The Rich Hours of the Poor Book

Daniel Leuwer’s Unique
Poor Books Collection

Nélida Nassar  12.04.2011

The French president of the International Association of Literary Critics (CLIL), Daniel Leuwers, is an academic, essayist and a strong advocate of poetry. As is his friend, René Char, he is also an enthusiast of pictorial art. For nearly a decade, he has initiated the unique, creative endeavor of book-making with a twist; his books are not part of the traditional publishing industry. They are produced with limited means, in very small editions, at least one copy but not more than six, and they are not marketed but, rather, exhibited, around the world.

The books pair handwritten poetry of great originality with paintings, where each copy constitutes an original edition in itself. Each creation is an adventure. Leuwers, who “always felt that painters are accomplices,” starts by folding paper, then sending it to writers or artists to transform into a unique work of art. The poet or author writes by hand on each original copy then selects the painter or artist with whom he will collaborate. The book is a meeting point between art and literature and poetry, where a writer’s text is illustrated by a painter’s original artwork. Leuwers’s artistic endeavor has precedent paradigms found in Mallarmé, the Surrealists, as well as the illuminators of the Middle Ages. While these books have few readers, indeed, they are always read.

Over 1000 “books” have emerged from this initiative, signed by prestigious poets such as Arrabal, Peter Bergounioux, Michel Butor, Aimé Césaire, Patrick Chamoiseau, Henri Meschonnic, Bernard Noêl, Zoe Valdès, André Velter, Jean-Pierre Verheggen, and Claude Vigée.  Numerous artists such as André-Pierre Arnal, Jean-Gilles Badaire, Georges Badin, Julius Baltazar, and Colette Brunschwig have also contributed. Some of the most notable couplings are Leuwers himself with Viallat and Alexandre Hollan, Jean Dominique Rey with Béatrice Casadesus, Patrick Chamoiseau et Ernest Breleur, Claude Vigée et Geneviève Besse, Aimé Césaire et Joël Leick, Bernard Noël et Jean-Michel Marchetti, Michel Butor et André-Pierre Arnal.

Three voluminous catalogs have been published prior to this last volume. In 2003, “Le Livre pauvre” (The Poor Book) was published by Tarubuste Publisher; in 2006 “Livre pauvre / livre riche” (Poor Book/Rich Book) by Somogy Publisher, and, in 2011, “Les trés riches heures du livre pauvre” (The Rich Hours of the Poor Book) by Gallimard.

For his current volumeLeuwers compiled several hundred of these unique and singular books created by writers such as Michel Butor, Fernando Arrabaland, Henri Droguet, Yves Bonnefoy, and artists such as Pierre Alechinsky, or Claude Erró Viallat. One also encounters Lebanese poets such as Salah Stétié and Alain Tasso, who were also invited by Leuwers to join his roster of illuminators.

The book has a specific presentation strategy; following an introduction outlining the approach, then introducing the writers/ artists pairing, the various “poor books” are reproduced with no comments. Why the name “poor book or libro povera.” Simply because they are books designed as a craft with no financial investment. In this process there is no engraver, lithographer, printer nor a publisher or bookstore. Daniel Leuwers is not a publisher, per se, but a facilitator or a choreographer whose aim is for the “poor books” to be seen by the largest possible audience. This latest catalog is a luscious piece with beautiful reproductions that transports poetry from the realm of reading to the
one of visualization.

The exhibition and the catalogue “Les très riches heures du livre pauvre,” was first presented in September 2011 at Prieuré de Saint-Cosme, the Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard’s hometown and is presently on a world tour.

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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