Gerald W. Cloud, author of John Rodker’s Ovid Press: A Bibliographical History, is an investigator with a bent for narrative writing about books. A good biography—in this case a biographic bibliography—takes inventory of discrete bits of collected evidence and sorts it to reveal a historic narrative otherwise unseen. Cloud does this very well, which probably has something to do with his lecturing at Columbia University on Bibliography and the History of the Book.
John Rodker (1894–1955) ran Ovid Press from 1919 to 1922 and produced a total of seventeen items. Why a bibliography on a press that produced just seventeen known projects? Well, Ovid Press clients included several central figures of modernist literature and art: T.S. Eliot, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Edward Wadsworth.
The book is in two parts:
(1) John Rodker: Life and Writing
Biographies about artists with commercial endeavors are always interesting. Many times there is an element of economic struggle but an interesting bit about this story is Rodker’s constant pursuit of quality work alongside money struggles and the working relationships of people. Rodker was both a printer and writer, which explains his pursuit for perfection and the relationships with his literary clients. His then wife, British novelist Mary Butts (1890–1937), also participated in the business at times. This biographic part of the book relies heavily on archival sources such as Rodker’s personal and professional papers and diary. Among other things, Cloud discovers Rodker’s role in the production of Ezra Pound’s “Bel Esprit” and errata (error correction) sheets for James Joyce’s Ulysses.
(2) Descriptive Bibliography of the Ovid Press
Cloud’s bibliography shows some of the raw ingredients of the first biographical part of the book with minute details of Ovid Press’s work. Minute is perhaps an understatement. Cloud studied specimens at Yale, the University of Texas, the British Library, and other collections. The descriptions of the works include paper stock, collation, and other details such as pastedown features, spacing of chainlines, and the existence of tale-tell watermarks.
John Rodker’s Ovid Press: A Bibliographical History
By Gerald W. Cloud
Published 2010 by Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware
7 x 10 inches
Typesetting by Kat Ran Press
Set in 11.25/15 Caslon 540 with Elephant
Printed and bound by Sheridan Books
Hardcover with dust jacket