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A Mix of Old and New

Aaron Cohick is the founder of NewLights Press, which publishes his own and the work of other artists. If one were to meander to his website, they’d see one of the mediums they use for publications is “the obselete (letterpress),” which Cohick prides himself in.

In fact, many consider the letterpress to be a thing of the past, even with these quirky small presses using them. On the other hand, because quirky small presses are seeming to slowly get the credit they’ve been yearning for, one could argue that print is, in fact, alive.

“I don’t think that as a culture we are going to come to any conclusions for a good many years, but what we need to do now is ask some meaningful, productive questions,” said Cohick in A Poetics of the Press.

“The Work Continues” series printed by letterpress on chipboard. Photo taken from NewLights Press website.

Compared to their other broadsides, this is probably NewLights’ most traditional object. It’s clean and clear cut while a majority of the work they publish is rather risky; words on top of words on top of backgrounds on top of designs on top of streaks on top of etc. on top of ect.

“& Now & Now” from NewLights Press. Image taken from their website.

Because of this war between the traditional way and new way of doing things, many will side with one or the other, simultaneously showing how broad the definitions of those words are. Some may think one form is old while another says how it’s used more in contemporary works. Meanwhile, Cohick acknowledges the talent of both traditional and modern artists and their contribution to the small press industry.

Cohick himself looks to early art of the Modernist movement and the Minimalism that appeared in the 60’s and 70’s; however, he admires the Renaissance, simply because it encapsulates what he wants to portray in his work: “the exploration of sometimes radically new and/or completely deranged territory.”

He also views the relationship between old and new as a mentor and student rather than enemies.

“The new is always an extension of the old, its basic tropes and conventions being derived from the earlier technology,” he said.

As for the letterpress, Cohick calls for those with the supplies to put them to good use.

“We are beginning to see [print] clearly for the first time, and now we can get it to ask questions about its own structures, internally and externally,” said Cohick. “This is a time to be making work, not objects — objects that are a fortress of ossified tradition — but work that does work, that sees that everything that we love and cherist about print and books is part of a living culture, subject to and dependent upon change for its vitality.”

Works cited:

Schlesinger, Kyle, et al. “Aaron Cohick.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, Cuneiform Press, Austin, TX, 2021, pp. 310-321.

Burning Deck Press

Flipping through the subtitles in A Poetics of the Press, the first press to catch my eye was Burning Deck Press, perhaps because Halloween is just around the corner, and the title helped evoke the spirit in a strange sense. This press was founded by couple Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop in Michigan in 1961, and began as a magazine that published ‘experimental’ poetry and stories. It shortly evolved to a publisher of diverse poetry and short stories in offset book form.

Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop (left to right) at Harvard University for the 40th anniversary reading

In an interview with WWB Daily upon the presses closing, Rosmarie Waldrop recalled what sowed the seeds of Burning Deck was a rivalry between the Donald Allen and Hall-Pack-Simpson presses, which she called a ’war of anthologies.’1 Keith was frustrated by the hostility in the world he called home, and responded by cofounding a magazine that was more inclusive with the poets it featured.

In the interview, I’ve noticed Kyle Schlesinger, the interviewer inquiring possible signs of bias, particularly towards the writings of Brown graduates, but Rosmarie replied that Burning Deck Press finds manuscripts in all sorts of ways, that they and Brown University have no financial relations, and that, after a recent rough count, she found that almost around thirty of the 135 authors featured by the press happened to by Brown graduates, but never by students.

Kyle also questioned their utilization of traditional rules of legibility despite featuring mostly experimental literature, he brought up Camp Printing as an exception. Rosmarie responded in saying that while she finds traditional printing more pleasing to read, she had made a mistake while printing one of James Camp’s chapbooks, but enjoyed what came of it and began to experiment farther with the printing process. This part of the interview stood out to me for its encouragement to never waste a moment of your life mowing through a task, even in frustration. There could always be some element that could push your work or your craft to the next level.

