Electio Editions prizes simplicity above all. The simplicity of their books draws the reader towards the text, and interspersed artwork, without distracting from that text by competing design. In a sense, the books are antiques, a window into a past that is now gone, and yet, as Alan Loney writes, “what’s past is present, and the present is ever reaching forward” (Loney, “fresh type from Parnassus”). In simplicity, time blurs together, and, indeed, Electio’s books shine with transcendent simplicity. This sense of simplicity arises, in part, from the roughness and thickness of the made-to-be-worn pages. Moreover, the books are sometimes purposely imperfect, and have fraying or sticking out threads. Electio is less concerned with perfection than with words and with humanity, a cycle of life that has new vitality in the hands of readers. Accordingly, the pages themselves have a recycled quality and are often not plain white, but white with a tone often derived from earthy colors that echo the solid-colored covers. Electio’s books favor simple, often primary colors and the pictures also retain this visual simplicity. Yet, the books are sturdy and well-made – the paper is thick, the ink is strong, and the letters ingrained, even indented, into the page in a style reminiscent of that which was once thought defective in the letterpress world but is now thought characteristic.
This intentional simplicity inspires a frank dialogue between author and reader which is not hindered by any formality or barrier. As artist’s books, Electio Edition’s books are artworks in themselves and are thus priced highly, but they also speak directly to the reader – and to the notion of book, as “every book is an equal participant in the concept of Book” (Loney 80). Because they are handmade, the reader is entrusted with a piece of the author and their mind. Like all books, Electio’s books are personal and cannot be separated from the personality of either author or reader, and, indeed, “something in that art is being expressed about the person who made it” (Loney 84). The design of Electio books in particular, though, underscores this intrinsic humanity. The dialogue is also ephemeral, as Alan Loney prints only a small number of copies of each book, and the books themselves are often quite short. They are a window, but only a small window, into the mind, and that mind is frequently racing from one thought to the next, creating a series of small books like those that Electio prints.
Alan Loney’s blog also contributes to the dialogic nature of the press. He is quite willing to converse with those interested in his work (and at times even seems sad that there are not more readers of his now-defunct blog), which he frequently promotes online. On his blog, readers are given an additional view into Electio’s works, a look which reinforces that they are intentionally simple and sleek. Like in his books, Loney regularly utilizes sentences with no capitalization on his blog. These sentences do not take up visual space – they both look and are read as small and humble no matter the size of the font. Once more, they are simple, even timid. But, the text of the books is placed on a contrasting, streamlined background that only further accentuates the words. Loney, moreover, is willing to experiment within his books, sometimes intermixing varying fonts, colors, and direction of writing while still carefully maintaining the sleek aesthetic of the press. He toys with format and artwork, as it both contributes to and is contributed to by the text. Thus, the books are often puzzles, a mental challenge that engrosses readers first by curiosity and then by quality and uniqueness. Yet, for Alan Loney, contrasts, such as that between “‘harmonized’ and ‘dissonant’…poin[t] to the simplicity that writing and printing are” (Loney 70), and, within this simplicity, “the form of the poem and the form of the book overlap, intersect, interfere, overlay each other in the pleasure of the work” (Loney 74). The simple pleasures of work and reading, then, are echoed in the intertwining of poetic and material form and aesthetic, which in turn reflect the textual content within the books. Electio Edition’s books blend complexity and simplicity into a unity that radiates with the beauty of simplicity.
Based off of the poetic examples of Electio Editions, I composed two poems, which I placed alongside accompanying drawings. I placed these poems and drawings on a green page. Although Electio Editions uses mostly white or white-ish paper for the pages and earth colors for the cover, I wanted to amplify the resonance between text and color in my own work, inspired by Electio’s works, since I do not have a traditional “cover” and distinction between cover and page. I closely followed the inspiration of the Electio original for each poem for their structure and theme, and the content was also inspired, loosely, by the Electio poems.
