Hugh Walter Barclay

In a period spanning forty years each piece of work printed at Thee Hellbox Press embodied two qualities Hugh Barclay exemplified: relentless invention and passionate collaboration. The story of Hugh and Thee Hellbox Press was told in DA 78 (Spring/Summer 2016), appearing in the form of interviews and e-mail exchanges between printer Hugh Barclay, poet Shane Neilson, and editor Faye Batchelor—a collaborative effort.

One of the things Hugh was passionate about (and what wasn’t Hugh passionate about) was the notion that a book’s colophon should include a personal statement from the printer. In that spirit I oder my personal favourites among the output of Thee Hellbox Press.

First, his collaboration with Antonino Mazza printing Mazza’s translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poem The First Paradise, Odetta (1985) alongside the Italian original. This beautiful book highlights Hugh’s love of handmade paper, intuitive grasp of space and text on a page, and the sublime playfulness of his illustrations. Pasolini’s artistic legacy underwrites the fearlessness of Hugh’s work.

Second, the broadsheet Hugh printed of his own poem Being Canadian commemorating his 2010 solo road trip driving from Kingston to Vancouver. It includes the exquisitely realized stanza: ‘The young man with an infant in his arms/holds the door for me while his four-year-/old runs in front in an edort to make it to/the toilet. Just being Canadian.’

Even as I write these words I see Hugh circling, finger extended, challenging my selection. His objection is not with my specific choices but against the entire idea of ranking—well, anything. One year after Hugh’s death on October 6, 2021, I miss these discussions. Nevertheless, I persevere advocating in favour of ranking: Hugh Barclay was among the best.

—Gordon Sisler

The Devil's Artisan would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

Hugh Barclay Magnify

Hugh Barclay

Credit: Don McLeod