A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, explores how the book poses a unique relationship to language as a visual and material form of art. Schlesinger conducts a series of interviews with several poets, publishers, and printers, centering around a series of questions about the art of the book and what their personal approach to publishing involves. The interview with Aaron Cohick about his NewLights Press was my favorite interview conducted in A Poetics of the Press.
Aaron Cohick grew up in Pennsylvania and studied the art of the book in Maryland before moving West to continue his studies in Arizona and California. Initially, Cohick printed greeting cards for a living in San Francisco and spent his free time printing his work under the NewLights Press imprint. However, he soon founded NewLights Press while also becoming the Printer of The Press at Colorado College. He teaches students about the art of the book and how to make books while also continuing to work on new projects for NewLights Press in his letterpress studio in his home. He also keeps a detailed record of his journey in letterpress printing by recording his progress in journals where he reflects on philosophy, typography design, process, and aesthetic experience. In addition, Cohick explains how the book A Secret Location on the Lower East Side by Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips guides him in his work with letterpress. He states that this book provides a sense of history and community through time, enabling him to feel the flow of this relationship with even the simplest activities like folding sheets of paper (Schlesinger 317).
Interestingly Schlesinger emphasizes how much of Cohick’s work is labor-intensive by design and requires discipline and routine, in addition, to constantly evolving. Cohick explains how his books negotiate with the competing demands of physical material and literary content by revealing his struggle with reiterating postmodernist dogma. He believes that there is something in early works of literature that can we critically and productively elaborate as a means of resistance against the model of corporate-spectacular art that is dominant today (Schlesinger 316).
One of the most captivating ideas that Cohick brings to light in his interview is the idea that the new is always an extension of the old and these medias grow together and extend each other (Schlesinger 320). In addition, I find it intriguing that Cohick claims that the roles and trajectories of print and books in culture are changing which makes it an exciting time to be involved in this world.
I learned a lot of new ideas from the editor’s remarks about the role of letterpress in small press publishing, but the thing that most stuck out to me was his discussion with Cohick about how digital distribution models are changing the power structures of publishing, which ultimately makes it easier for small presses to reach a larger audience. In addition, I also think it’s important to note that Schlesinger and Cohick both point out that we now have access to technology to design and print right in our homes. Moreover, they conclude that print is not dead, and in fact, we are just beginning to see it clearly for the first time and now asking questions about its structures (Schlesinger 320).
In conclusion, the interview ended on the notion that this is the time to be making work that is part of living culture, subject to and dependent upon change for its vitality, and print is only dead if we try to freeze it in time (Schlesinger 321). I find this idea to be profoundly inspiring and enlightening to my work in writing and literature.
Aaron Cohick. NewLights Press, 2021, https://www.newlightspress.com.
Schlesinger, Kyle. A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers & Publishers. Aaron Cohick NewLights Press, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021.
2 thoughts on “A Poetic Press”
It’s interesting how Schlesinger and Cohick almost seem to link the continuing life of printing and the letterpress with digitization. This is not a thought that is often echoed throughout the book, but it nevertheless concretizes Cohick’s idea that the new is an extension of the old. Perhaps letterpress does not need to compete with digital printing, but can exist simultaneously with it, giving voice to the second half of Cohick’s idea in your fourth paragraph that medias grow alongside each other. There might still be space for both letterpress, as a representation of the “old,” and digital printing, as a representation of the “new,” to exist in conversation, not competition, with each other.
I’m kind of fascinated by the relationship of routine to the letterpress printing process you mentioned. When at Meshwork, I felt that setting type had a very routine-like sense to it, and I loved that Cohick kept a journal and recorded everything. There’s an overwhelming sense of order behind these habits, and I absolutely adore how people can find and order almost anything out there, though the geometric qualities of the letterpress definitely help this along some!