'Some True Marriage of Word and Image'
From almost the first days of our coming together, in London, we glimpsed the possibility of our managing to achieve, as best we might in our entwined vocations, some true marriage of word and image. One that might come in time, however inadequately, to reflect our astounded delight in our own discovered mutuality of body, mind and Spirit. This insight led us in time to found The Gauntlet Press, with all that went out into the world thereafter under its imprint.... - Richard Outram, from the afterword to Brief Immortals (2003)
Richard Outram and Barbara Howard met in London in 1954. Their meeting was the beginning of that rare thing, a true marriage (an instance, as Outram put it, of 'conjoined loves': something 'very much other' than-though not necessarily exclusive of-the 'bounds and bonds of domesticity' ).
Their meeting was also the beginning of the artistic collaboration that would give rise to the Gauntlet Press-a private press of considerable and lasting accomplishment-the work of which nourished, in turn, two interpenetrating creative worlds: the body of drawings and paintings that is Howard's personal oeuvre, and the body of poems and poem-sequences that is Outram's.
Outram was twenty-four years old at the time of his and Howard's meeting. He had graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours degree in English and philosophy in 1953. After working for a year as a stagehand at the CBC in Toronto, he had come to England in search of what he called 'the most possible form of life.'
Howard, Outram's senior by several years, was a practising artist at the time of their meeting. She had been living in England and travelling on the continent almost since the time of her graduation, as an honours silver medallist, from the Ontario College of Art in 1951.
In the early fifties, as Peter Sanger writes, 'the general tone of English artistic life was still being set by the neo-romanticism which had developed in the United Kingdom shortly before and during the Second World War....' It was a 'time when painting, sculpture, music, poetry, fiction, theatre and theatrical design, ballet, book design and illustration and film all drew upon what was conceived of as a specifically English tradition of close natural observation and transcendent visionary intensity.' Needless to say, this was a fertile environment in which to find oneself as a young artist; it was also a fertile environment in which to find oneself in love. The zeitgeist was encouraging of collaboration, of artistic reciprocities-of synergism, a word which, as Outram wrote, 'referred to (still does) "The doctrine that the human will cooperates with divine grace in the work of regeneration."'
Outram wrote his first poem, by his own account, in 1955. That same year, he and Howard produced their first collaborative publication: 'a Christmas keepsake ... consisting of a "linocut, printed on mulberry paper and tipped onto a grey sugar-paper card"' (description care of Peter Sanger). The following year, they returned to Canada, and were married shortly thereafter. Designer and typographer Allan Fleming was best man at their wedding.
In the years immediately following their return to Canada, Outram and Howard produced three collaborative keepsakes-commercially printed at their behest-for private distribution among their friends: 'Carol' (1957), 'Young Pine' (1958), and 'Forest' (1959). Gradually, however-largely through his friendship with Fleming-Outram became 'aware of some of the complexities, niceties and rewards of fine printing, typography and book production,' and convinced of 'the notion that nothing so enables one to appreciate these matters as does the actual designing, setting and printing of type from blocks.' Accordingly, in 1960, Outram and Howard acquired a press of their own: a tabletop letterpress, an Adana HQ flatbed, catalogue no. 100.
Over the course of the next twenty-eight years, Outram and Howard would print fifty-four books and broadsides on the 9 3/4- by 7 1/4-inch chase of this small press. They adopted the 'Gauntlet Press' imprint: a tribute to the motto of Howard's Scottish ancestors ('Touch not the cat bot a glove') and to 'the seamless playing and resonant name' of London violist Ambrose Gauntlet; and also a sort of challenge, as Outram wrote, 'thrown down to ourselves by ourselves.'
Almost all of the Gauntlet-Press keepsakes included poems by Outram and wood engravings by Howard. Very occasionally, a poem or an engraving would appear on a keepsake without explicit accompaniment in the other medium-but always the keepsakes were collaborative: designed (and, when necessary, bound) by Howard, typeset and printed by Outram. All were issued in small editions (between thirty and eighty copies was typical); most were distributed, privately, among Outram and Howard's friends.
In his essay 'A Brief History of Time at the Gauntlet Press ...' (DA: A Journal of the Printing Arts, no. 44), Outram sums up the press's achievement with characteristic modesty: 'a number of productions, using an absolute minimum of resources, of a high standard of craftsmanship and a classic simplicity of elegant design and sometimes gorgeousness.' He continues: 'We gradually realized that what had come to interest and concern us intensely was the fathomless question of how most meaningfully to combine word and image. And in this, on occasion, we managed to reach perhaps beyond our ambitions....' (It is not immediately clear, in the context, what Outram means by 'beyond our ambitions', but I believe it has something to do with that word 'synergism', mentioned above-and to which I will return.)