My first poem is based off of one of the poems within Heart Sutra, published in 2009 and captured on Loney’s blog in 2015. I used the poem’s structure of indentation, inversion, and simplicity in my own poem, and chose to center my poem on quiet (rather than emptiness) due to the sentence structure of many of the lines in Electio’s books, which start with a lower-case letter. As these sentences read more timidly than sentences with more conventional punctuation, they themselves seem to embody my theme of quiet. Hence, I foregrounded quiet in the poem as the building block for each of the different emotions, which contrast strikingly with the repeated, lower-case “quiet.” This contrast is like that between ink and paper and between art and text, and both of these contrasts feature within all books, including Electio’s, drawing out structural contrasts that background any textual contrasts.
My second poem is based off of another Electio poem, which is found in Jenson’s Greek. The poem is striking, as it is almost entirely composed of verbs, many of which are repeated throughout. I ventured farther from the Electio poem in my own work than in the first poem, but also used the inversion and repetition of verbs in my poem. I used line breaks for emphasis, like in the original poem, and the repetition between inverted poems creates a sense of unity and continuity despite these breaks.
My drawings also find inspiration in Electio’s works. Like so much of Electio’s aesthetic, they are intentionally simple (and Loney’s blog even utilizes the BlogSpot theme that is, fittingly, entitled “simple”). The top drawing is based off of the following picture, which accompanies the poem in Heart Sutra which inspired my own poem:
I used the image of the heart in my drawing since I had centered my poem around emotions, vis-à-vis quietness. I also used the same yellow and blue colors that were featured in Heart Sutra, but in different ways. Like in the original text, my heart is yellow, but I drew only half a heart, bordered by an arrow, to show the pain and hurt that often accompany emotions (and which are found within my own poem). I also drew a series of blue triangles, rather than waves, which I placed as the second half of the heart in my drawing. As triangles are the most stable geometric figure, they seemed a fitting image for a poem that, inspired by Electio, is grounded in simplicity and intentionality.
My second drawing, like my second poem, is inspired by Jenson’s Greek. Whereas Jenson’s Greek uses a “phi,” though, I used a “psi,” which I recreated in red, rather than orange ink, to give it an increased pop against the green background of my own work. The original drawing in Jenson’s Greek looks like this:
In my own drawing, I wanted to capture the same simplicity of the Greek letter which was in Jenson’s Greek, but I also added the arrows to the end and a thicker base to my “psi” to make it look like a trident, the weapon traditionally associated with the Greek god Poseidon. I added this element of Greek mythology to link the image more strongly with the permeation of Greek, which is found throughout Electio Edition’s Jenson’s Greek. My poem, ostensibly, does not seem to be about Greek at all, but might nevertheless be a fitting depiction of the ancient Greek society which is so transcendent and immortalized throughout history due to its significance in shaping western civilizations.
Electio Edition’s books are an excellent insight into the world of publishing, where design and text exist simultaneously and influence each other. Their books shine with intentionality and an intentional simplicity that places additional emphasis on the text and artwork alike. Their aesthetic creates a dialogue that links author with publisher and then with reader to create a truly interactive exchange that characterizes the conversation of reading and spotlights the blending of artistic and literary worlds.
Leti, Bruno. Photograph of Heart Sutra. Electio Editions: Poetry, Typography, the Book. Alan Loney, 24 April 2015, http://electioeditions.blogspot.com/2015/04/stocktaking-3.html. Accessed 20 October 2021.
Loney, Alan. “Electio Editions.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, and Publishers. Edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Brooklyn, NY, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 68-95.
Loney, Alan. Electio Editions: Poetry, Typography, the Book. 2017, http://electioeditions.blogspot.com/. Accessed 20 October 2021.
Loney, Alan. “fresh type from Parnassus.” Electio Editions: Poetry, Typography, the Book. 2017, http://electioeditions.blogspot.com/. Accessed 26 October 2021.
McCamant, Robert. Photograph of Jenson’s Greek. Electio Editions: Poetry, Typography, the Book. Alan Loney, 10 April 2015, http://electioeditions.blogspot.com/2015/04/stock-taking-1.html. Accessed 20 October 2021.