Beautiful Books: The Description of the World

November 17, 2016 by Noelle Allen

When you publish a book about a hat or a frog, the cover just kind of follows. But what to do when you're publishing a poetry book about "the very moment of perception"? Wolsak & Wynn publisher Noelle Allen joins us to talk about the design decisions that went into Johanna Skibsrud's latest book of poetry,  The Description of the World, a collection about destruction and renewal, space and thoughts.

See more details below


It can be hard to capture the feel of a poetry collection in its design and physical shape. One of the things we’ve found is that poetry readers love the book as an art object almost as much as they love the poems between the covers. So we’ve always chosen beautiful papers – 70 lb. zephyr-laid from Coach House printing if you want the details – and coloured endpapers to start things off.

But how do you make the ideas of the book manifest on the cover? For some books, there are a few clear images, and ideas to draw from, but not all. Johanna Skibsrud is a brilliant poet, whose writing is philosophical, wide-ranging and hard to pin down. When your poems are trying to capture the very moment of perception, to talk about underpinnings of thought and words, it can be hard to put together a cover image. Natalie Olsen has been designing our poetry books for several years now, and has a knack for finding that unique image which captures the essence of a collection.

All of the images she suggested to us dealt with space, dimension, thought and time. But at the press we felt the combination of the clouds and the mathematical bridge brought together the breadth of Johanna’s thought and the preciseness of her language, while the points in the bottom suggested the pinpricks of first perceptions.


But design is not finished once you pick out paper and a cover. The poems need to be presented on the page as well. While we tend to not want too much extra around the words, there are always section dividers to get creative with.


In The Description of the World, we were thrilled to see how perfectly the poems fit their book, and how the book presented the poems to the world. 


* * *

Thanks so much to Noelle at Wolsak & Wynn for sharing this story (and pictures!) with us! For more Beautiful Books, click here.


comments powered by Disqus