in conveying meaning than verbal significance. As such, concrete poetry relates more to the visual than to the verbal arts and there is a considerable overlap in the kind of product to which it refers.

It is difficult to define:”a printed concrete poem is ambiguously both typographic-poetry and poetic-typography” (Houédard). Works cross artistic boundaries into the areas of music and sculpture, or can alternatively be defined as sound poetry, visual poetry, found poetry and typewriter art.

Despite blurring of artistic boundaries, however, concrete poetry can be viewed as taking its place in a predominantly visual tradition stretching over more than two millennia that seeks to draw attention to the word in the space of the page, and to the spaces between words, as an aid to emphasising their significance.

History

Greece

Shaped poetry was popular in Greek Alexandria during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.

15th and 16th Century church

Jewish and Islamic calligraphy

creation of images of natural objects without directly breaking the prohibition of creating “graven images” that might be interpreted as idolatry.

  • Micrography: Hebrew-speaking artists created pictures using tiny arrangements of Biblical texts organized usually on paper in images which illustrate the text used.
  • Islamic calligraphy.

France 19th and 20th century

  • ‘poems’  simplified to a simple arrangement of the letters of the alphabet.
  • Louis Aragon, for example, exhibited the sequence from a to z and titled it “Suicide” (1926)
  • Kurt Schwitters’ “ZA (elementary)” has the alphabet in reverse
  • Catalan writer Josep Maria Junoy (1885-1955) placed just the letters Z and A at the top and bottom of the page under the title “Ars Poetica”
  • Dutch typographer H.N. Werkman in 1920s progressed to using the typewriter to create abstract patterns (which he called tiksels), using not just letters but also purely linear elements.
  • ‘typestracts’ of the concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard during the 1960s.

Post-war concrete poetry

Brazil

During the early 1950s two Brazilian artistic groups producing severely abstract and impersonal work were joined by poets linked to the São Paolo magazine Noigrandes who began to treat language in an equally abstract way. Their work was termed “concrete poetry” after they exhibited along with the artists in the National Exhibition of Concrete Art (1956/57). The poets included Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos and Décio Pignatari, who were joined in the exhibition by Ferreira Gullar, Ronaldo Azeredo and Wlademir Dias Pino from Rio de Janeiro. In 1958 a Brazilian concrete poetry manifesto was published and an anthology in 1962.

Europe

Houedard: inspired by 1962 publication in The Times Literary Supplement of a letter from the Brazilian E.M. de Melo e Castro. His work was  produced principally on the typewriter but approximates more to painterly and sculptural procedures.

Ian Hamilton Finlay :Ian Hamilton Finlay’s concrete poetry began on the page but then moved increasingly towards three dimensional figuration and afterwards to site-specific art in the creation of his sculpture garden at Little Sparta.

Ian Hamilton Finlay sculpture in Stuttgart, 1975; the word schiff (ship) is carved in reverse and can only be decoded when it floats reflected on water (Wikipedia)

Edwin Morgan Edwin Morgan’s experiments with concrete poetry include elements of found poetry ‘discovered’ by misreading and isolating elements from printed sources. “Most people have probably had the experience of scanning a newspaper page quickly and taking a message from it quite different from the intended one. I began looking deliberately for such hidden messages…preferably with the visual or typographical element part of the point.”

Eugen Gomringer considered that a poem should be “a reality in itself” rather than a statement about reality, and “as easily understood as signs in airports and traffic signs”.

Henri Chopin’s work was related to his musical treatment of the word.

Kenelm Cox (1927-68) was a kinetic artist “interested in the linear, serial aspects of visual experience but particularly in the process of change,” whose revolving machines transcended the static page in being able to express this.

Bob Cobbing, who was also a sound poet, had been experimenting with typewriter and duplicator since 1942. Of its possibilities in suggesting the physical dimension of the auditory process, he declared that “One can get the measure of a poem with the typewriter’s accurate left/right & up & down movements; but superimposition by means of stencil and duplicator enable one to dance to this measure.”

American Minimalist artist Carl André, beginning from about 1958 and in parallel with his changing artistic procedures.

Tom Phillips  visual artist, who uses painterly and decorative procedures to isolate them on the page. In A Humument he explores unintended concordances of meaning.