Work Cited

Words without Borders, Experimental Poetry Press Close Shop: An Interview with Burning Deck’s Rosmarie Waldrop. Becker, Eric M.B. wordswithoutborders.org, 2018

A Composition Playing Field: Alan Loney & Electio Editions

In his interview for the book, A Poetics of the Press, Alan Loney, of the small press Electio Editions, found that “there’s always at least a ‘little imagination’ in the practice of craft skills, and there’s always at least a little dollop of self-expression in design” (84). For Loney, the process of printing affects writing at all stages of the writing process, not just when bringing the final piece to the press. Just as I discovered at Meshwork, the idea in the artist’s mind is not always what can be composed on the letterpress, but Loney insists that this effect runs deeper than most writers would consider, down to the size of the paper the manuscript or poem is drafted on. On the other hand, Loney tends to veer away from the explosive expressiveness that other small press publishers experiment with, even to the point where he corrects those who classify his books as “artist books”, as he draws a clear distinction between them and the “press book” his work falls under. Loney may use a small number of font types, but the way his printing focuses more on the text is through an intimate understanding of the effects of form on content and vice versa.

[Source: Electio Editions Blog] The inside pages of a book from Electio Editions.

And that was what I found was the most interesting part of the interview: how Loney sees the printer/writer as not just an artist or a writer, but a maker, “one [that] puts things together, bit by bit, discontinuously, like any child making something out of Lego” (77). The composition itself is in the foreground, setting up the playing field for the form and content of the piece that come later. I read this as the physical act of creating coaching and corralling the writing and structure of the piece into the shape it ultimately becomes, making knowing the end result before starting virtually impossible. With this in mind, every small press book is a surprise, making the possibilities of what can be created endless, not just in creating an artist’s book, but in the subtler books, such as the books Loney creates, as well.

Works Cited:

“Alan Loney: Electio Editions,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021, pp. 68-95.

Electio Editions Blog. http://electioeditions.blogspot.com/. Accessed 27 October 2021.

Exploring Burning Deck Press

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.

[Image Description] Two of the covers of Burning Deck’s publications. Image taken from their website

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.

Work Cited

“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 Presshttps://burningdeck.com/. Accessed Oct. 26, 2021.

Mary Laird

Mary Laird is one of those printers whose love of craft dominate their work. She makes her own paper, binds books, paints, hand-planes wooden covers, writes poetry, and prints (Laird 100, 104). Because her work style is “slow and ornery,” she doesn’t print many books (96, 99); in fact, there were only seven copies of her book Remember the Light (“Remember the Light”). Her limited production leads me to think that her purpose in bookmaking is not to disseminate the content of her books—the poetry and artwork. Rather, she labours over the creation of a few exquisite objects for the love of the process (100).

Mary Laird’s Remember the Light (2007). A collection of Laird’s poetry and prints incorporating several mediums and methods including letterpress, relief-roll etchings, wooden-board bindings, and drop-spine boxes (Photos from Laird’s website: maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/) (“Remember the Light”).

Laird’s love of the craft is evident in her engagement with the techniques of fine printing. In her work, she combines heritage processes—including papermaking, printing, and book-binding—with her designs. Remember the Light, for example, is bound between two wooden covers, based on an eighth century model (106). Laird relates that, while hand-planing these covers, she thought of her grandfather who use to make cabinets (104). Her mother, too, makes appearances in her artwork; there is a portrait of her in Remember the Light (“Mary Laird…”). Her love of the craft in bookmaking is related to her love for her relatives and ancestors.

Mary Laird speaks at the Book Club of California in San Francisco. She discusses her work, including her inspiration and process.

Laird says in her interview with Schlesinger that she was always looking for “vastness, space” in her work (99). Her use of fine printing techniques gives her more spaces in which to create. The covers, the paper, the binding—each of these aspects is a choice Laird makes and a space she fills with her creativity. For Eggplant Skin Pants, for example,she chose the paper—Hosho—because its transparency and the resulting shadows from the images interested her (100). And for Remember the Light,she made drop-spine boxes with ostrich and goatskin covers and inserted a little copper medallion into each. Even the books’ containers are a medium for creativity (“Remember the Light”) (“Mary Laird…”).

A spread from Laird’s Remember the Light. These pages contain sewing, etchings, and printed words. Laird also experiments with the shape of the pages (the recto page is rounded and has that toothy edge). These experimental designs are combined with traditional letterpress and contained in a wood-cover reminiscent of eighth century codices (Photo from Laird’s website: maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/) (Laird 106).

