On Monday I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to finish Bumpers before the end of my residency at Columbia. The edition is three hundred with a dozen ‘pages’ each, and each page is two or three colors. You can do the math, but the bottom line is that there was a whole lot of printing in the forecast. I stayed late on Wednesday night and got a little bit ahead of where I wanted to be in terms of the production schedule, and by Thursday afternoon it was clear that we would finish the book with time on our side. I attribute this largely to the competence of my assistant and the high standards of organization in the workshop. The machines are very well maintained and ample supplies of everything (inks, solvents, rags, you name it) is on hand. For a shop that has so many students and community members passing through, the depth of organization at the Center for Book and Paper Arts is quite remarkable. It appears that the printing will be done tomorrow morning. All of the crack’n peel has been printed, only the table of contents (two colors) and the spine (also two) remain. I have plenty of extra material, and may make some mailing labels as well (that’s only been on the to-do list for a decade!).
What to do with the week that remains? It’s been an incredibly rich time to reflect on the last decade of Cuneiform, which started in 2001. Change is the only constant, but I think things are going to look different in the second decade than the first. I don’t need a manifest, or any drastic reordering of things, but certainly, change is inevitable. For example, when the press started I was mostly interested in publishing chapbooks by young writers using the letterpress to make the covers, photocopies or offset for the text, and a simple pamphlet stitch for the binding. In the last ten years I’ve done less of that, not because I don’t care about new writing, but because it seems to me that the chapbooks were a lot of work, as expensive as trade editions to produce, and rarely got reviewed. With the increasing popularity of print-on-demand technologies, e-books, online audio files, blogs, and more sophisticated websites, it seems to me that new media have given young writers have plenty of resources and tools for getting their work into the world. I wouldn’t say that I’ll never publish another chapbook because there are plenty of reasons to do son, but as a general trend I don’t think the necessity is the same as it was a decade ago.
On Friday evening I gave a casual talk about the press and brought in a bunch of books to share with the audience. Being self-taught as a printer and typographer, I’ve learned through trial and error, most importantly, by sending the books off to publishers and artists I admire knowing full well that I would get some constructive criticism in return. In the talk I cited some examples of memorable observations from Walter Hamady, Johanna Drucker, Paul Romaine, and others. At home, I keep the Cuneiform books in alphabetical order on the shelf mixed in with all the others, so this was the first time I had seen a number of them together. Taken as a whole, they look quite different than they do in isolation. The publishers I like most tend not to use standardized formats or fall into predictable typographic or literary patterns; they favor the eclectic and eccentric (Something Else Press, Coracle, Jargon Society, etc.).
In the very near future we’ll be publishing Charles Alexander’s epic Pushing Water; Larry Fagin’s Complete Fragments (the poet’s first full trade edition since 1978); and Alastair Johnston’s Hanging Quotes (interviews with poets, typographers, and book artists). It’s pouring presently, and I’m very excited about going to visit Woodland Pattern for the first time today since the studio is closed.
First day in the workshop I got a tutorial on the A2 platemaker from April Sheridan. I’m considering getting one for my workshop at home, so it was great to get an overview from a pro. Brad gave me a tour of Columbia’s a amazing facilities and introduced me to Hannah King, a graduate student at Center for Book and Paper Arts who will be my assistant for the next two weeks. After getting acclimated it didn’t take long to get busy on the press. The film was ready and waiting when I arrived and when we realized that there weren’t enough A2 plates on hand we expedited a shipment from Boxcar Press, which arrived early Tuesday morning. I trimmed paper in the morning and got on the Vandercook SP-25, which may be my new favorite press. It took a little while to get used to the relatively large quantity of ink it consumes (the bed is much larger than my #4) and now it’s running like a top. I’ve been waking up super early every morning like a kid on Christmas, too excited to sleep. Yesterday I printed three colors on Tom Raworth’s contribution, which was the first because it has the tightest registration. Brad was a little worried, but everything lined up as close to perfect as one could ask on the first proof. Not bad. Here's a snapshot of Tom's before adding the third and final color:
I boarded a 5:00 flight from Austin, read Jimmy Schuyler’s Selected Art Writings (although a New York poet, he was born in Chicago in 1923) and arrived in Chicago early Sunday night. Who else was born in Chicago (poetry wise)? Brad Freeman met me at the airport and we took a quick train to the Loop. This must be my second or third time in this city. I figured I would be staying in a dormitory or Motel 6, so I was pleasantly surprised when Brad dropped me off at Columbia College’s presidential suites on (get this) Printers’ Row. Of course there are no commercial printers here any more, but the annual printers’ ball will be happening Friday July 29th (there’s more information about that on the Poetry Foundation’s website).
I’m here on a two-week residency at the Center for Book and Paper Arts to complete a book that I conceived in 2007 or ’08 when I was living in New York City (where time and money are always at odds with one another). A ‘book’ of bumper stickers appealed to me because I’ve always been interested in the relationship between public and private reading spaces, public and personal libraries, group and individual reading experiences, and the art of finding poetry in unexpected places. Also a fan of vernacular typography, I found no shortage of inspiration in New York (tho there’s more and more commercial design on the streets every day and my childhood memories of beautiful subway trains plastered in graffiti, each one different, are nothing but fading memories). Even the street art of Berlin that I documented with Caroline Koebel in 2005 has largely vanished due to gentrification.
James Sullivan’s On the Walls and In the Streets is a classic study of poetry broadsides of the 1960s, a must for anyone interested in poetry, politics and the power of the press. I actually didn’t encounter Sullivan’s book until after I finished my dissertation, but was pleasantly surprised to see that our bibliographies were quite similar. In any event, with the oil wars continuing to rage, record-setting temperatures due to climate change, and Hummers still (oddly) fashionable, it occurred to me that the bumper sticker might be an interesting medium to work with because it is a form of ephemera that surely has roots in the broadside and handbilll.
I invited a number of poets and artists to compose bumpers, reminding them that the text should a) be written to be read in public b) that it must be short if it is to be read while the reader and/or sticker is in motion c) that the text need not mimic the conventions of a bumper sticker (i.e., I’d rather be reading; My other car is a sonnet; Imagine word peace; etc.) while offering no guidelines whatsoever in terms of content. Some happily defied or ignored my request not to mimic the conventions of bumper stickers, and those actually turned out to be some of my favorites. Also important to note that I didn’t invite all of my friends or ‘favorite’ artists to participate; there are some greats who I like very much who I just couldn’t imagine writing bumpers, while I imagined others ideal candidates for the job. For example, Tom Raworth, as I recall, responded within an hour of my invitation via. email with several bumpers to choose from. A terrific printer and collage artist, Tom not only wrote, but designed his own sticker (which I’m printing today). Another example: Sitting at our regular hang-out spot, a bar called Mumbles, with Ted Greenwald, I laid the idea on him. “Oh, I don’t know about that, let me think about it.” Ted turns back to his coffee, looking skeptical. “Okay, I got it.” Ted pulled an index card out of his breast pocket, wrote a line, signed and dated it, and handed it to me. Perfect on the first attempt.
Morning sunshine is pouring through the windows and the bulldozers and cranes on the construction site next door are making the building bounce. I’ll put up some pictures of the studio and works in process tonight.