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Visible Voices

Translating Verse into Script and Print 3000BC - AD2000

Nicolas Barker

Visible Voices
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  • Traduttore, traditore: every translation is a betrayal. Reading verse, as opposed to speaking or listening to it, loses something. The mind’s ear is not so agile as the mind’s eye. Subtleties of assonance are less easily appreciated on the page than the beginnings and ends of lines, or rhyme-words, similarly (or, as striking, dissimilarly) spelt. Yet the movement of the poet’s eye, from line to line, column to column, or even across the page, with the reader in pursuit, has its own poetry.
    In Visible Voices Nicolas Barker traces the development of poetry from its ancient origin as an oral medium to its modern incarnation as a primarily written or printed artform. The book moves from the pictograms of the Ancients Near East through the development of alphabetic scripts, the traditions of Medieval European manuscripts, the shift from script to print, all the way to the innovations and experiments of the modernist period. Stephane Mallarme's typographically exploded poem Un coup de des n'abolira pas le hasard, Barker writes, 'takes the problem that has haunted poets and their audiences over four thousand years to a logical conclusion: that is, how the evanescent iridescent idea in the poet's mind is to be registered in graphic form - what, in short, is the art of poetry?' Illustrated throughout with photographs of the texts and books under discussion, Visible Voices offers a rich, authoritative account of the changing face of poetry through the ages. 
    Nicolas Barker grew up in Cambridge, surrounded by books. The University Library taught him about their history, and the University Press taught him how to print them. He started his own press aged fourteen, but after graduating from Oxford in 1957 went into publishing, working for Rupert Hart-Davis, Macmillan’s and the ... read more
    'This is Barker's fundamental achievement: to refresh his audience'€™s engagement with poetry, and with the written and printed page.'
    The Library


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