The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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January 20th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Under the title “Epitomes,” Elwin Volk and Dennis McCalib produced a series of curious pamphlets.  The ones I have were all published in Los Angeles or Pasadena in 1949 and 1950; I found them in a library sale a few years ago, and have been puzzling over them ever since.  (Please click on the thumbnails for legible scans.)


An internet search, even in these days of abundant information, yields only that the pamphlets can be found in various library collections, and that they continued to be produced into the ’70s.  And that Edmund Wilson once sent one, “Mr. P. Squiggle’s Reward,” to Nabokov, calling it “one of the oddest of many odd things that are sent me by unknown people.”  He also got the title wrong, dubbing it “Mr. P. Squiggle’s Revenge,” which is probably significant.  But that’s it: nothing about Volk or McCalib.

I found eight “Epitomes” at the sale (without Squiggles, unfortunately), all tucked into a folder from the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace.  Elwin Volk wrote intense, often elusive, lyrical poetry, urging “Free Living — Free Loving — Free Thinking — Free Dying”; Dennis McCalib contributed lush pen and brush drawings, of Surrealist orientation, flowing between biomorphic abstraction, calligraphy, and figuration.  The pamphlets are from one to eight pages, sometimes illuminated by hand, and folded in unusual ways.

Here, for example, are a few samples from a six-pager, “The Heavenly Bridge of the Asses.”




And here are some pages from McCalib’s “Shadows of Voices,” which includes his poetry and piano music.




Finally, here’s “Love and Fecundity” in its entirety: a single sheet, which, judging by the creases, was once folded much like a paper airplane.


The other pamphlets are two broadsides, “Octopus Sky” and “Little Clay Roses”; a longhand narrative, “Mince Pies and Maypoles” (“Fragments of a Letter Dropped to Earth From the Interstellar Spaces”); and two prose poems about Jesus, “Pieta” and “Raise the Stone, Rive the Wood.”  I can’t help but wonder who Volk and McCalib were, and what the story was behind the “Epitomes.”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Ephemera · Literature

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Jan 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    This stuff is really neat, Doug!

  • 2 Doug // Jan 20, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    They’re intriguing little whatsits, aren’t they? I particularly like McCalib’s artwork; I can easily get lost in it.

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