Reflections on Burning Deck Press

            Burning Deck Press, run by Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, undermined the commercial value of poetry through creating an avenue for poetry to be published in a small and affordable venue that generally prized distribution over artistic experimentation in craft or design. Rosmarie Waldrop recounts how, as a child in Germany, she was “more interested in the contents” than in the design and layout of what she read (Waldrop 17), and this interest in turn shaped the interests of Burning Deck Press. Indeed, for the Waldrops, the purpose and end of printing is the “enjoyment of composition” (Waldrop 19). This enjoyment is most possible through affordable and efficient distribution, particularly in the form of chapbooks, to which the press organically shifted. Yet, it is impossible to remain firmly on one side of an ever-evolving, dynamic issue such as the purpose of small publishing, and Burning Deck Press accordingly is part of this larger conversation. For Burning Deck, this conversation occurs between books themselves, not within the pages of any one book. Although their “typography tends to be classical,” one of their books, “Camp Printing is an exception” to this mold (Waldrop 19). The creative process of this book, Rosmarie Waldrop recalls, was not intentional but coincidental. Such creativity is boldly innovative, but not reminiscent of adherence to the genre of artist books that are primarily conceived as art, not literature. Rather, Burning Deck Press’ books negotiate the demands of material and content by prizing content and emphasizing form only when it is genuinely, even accidentally, refreshing. This practicality shines through in other ways as well, such as when Keith Waldrop reasoned that they published their own works because “nobody else was doing it!” (Waldrop 21). For the Waldrops, letterpress publishing is a means to push literary texts into the hands of readers. Their independence provides them freedom to write and publish what they find is most important or intriguing, removing them from the intricacies of the poetics and politics of a larger press. Fittingly, then, their books often vary in layout and interest, such as the three books arranged below. Their books reflect their current, ever-changing interests, exemplifying the unique position of a small press to shift focus when desired.

[Image Description: three of Burning Deck Press’ books arranged on a black background. The rightmost book is horizontally laid out and has a red background, while the other two books are vertically laid out. The leftmost book has a picture of a Renaissance man printed on it in black and blue. The middle book has a blue piece of artwork atop a white cover.]

            Kyle Schlesinger’s interview with Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop also elucidates how different people think of translation, especially as it relates to their very personal and literary identity. For Rosmarie Waldrop, after she moved to the United States, “it soon became difficult…to write in German. It felt artificial” (Waldrop 22). Thus, she shifted her identity almost entirely from author to translator (which is, of course, itself a form of writing) and found that “the space between languages seems [her] natural place” (Waldrop 22). The experimental and coincidental nature of small letterpresses, such as Burning Deck Press, allows for and even encourages for this type of literary soul-searching. Thus, small press books do not only encapsulate pieces of author and printer alike but are also intrinsically a celebration of experimentation and differences. Small presses can choose to follow the tracks of a certain printed path – such as the literary content or material layout – and challenge conventional assumptions about what a book is and can be. Moreover, they can provide a space for linguistic and cultural blending, such as that of which Rosmarie Waldrop speaks, that is rarely found in the books of larger presses.

Works Cited

Rumble, Walker. “Burning Deck.” Rumble 101, 9 July 2015, https://rumble101.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/burning-deck/. Accessed 21 October 2021.

Waldrop, Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop. “Burning Deck Press.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, and Publishers. Edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Brooklyn, NY, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 14-24.

1 thought on “Reflections on Burning Deck Press”

  1. Really thoughtful, insightful response to the interview, Elizabeth! I had Keith Waldrop as my Elizabethan/Jacobean poetry professor back in 2001, and by that time, I had gobbled up lord knows how many Burning Deck books. They utterly exploded my sense of what was possible in poetry. This press run by two poets, who were also translators, following their own ideas about what to publish, bringing work from the US right into contact with French and German writing–they really made a difference for so many readers and writers of poetry. For all their emphasis on content, the books are also beautiful. I just want to chime in and express my admiration and love for this press, and I’m glad that you chose to post about them.

    Like

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