Outram and Howard had taken up letterpress printing just as the medium, in its commercial manifestation, was going into decline. In 1960, as Outram wrote, '[t]he printing district (in Toronto, at any rate) sported (letterpress) printing supplies outlets as numerous and varied as pubs in Chelsea or sex shops in Soho.' But by 1988, when the last of Outram and Howard's letterpress keepsakes was issued, this had changed. The printing supplies outlets had disappeared-and the online letterpress-discussion-groups that now point would-be printers in the direction of niche-market suppliers did not yet exist. 'To continue and progress,' Outram wrote, 'we would have needed new type ... new rollers, really a new and more versatile press, and much more space and time than we felt that we could then allot.' So the Adana was retired from active duty; no works were issued under the Gauntlet Press imprint for the next four years. (Unpacking the Adana, almost two decades later, Outram and Howard's executors would find a single piece of type-a large, beautifully finished, wooden ampersand-locked firmly into the chase.)
The Gauntlet Press had its reincarnation-Outram calls it 'The Gauntlet Press Redivivus Electronicus'-beginning in 1993. By this time, Outram had acquired an Apple Powerbook 140 and an inkjet printer, and had become 'somewhat comfortable with the new hardware and software'; he and Howard were happy enough with the results of his labours to revive the 'GP' insignia. It appeared in 1993 on the Christmas keepsake 'Far North,' and on an uncatalogued number of electronically-produced broadsides and books (the latter still hand-bound), from then until Howard's death in 2002.
The press's output, in its electronic phase, was more various than it had been in the letterpress era. The design work was still Howard's, but-as Sanger writes-she began to incorporate 'images designed, retrieved or collected by other designers' in electronic fonts, which she found, modified, coloured, and put into proportional patterns. The words were still, most often, Outram's: but now works by other poets were also occasionally (re)printed, under the Gauntlet Press imprint-alone, or in conjunction/juxtaposition with other works. Often, publications of Outram's own poems would include other texts-as epigraphs, or printed on the verso of a broadside-with which his poems were in conversation. Except in the case of the bookworks, editions were no longer strictly limited; multiple versions of certain broadsides appeared.
The electronic works of the Gauntlet Press were not intended as ephemera, however; the 'high-standard of craftsmanship,' the 'classic simplicity of elegant design' that characterized the press's first, letterpress productions still applied. So, too, did that 'endlessly fascinating' question of how most meaningfully to combine word and image.
This returns me to that word 'synergism,' and to its far-ranging implications for collaborative work. The Gauntlet Press was what is called, in the book trade, a 'private press'-a non-commercial press, the smallest in the small-press world. Yet the aims of the Gauntlet Press were never small. Mindful, always, of that synergistic doctrine-'that the human will cooperates with divine grace in the work of regeneration'-Outram and Howard created works that court the communion of the particular and the universal.
Writing of Howard's Gauntlet-Press work, Outram touched on this matter explicitly: 'Barbara was never interested in nor would settle for mere textual illustration; it was a reciprocity, an interpenetration of word and image, which might expand the whole of creation into something greater than the sum of its parts, that was from the first her intent.' That Outram shared this intent is clear, particularly in his final, private publications, Nine Shiners and Brief Immortals (from which the words quoted above are drawn). He issued these two 'companion sequences' under no imprint, in April and September of 2003: in the wake of Howard's death; about a year and a half before his own. Each sequence bears a simple colophon giving the place and date of publication (Port Hope Canada ... MMIII), and a one-line epigraph: 'We were very happy.'
In his afterword to Brief Immortals, Outram wrote that he had decided ('with some agonizing in the decision') to draw upon Barbara's paintings in the formulation of these sequences-just as she may sometimes have drawn upon his poems in the creation of her engravings. In Nine Shiners and Brief Immortals, Outram's texts accompany and are accompanied by reproductions of her paintings. But just as Howard never settled for 'mere illustration' of the textual, Outram never settles for 'mere explication' of the visual; like Howard, he attempts 'an interpenetration of word and image, which might expand the whole of creation into something greater than the sum of its parts'-or (to borrow his occasional variant on the phrase) its partners.
The Gauntlet Press collection of the Queen Elizabeth II Library at Memorial University testifies to the reach and range of Outram and Howard's collaboration. It is the product of a generous bequest from the Literary and Artistic Estates of Richard Outram and Barbara Howard, made, in conjunction with the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, in 2007. Under the stewardship of Humanities Librarian Martin Howley-and with the continuing support of the Estate-the collection has grown in the intervening months. It now includes upwards of sixty books and broadsides, from the imprint's letterpress and electronic eras, along with copies of Outram's commercially-published books, books from Outram's personal library, and selected items of correspondence and ephemera.
This on-line exhibition, presented by the Digital Archives Initiative of Memorial University, is a comprehensive display of the Gauntlet-Press publications in the library's collection. It ranges from those first collaborative publications, which antedate Outram and Howard's assumption of the Gauntlet Press imprint; to their mature letterpress works (including the stunning book-length sequences Creatures, Locus, Thresholds, and Arbor, all reproduced entire); to a sampling of electronic books and broadsides (including 'Tundra Swans', the final publication of the Gauntlet Press).
