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Now Digitized: James Schuyler’s Rare Chapbook The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court

Poets House announces the launch of the chapbook The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court by James Schuyler as the next installment in our new digital project Chapbooks of the Mimeo Revolution. Each month, we draw from our library and present digitized versions of chapbooks that were published from the 1960s through the 1980s, when small press publishing exploded across the U.S. during a period now known as the Mimeo Revolution. Each digitized chapbook is accompanied by short essays about the author, the publisher, and the chapbook, as well as multimedia, when available.

Produced in a run of 150 copies by the Janus Press, this 1976 fine-press edition of The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court is one of the rarest publications from Schuyler’s body of work. The chapbook’s short sequence of poems invokes and parodies turn-of-the-century English culture, referencing a famously opulent mansion—Witley Court—that would fall to ruins after a fire in the 1930s. As scholar Nick Sturm notes, Witley Court proves to be “a fitting domestic allegory for the decline of the British Empire.” Claire Van Vliet, the MacArthur Award–winning book artist who runs the Janus Press, created the chapbook to include colorful, textured endpapers featuring cut-out silhouettes that suggest topiary and the architecture of a manor house. Essays about the chapbook, the Janus Press, and James Schuyler accompany the digitized volume.

To add further context, we present an audio clip of James Schuyler reading the poem “What Ails My Fern,” which appears on page eight of The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court; you can listen along by clicking the “Listen” arrow. The clip is drawn from a reading Schuyler gave at the Dia Art Foundation on November 15, 1988, and we also include a full-length video recording of that program, introduced by John Ashbery, accessible under the Audio/Video tab. Though James Schuyler had long been a lauded poet at the time of the Dia event—he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981—this is reported to be his first public reading at the age of 65. These recordings are used with the permission of The Literary Estate of James Schuyler, Raymond Foye Executor (Copyright © 2019), and Penn Sound.

The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court, like the other volumes in our Chapbooks of the Mimeo Revolution series, is part of Poets House’s 11,000-volume chapbook collection, one of the largest in the country. This digitization project allows us to preserve rare, delicate chapbooks and makes them accessible to a wider public. We invite you to explore The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court and other chapbooks on our website.

And we also invite you to see the chapbook tradition continue into the 21st century with our 2019 Poets House Showcase, an annual exhibition of thousands of new poetry books and poetry-related texts published over the last 18 months. The exhibit is on view until August 17, accompanied by a reading series throughout the summer.

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