A Summer Session of Poetry and More from Alexander Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Reviewed here is the latest catalogue from Alexander Rare Books -- Catalogue 12: Summer Session. Alexander specializes in literary firsts and poetry, although as they note herein, most of the items are of poetry, along with some broadsides, fiction, and small magazines. We might also add that the poetry is mostly 20th century, second half of that century to be more specific. Now that we have established the collecting parameters, let's take a look inside.
Item 16 is an oddly titled work: The Uncollected Stories of John Cheever 1930-1981. If they were uncollected, what is this? There is a story behind this uncorrected proof copy with 68 stories, all but 13 of which have never been published elsewhere. Cheever chose 61 of his stories for his Pullitzer Prize-winning "Collected Stories," but the remainder were unpublished at his death. Several years later, his widow, Mary, signed with small Chicago publisher Academy Chicago to publish the rest. That is what this 1988 proof copy represents. However, the Cheever family was unhappy with this plan, and after an expensive lawsuit, was able to get the contract Mary signed cancelled. Priced at $750.
Item 7 is one of 295 copies of Jorge Luis Borges' sonnet Texas published (in stapled wrappers) by the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin in 1975. The great Latin American writer's work was translated by Mark Strand, an accomplished poet, writer and Pulitzer Prize winner. Offered is Strand's personal copy with his signature. $125.
Item 24 is one of the bootleg copies of Bob Dylan's poem Tarantula, possibly the first such edition. It was published (actually, mimeographed) around 1970 by the "Wimp Press" in Dylan's hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota. The front cover might imply Dylan's consent to this printing, though that is doubtful -- "Author's royalties from the sale of this book are being donated to the Calaban Free School. Publisher's profits will contribute to the furtherance of Woodstock Nation." Perhaps the publisher contributed whatever author's royalties might have accrued on behalf of Dylan without asking his permission. In those days, Dylan was loathe to engage in commercial enterprises, something he got over as he aged. Tarantula is a bit of stream of consciousness, and like all Dylan writing hard to follow. Here's to you, aretha, crystal jukebox queen. Dylan's lyrics work best when there's music behind it. $350.
The Old West meets new poetry in Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy The Kid. This book is a mix of poetry and prose, fact and fiction, concerning the legendary outlaw and gunfighter of the West. If this all seems odd, what would you expect of a tale from the American West written by a Sri Lankan living in Canada? This 1974 work contains an early signature by Ondaatje. Item 72. $200.