Burning Deck Press is a space for experimental poetry as well as translation from both French and German. Despite the avant-garde nature of its poetry, Burning Deck’s aesthetic clearly prizes content over form. The way the type is aligned on the page may initially give Burning Deck books a somewhat simple appearance, but it is this simplicity that draws the reader deeper into the richness of the poetry at hand.
I chose to look at two different Buning Deck publications: Michael Donhauser’s Of Things and Lisa Jarnot’s Some Other Kind of Mission. Both texts have numerous qualities that make them unique works of art and showcase Burning Deck’s captivating style.
The book by Donhauser is the simplest of the two, illustrating Burning Deck’s more “classical typography” style (Schlesinger 19). All the poems are categorized into three sections- Winter: Spring, Spring: Summer, and Summer: Fall. The text itself is set in a typical, left aligned format, which allows for the words of the poems to really take effect. Translated from German, each poem is a beautiful description of various things in nature that fits the overall theme of the poem. In this collection, Burning Deck’s preference of content over form is quite apparent.
Of experimental texts Rosmarie Waldrop says, “The more experimental the text, the more clearly I want to define the space of the page (Schlesinger 19).” This is evidenced in Lisa Jarnot’s Some Other Kind of Mission through the way that the pages of the book are left mostly blank. This slightly more experimental approach could very well be the inspiration behind my own blackout poem pictured below. My print was already created before the writing this post; however, I think the project fits well with the style of Jarnot’s text. This piece has a slightly less traditional layout, with pieces of the text set next to images of blackout poems and other small art pieces. Overall, the combination of textual layout and the visuals is a great showcase of Burning Deck’s experimental side.
In a way, my poem is a combination of both styles of the Burning Deck books I chose to look at. The form is reflective of the blackout poems present in Jarnot’s piece, and the content is reflective of the natural imagery of Donhauser’s poems. Unlike many Burning Deck publications my poem places form over content; however, it still fits within the press’s creative mold as a piece of visually simplistic poetry. As a result, I unknowingly creating a somewhat Burning Deck-esque print a little while before I even learned about the press.
I’ve said something similar in a different post about letterpress, but there’s something truly special about the products of letterpress publishing. It’s the care and work put into the production of each piece that adds so much value. Evidence of this comes from Burning Deck’s note on the very last page of Jarnot’s text that says, “This book was typeset in 10 pt. Palatino by Rosmarie Waldrop… There are 1000 copies, of which 50 are signed by the author.” Reading this inscription made the book feel even more like an intimate little treasure I was able to find, which is one of the many reasons I am fascinated by letterpress.
Donhauser, Michael. Of Things, translated by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron,Burning Deck Press, 2015.
Jarnot, Lisa. Some Other Kind of Mission, Burning Deck Press, 1996.
“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.