Mary Laird has been publishing letterpress books since the year 1969 as Quelquefois Press and became a partner in The Perishable Press Ltd from 1969-1984. Within the book A Poetics of the Press, I learned about a wide number of authors, but Mary Stood out the strongest to me.
Everything contained in Laird’s interview with the editor of A Poetics of the Press, Kyle Schlesinger, was inspirational to me. Our publishing course has previously watched a documentary film about the art of letterpress and I saw the themes presented in that film make a recurrence during Laird’s interview responses. Letterpress is a dwindling profession; perhaps not so much dwindling or struggling, but nonetheless, the community grows smaller every passing year. A large part of saving the masterful artform of letterpress is to learn by people, to learn by experience, to accept influence from your location, from travel, and from weather, as well as to accept that practice makes perfect. There is no possible way to get better at letterpress-to further your skill level-if one does not practice. If it doesn’t work the first time, try it again! And again, and again, and again-until you get it right, or create something in a style which you are satisfied with. The younger generation is the future of letterpress, and by learning the ways of the trade through those who are no longer able to preserve the craft themselves, we can, in a very real way, bring the art of letterpress with us into the next century.
Laird said it best in the conclusion of her interview with Schlesinger: “I think there is a wonderful abundance of emerging young artists and poets who bring, and will continue to bring, incredible vitality to the form of the book. Many of them are using the dinosaur letterpress machines. Just wait! They will surprise us all with their integrity, delight, originality, and prowess (Schlesinger 107).” This statement comes all but a page after Laird giving her input on how she struggles to marry old and new technology together. She says it has been a challenge to do so in a way which is satisfactory to her. Laird stated that she tried to mix print and paint onto etchings within her book Remember the Light, but she struggled through the act of mixing these processes together to create a cohesive piece. What I admired most about Laird’s work was no matter how much she struggled, or how much stood in her way, darn it, she was determined to make it work. Laird’s perseverance and strong will perfectly embodies, what I think, is the spirit of the world of letterpress in today’s world.
Schlesinger, Kyle, et al. A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers. Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021.