Not-so-distinct Divisons: The NewLights Press’s Vision of Letterpress

Pages from ZZZZZZZZZZZ [AN ISLAND] by J. A. Tyler, published by NewLights Press.

The NewLights Press uses letterpress printing as a medium in “the intersection of artists’ books and experimental text/image//making” (NewLights Press website). Letterpress is a tool alongside others such as laser/Risograph and delamination. Aaron Cohick explains that he does not see the new as a replacement of the old technologies, but, instead, the new is an extension of the old. The beginning of the interview concerns itself with the NewLights edition of Jack Spicer’s Collected Works. Cohick copied and modified another edition in which he used Palatino typeface. Cohick explicitly chose to use letterpress and Palatino typeface to reflect the descriptions Spicer remarked on the older edition.

               Cohick expands on Spicer’s vision of material and content. Chick explains that Spicer thought of poetry and print as a sort of Cartesian dualism in which the activities of the poet and printer are distinctly different. “The poet was not a typesetter, looking at copy and arranging the words into a physical form. Typesetting, printing, publishing, . . . were a different activity” (315). In fact, Cohick explaines that Spicer used such metaphors as the poet receiving diction from “ether” as a radio receives invisible signals. As such, the material is merely a means of communicating the immaterial artistic monologue. Such a division between material and linguistic art not only reminds the intellectual of dualistic metaphysics but also the Plato’s Ion in which Socrates and Ion discuss whether a poet is or isn’t inspired by the gods. However, Cohick is skeptical of such sharp division. He explains, that being influenced by French structuralist and post-structuralists, that he sees that division of disciplines to be an overemphasis. “The work that I have been doing for the past few years is based on the premise that writing-designing-printing-publishing can be one (dis)continuous gesture. . . . If there is a division between mind and body, I try to make the work that I do operate across that division. Or maybe the work is the interaction between the two sides” (315).

               Cohick hints how old printing technology (including letterpress) fits within the future of publishing. Remarking on the contemporary, Cohick says, “I think that we are living through another transitional period, culturally, politically, and economically, and that meanings that we have taken for granted are once again being contested, and that there is an enormous amount at stake. . . . I want to make the NewLights Press into a total practice—not just what the book looks like, or even what they say (though that is still important), but how they are made and how they are distributed” (319). Letterpress will fit in in just the manner that Cohick is currently publishing work – as a means of capturing attitudes and ideas of authors, but as a tool among many.

Works Cited

“Aaron Cohick: NewLights Press,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 310-21.

NewLights Press website. “About.” NewLights Press. Accessed Oct. 24, 2021.

2 thoughts on “Not-so-distinct Divisons: The NewLights Press’s Vision of Letterpress”

  1. Once more, I appreciate how you place letterpress among a broader conversation. It’s interesting that you mention how transitional letterpress is – bridging a link between old and new, which is often as dichotomous as the Cartesian dualism you also bring up between poet and printer. I’m intrigued by how Cohick seems to bring together these different elements, which often seem far apart from each other (printer vs. author, material vs. textual, etc.) and links them under one roof. After all, letterpress is above all a way of “doing,” in the form of printing – it does not necessarily need to neatly slot into one mold of history or way of being so long as it exists and prints, perhaps, and yet there is both a poetics and politics to printing that demands intentionality in addition to activity.


  2. I think it’s true that publishing and poetry have distinct spheres, but, unlike Spicer, I think they intersect and inform each other. But it’s intriguing to think of publishing and poetry as two separate activities in the context of this class (where we’re examining the intersection between the two activities). What can poetry do by itself, and how does that change with the involvement of publishing? What else can be published besides poetry, and how does different content affect publishing?


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