Of particular note is Ms Cassie, an electronically-created sequence reproduced here in its entirety. Graphically and poetically ambitious, the work has never seen commercial publication. Outram and Howard printed it privately in 2000, and distributed perhaps eight copies among their friends. Yet it is a major sequence in their common oeuvre.
This was the first Gauntlet Press publication in which Howard received her own design copyright. Both she and Outram were insistent on the design work as integral to the whole, inextricable from the poems. This 'inextricability' was something of an obstacle for the Porcupine's Quill, Outram's publisher. A small press with a formidable poetry list (including, alongside Outram, Margaret Avison, George Johnston, Robyn Sarah, and P. K. Page) the Quill had published three of Outram's books, to date. But Ms Cassie, with its requirement for full-colour facsimile reproductions and outsize binding, was beyond what the press could commit to, both technologically and financially. (As a compromise, the press mounted a series of electronic exhibitions of the work through its web site; about a third of the broadsides from the completed series are represented there, at a reduced scale.)
Outram and Howard remained hopeful, however; in a 2000 letter to the Quill's proprietors, Tim and Elke Inkster, Outram wrote: 'while ... Ms Cassie is and must remain a marriage of word and image, and calls for some form of facsimile reproduction in book format ... when we see what is being done with new scanning technologies, we can't help but get excited.'
It is thanks to these 'new scanning technologies' (and to the good offices of photographer John Haney, who did the scanning) that we are now able to offer Ms Cassie entire-not, granted, in book form, but on-line, to a wide public, and in the medium in which the series was composed.
Unlike the letterpress works of the Gauntlet Press, the visual and literary effects of which are inseparable from the haptic, the electronic broadsheets 'have always been in a sense "virtual",' as Peter M. Newman writes: 'Created by pixels in the first place, they have been patiently waiting for a technology that would enable them to be broadcast digitally.' It is our hope that, with this digital exhibition, technology has indeed 'finally caught up with the Gauntlet Press redivivus-electronicus.'
In a letter from 1999, Outram described Ms Cassie as follows: 'a sequence of poems dealing over-and-underhandedly with the effects and affects of prophecy and potency, of word and icon, of the kindled imagination, of life and death and life.' The designs which accompany the poems, in common with Howard's designs for other of the press's electronic broadsides, draw on images assembled by other typographers; prominent among the images Howard has chosen here are those from fonts based on African and Pre-Columbian sacred artwork, on cave painting, on the designs in Mimbres and Etruscan pottery. These images help to situate the poems in a tradition of visionary expression-visual as well as verbal.
Alberto Manguel, one of the few to have seen this series, piecemeal, in its unfolding, has described it as a 'series of visionary poems'; he sees Ms Cassie as at once a 'prophet of mundane doom' and a 'true seer': a sister to Yeats's Crazy Jane, her gift is to see 'the paradox of the obvious'.
For Peter Sanger, Ms Cassie is one of that privileged company of characters who take on life outside the works that gave them birth: Shakespeare's 'Snug the joiner', the characters from Plato's Symposium. She 'exists beyond the limits of our knowledge and outside the circumference of the microcosm of particular words which is all the evidence we have been given that she is, nominally speaking, a fiction.'
Outram and Howard did not create Ms Cassie ex nihilo, of course; she is an incarnation of Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess-adapted, as Peter Sanger puts it, 'to a post-modern ethos'. And yet, she is also very much the creature of Outram and Howard's particular imaginative world(s). Lover of a god, Ms Cassie is a synergistic heroine: embodying, to her joy and to her grief, that collaborative doctrine. For the most part unattended, she wanders all time and space, attending some true marriage: of mortal and immortal, of life and death, of universal and particular-of word and image:
At the distant familiar point, where the sifted willow leans into its green image O green shimmered I meet you, light- drenched, remembered, the end of green wherever the bright center of everywhere ... ('Ms Cassie's Assignation')
For the biographical and bibliographical information presented in this introduction, I am indebted to a special issue of DA: A Journal of the Printing Arts (no. 44, 1999) devoted to the Gauntlet Press, and also to Peter Sanger's invaluable book 'Her Kindled Shadow ...': An Introduction to the Work of Richard Outram (to be republished by Gaspereau Press in 2009, in a revised edition, under the title Through Darkling Air: The Poetry of Richard Outram). Other works cited include personal correspondence with Outram and with Peter M. Newman; Outram's 'Master List of the Titles of Poems Written between 1955-1992', accessible through the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (ms. coll. 00457); and Alberto Manguel's 'Waiting for an Echo: On Reading Richard Outram,' from Into the Looking-Glass Wood (Knopf, 1998). A selected bibliography of works by and about Outram and Howard is available here.
- Amanda Jernigan; St. John's, Newfoundland; March, 2008