Laird exhibits a deep appreciation for the craft of printing and bookmaking in her work. Bookmaking is to her “slow and enjoyable” (107). Her books are a conglomeration of skills and processes, from sewing and letterpress to photocopying and bookbinding. She prints and produces books because she loves the process of creation. Laird’s affection for the various crafts she employs in bookmaking is evident in the final products, which are beautiful, unified works of poetry, images, paper, and binding.

Works Cited

Laird, Mary. “Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press and The Perishable Press Limited.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, By Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.

“Mary Laird Quelquefois Press 40 Years of Printing, Painting, and Poetry.” YouTube, uploaded by John Malork – Art History, 18 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAFXrRyrPjQ.

“Remember the Light.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

The Art and the Letter

At first, what drew me to this interview was the name of the press, “Druckwerk.” It was a fun and interesting name that I would later realize is inspired by the artist’s name herself, Johanna Drucker. Throughout her interview with Kyle Schlesinger, Drucker discusses the connection between art and text. She has been noted for having a vast knowledge of both graphic design throughout history and academic wordings which she uses along with experimentation to make a whole new separate but connected thing between the two ideas of print. In doing so she makes an entirely new basis of printing style. On page one-hundred-and-eighty, she even states that “(She) wanted to learn things that were new.” 

[This picture is one of Johanna Drucker’s prints. It is titled “Prove Before Laying.” The picture comes from this site linked here, https://openbook.lib.utah.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/N7433.4-D76-P76-1997-disputed.jpg%5D

The quote from this interview that stuck with me was on page one-hundred-and-seventy-four. Johanna says that “none of us has exclusive claim on historical events we have lived through, or the impressions we leave on others of our selves and lives.” 

And admittedly, I don’t personally take much if any real claim on historical events. But, as someone who has felt like a month cannot pass without at least one or two major historical events happening anymore, this quote caught my attention. I don’t actually know much on what it is that had this catch my attention. But I wanted to give it a mention. 

Work Cited

“Johanna Drucker: Druckwerk,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 168-182. 

Mary Laird: MFA, mother, wife, printmaker.

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.

A Poetic Press

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). 

[Description: This piece is a part of a collection of poem-prints titled Every (Mixed Media Variants) which are letterpress collagraph and mixed media that was composed on various papers. Click the link attached to the photo to see the entire collection. Credit: NewLights Press.]   

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.

Works Cited

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. 

Falling into Blackout Poetry Printing

A photo of one of two prints of my blackout poem that I made during our lab. Photo taken by me.

Blackout poetry is a writing form that I’ve done many times before on numerous occasions, something that I’ve grown used to doing over and over again. To me, it’s always the same old idea every single time: find a piece of writing, like a song, an old book, or a script of some kind, and then strike out lines in order to create a new poem. Although it can sometimes be a bit difficult to pick out the piece to blackout, I’ve grown familiar with the process; despite the fact that you can make a new poem with every new piece of writing to be found, I’ve begun to find it rather boring. Creating blackout poetry no longer feels like a challenge, and I miss the drive to push myself and try to make something completely new (It all starts to feel the same after some time).

Luckily, I had the opportunity to craft blackout poetry in a totally new way: printing. 

As soon as I was given the assignment, I figured this would be the same old process with a few extra steps for flair, but I had no idea how difficult creating the piece would truly be. 

A photo of one of two prints of my blackout poem that I made during our lab. Photo taken by me.

To begin, I chose a song that I’d been listening to for the past few weeks, and a song that had a lot of interesting lyrics, to create the poetry, blacking out whatever words I didn’t want. I did as we were tasked, printing out my poem, scanning it, adding a few details for fun, and then scanning the paper once more. When I had what I believed to be the “finished product”, I brought my paper to the studio and readied myself to create another simple, yet colorful, piece of poetry. 

For some reason, I hadn’t prepared myself for how sticky and intricate the process would be. 

I had to be extremely delicate when working with the page, and I had to have just the right amount of corn syrup to water to ensure the ink stuck to the paper correctly, and to not have too much or else it would all fall apart. If even one part of the process went awry, my print wouldn’t turn out right. 

To learn more about blackout poetry, click here, and to listen to the song I used for my poem, click here!

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

ZZZ_cover_full.jpeg
Pages from ZZZZZZZZZZZ [AN ISLAND] by J. A. Tyler, published by NewLights Press. https://www.newlightspress.com/store/zzzzzzzzzzz-an-island

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. https://www.newlightspress.com/about. Accessed Oct. 24, 2021.