Operating for nearly sixty years, Burning Deck Press is a small independent publisher that specializes in poetry and short fiction works. It also does translation work with French poets and German writers. Because of the economics of letterpress printing, Burning Deck mainly uses the letterpress method for smaller chapbooks and larger works are printed on offset presses. As a result, the press is able to adopt some of the modern elements of publishing while still preserving the historic process of letterpress printing.
One thing especially interesting about Burning Deck Press is the way it selects the poetry it will publish. In an interview with Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop who own the press, interviewer Kyle Schlesinger brings up two distinct poetry categories: beat and academic poets. Here, he points out that Burning Deck doesn’t necessarily adhere to one side of this divide, rather, they publish whatever poetry they find particularly interesting despite whatever category it fits in to. Rosmarie Waldrop remarks that as time has progressed, “the terms have changed to the vaguer ‘avant-garde’ and ‘traditional,’ but the division still exists” (16). This makes Burning Deck so unique because its publications don’t strictly adhere to one type of poetry, making the press’s publishing interesting to a wider audience.
The aesthetic of the books that Burning Deck produces adheres more to a classical typography style, rather than a more artistic approach that many letterpress publishers like to take. On this subject Rosmarie says, “We have been interested in presenting texts rather than in playing with or experimenting with the printing process… Camp Printing is an exception. While printing a chapbook by James Camp I accidentally overprinted a page and liked the result” (19). While Burning Deck’s style is simple, it chooses to emphasize the text in the book over the artistic display element.
“Kieth and Rosmarie Waldrop: Burning Deck Press,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021, pp. 14-23.
Burning Deck Press website. Burning Deck Press. https://burningdeck.com/. Accessed Oct. 26, 2021.
3 thoughts on “Exploring Burning Deck Press”
This is a really good question for discussion presented in this interview. When we are emphasizing visual and material, are we deemphasizing text? I imagine the answer to this question is nuanced. In some ways, it might be the case while in others the art emphasizes the text. It probably depends more on the choices the printer makes.
Although trying to produce new art forms using a letter press is good, it’s also incredibly important to simply produce text. The translation work they do seems super significant, especially since it helps to spread other writers work to different parts of the world; as you put it, although the typography is more classical, sometimes there’s a benefit to that!
I find it interesting how Burning Deck Press selects the poetry it publishes in a non-conventional way by choosing pieces based on what they find interesting rather than how they may fit into a particular category. In addition, I like how you comment on the uniqueness of Burning Deck by distinguishing how its publications do not strictly adhere to one type of poetry, which makes the pieces they publish appeal to a broader audience.