Problem Child

Joel Oppenheimer’s The Dutiful Son, published as Jargon 16 in 1956, seems to be to be a pretty straightforward book.  The presentation and printing are understated; yet the book’s printing history is rather convoluted.   The book was handset, bound and printed by The Windhover Press out of Short Hills, New Jersey.  For fans of the fine press, one immediately associates Windhover with Kim Merker and the University of Iowa.  I know I did.  I was lucky enough to spend a couple of afternoons talking with Merker at Iowa during the couple of afternoons I was in the Ph.D. program there.  I had little idea of who he was and less of an idea about the world of small and private press printing.  Like many things I experienced at Iowa, it would take me over a decade to process and absorb the importance of those brief conversation that I quite frankly do not remember.  It has become meaningful to me just to have met him. 
Merker came to Iowa City, studying with Harry Duncan, the same year The Dutiful Son was printed, but Merker did not print it.  Before Merker’s Windhover, there was Ian Leonard Robinson’s press established in 1952.  Merker’s personal press, The Stone Wall Press, was established in 1957, not publishing its first title until the following year.  Merker’s Windhover came into being under the sponsorship of the University of Iowa in a decade later in 1967, quickly establishing a name for itself as a press of high standing.  Possibly it was this growing reputation that forced Robinson to change the name of his Windhover Press to Slow Loris Press in 1969.

In the 1950s, Robinson printed commercial work as well as several books of poetry of which The Dutiful Son is an example.  There is an author’s edition of 30 copies on special paper, signed, with a cover by Joe Fiore.  I presume the edition is signed by Oppenheimer, but given the art work, I would not surprised if Fiore also signed a limited number as well.  Fiore provide the frontispiece for the edition of 200 “trade” copies.  And here again things get confusing.  There appears to be a first and second state of this first edition.  The first state has blue wrappers and the second state has tan wrappers.  I own one of the tan copies; Between the Covers has one in blue (see image above).  The Oppenheimer bibliography makes no mention of these two states and I have not been able to tell how many copies of each state were made, or even  ifthey were printed at roughly the same time.

The tan state was then itself reprinted in 1961 by Totem Press.  This edition clearly states that it is by Totem and in caps that it is a SECOND EDITION.  This edition is offset from the second state letterpress edition.  Interestingly my 1956 edition has been signed by Oppenheimer on March 8, 1962, the same year his The Love Bit and Other Poems was issued.  Oppenheimer’s first marriage, so much a part of The Dutiful Son, ended in 1960.  His wife and two sons moved to New Mexico.  Oppenheimer would see his sons only periodically from here on out.  Fatherhood likewise is a theme in The Dutiful Son.  Passages Bookshop in Oregon has Margaret Randall’s copy of The Dutiful Son (in tan wrappers).  Randall had a son with Oppenheimer, who Oppenheimer also saw infrequently.

Oppenheimer was himself a printer (The Dutiful Son is not Oppenrheimer’s first publication, as some might believe; for example the self-published The Dancer with a drawing by Robert Rauschenberg was printed in 1951 with Jonathan Williams at Black Mountain as Jargon 2) so it makes sense that he had some input in the production of The Dutiful Son.  Bibliographically is it something of a problem child. It will not stay still.  Bibliographical ADD.   It seems like an understated effort, but if you get in conversation with it, it has a lot to say, much of it confusing.  Hopefully this time out at Mimeo Mimeo will force the book to behave.



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