Instructions for Binding a Blank Book


You will start by laying out the sheets,

twenty of them precisely, impressed

with their maker’s mark: the shield

and trefoil, fleur-de-lys, or raised fist.

You will take the blunt knife and bone

folder, the sleek cream length of it.

Imagine the finished book, so close

you could grasp it. Lift a sheet.

Flex it towards you, smooth the edge

of the folder firmly down the first crease.



 Up to your wrists in leaves, you chart

the distractions. The traffic. The sun.

The shadowplay of pages where Dawn

struggles with a broken Venetian blind,

where Claire’s silhouette is vivisected

reaching for the thread, and her shears.

You dream of order, of the clear signatures

Hh, Ii, Kk, of black catchwords to anchor

this tide of white rising against the scrolled

uprights of the sewing frame, its gothic

sprezzatura. Nothing happens, at length.

Judy reads aloud from the newspaper.

Claire swears, the sun goes in again.

Dawn says this is the story of her life.



 The first colour: two

crisp slashes of crimson lake,

lime, or midnight blue.

The glue on your square-

tipped brush holding the light like

pearls, and running wih it.


Rounding & Backing

 If there is a god he is not a distant one

who sits outside the work and ruffles the pages,

but the stuff of the book, the long

and the short grain of it, its recalcitrance

to the fingers. If the god were an icon

it would be ambidexterous – on the right hand

an artisan holding a set square in profile;

on the left, knuckling down with a hammer

so the strokes fan the single spine to segments,

draw it down and round and call the form

shoulders, name the act persuasion.


If a binder prays, it is now, faced with the book-

block, the angled boards and wooden screws

of the press thicker than your arm, faced with

a single hand to hold six slipperinesses

parallel parallel parallel and level head to toe

because there are no two ways about it:

these shoulders are what the whole thing

hinges on and so you must ignore the less than

immaculate bruising or tearing, and concentrate

because not only the gods are anthropomorphic,

because you have a shape in mind

and by hook or by crook you will get to it.


(Judy says, has anyone seen the Saturday Review?)



 Music while you work,

light relief. One hand tuning

the cat gut, the coiled

vellum, the other

throwing quick silk slingbacks in

sky-blue-pink, forcing

your needle down through

the spine, tying off every

third loop, for safety.

A radio hums

low under the cat’s cradle

of conversation.



 The challenge is to split the hair

from the flesh of the leather, the grain

from the chaffy dust with the concentration

of a woman standing alone by an open window,

not noticing – it is left for us to notice –

how light rims her knife like gold,

or the idea of it, with the precise hit and miss

of a simile. And not looking at the chart

on the wall where the world unfolds

in bull-nosed misalignments, gives a hint

of perspective. She is focused, if at all,

on her hands and their decisive movement

and on the street noises off which drift

like light, like an element she moves in,

a sufficiency. The room is saturate.

And the quick knife creams off a single paring

and lets it fall slack across the table,

notched and nearly weightless as the whole

peel of orange spilled from a painted plate,

the fruit stripped so exactly you think

of reconstruction, of cupping the empty shell

in your palm: a perfect globe.



The calf lies like the world at your finger-tips,

like the earth from the sky.

A chalk-dust surface, the faint parallel

tracks the veins made. At ground level

a single hair stands for a mountain.

Take a sponge and water floods from the four

corners of the landscape to the edge of the known –


In the background, the radio.


Pitch the wet leather like a tent across the book,

smooth out the ridges of your thumbprints.

You want this untouched by human –


The trick is to be anonymous.


Somewhere someone is staring up into the falling

dark, palms flat to the ground.

In the background, the news.


Not listening. Thinking through the atoms

of the earth, connected and connected and connected

under the sky, the single moon.


Like a blindfold, the idea of home.



 This has been said so often – the sheet

of gold to aerie thinnesse beat,

the way the leaf crumples like a flame

on point of extinction, you’d think

all the possibilities had been teased out of it.

Still you must admit when you’re the girl

slipping her knife into the tissue and lifting

the 22 carat square gently as you might

a trapped bird, you can feel the weight

of a full five centuries of indrawn breath

released when Judy, whistling, swings open

the door and the gold ripples round the currents

of the air with a slow movement finding out

the gap between the idea of finish

and the means of bringing it about –


But already your fingers are moving fast

across the brass and wooden-handled tools,

testing for heat with a lick of spittle on all

the letters of the line that say this is easy

as faith – and when you are done, the crisp

serifs confirm it: there’s not a shadow of doubt.



 It is complete. The idea booked

between its two hinged boards.

It is immaculate.

An opening. A blank.

What’s now to do with it?


%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close