A window on how small presses work
that of Kyle Schlesinger A poetics of the press: interviews with poets, printers and publishers offers a window into the fears and aspirations of many industry giants. As a collection of personal stories and ideas, it opens the door to further study of the expanding field of handprinted books, artist’s books, and everything in between.
The 16 book interviews highlight poetry presses that interact with “the art of the book and their personal approaches to publishing,” according to Schlesinger’s introduction. Spanning over four decades of publishing activity and over a decade of interviews (2005-18), it focuses on the small literary press boom that began in the early 1960s, documented by publications like Granary Books’s A secret place. (Two of the presses in A poetics of the press – Vehicle Editions and Tuumba Press – are covered by A secret place.)
As Schlesinger writes, Granary founder Steven Clay gave this interview series a big boost and was his first topic:
I was researching the relationship between poetry, typography, and visual art in hand-printed books in America between the end of WWII and the end of the Vietnam War. At that point, I realized that there was [sic] a dearth of publications on the subject, and that Clay’s Granary Books had published much of the literature that I found most convincing.
In addition to Clay, Schlesinger talks to many influential people in the field, including Johanna Drucker and the duo Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, to name a few. Many interviews focus on stories – for example, how the books were made and by whom. This is the case of Tom Raworth (Matrix Press & Goliard Press), Drucker (Druckwerk) and Scott Pierce (Effing Press). Much of the back and forth between Schlesinger and the interviewees is a who’s who of publishing activities, types of machines and printing techniques. For those intimately involved in this community, these notes read like columns of gossip or footnotes to beloved headlines. Despite Drucker’s extensive writings in the art publishing field, her interview is rather an expanded version of her resume, in which she details her career change “from media and literature studies to news studies. and the history of the book ”.
Among the other practical topics that come up in the interviews, there is the financing and the price of the books. Annabel Lee, of Vehicle Editions and former secretary / treasurer of the Center for Book Arts in New York, and Lyn Hejinian, of Tuumba Press, both note small press grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, which are no longer available.
More interesting than how the projects were funded – which is important in making the realities of artistic publishing more transparent – is the question of how monetary value influences cultural and conceptual value, in addition to materials. In almost all of the interviews, publishers explained the effects of making expensive handmade books compared to commercially produced books that could be sold at a more affordable price. Ugly Duckling Presse, which published this volume, had a model (at the time of the interview in 2008) of keeping prices low “just to emphasize that the value of literature, poetry and translation that we publish is not really market driven. strengths. “As a member of the collective editorial team, Matvei Yankelevich explained,” Value has been part of our experience from the start – an attempt to prove the lack of value that culture attaches to the type of poetry we publish “.
In terms of material choice, Hejinian’s “decision to staple the chapbooks together was intended to undermine their market value.” She adds: “I wanted to emphasize the immediacy rather than the preciousness or permanence of the texts. For some, the material choices made the book less accessible; Clay notes that “the perception of typography as being elitist, in a way, necessarily made the books more expensive than they would have been if they had been printed some other way.”
With the increase in prices looms the danger of the “fetish object”, the book as an object of art that no one reads or holds. This fear has been expressed by many publishers, including Ugly Duckling, but perhaps best expressed by the first duo of publishers included in the book, Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, who founded Burning Deck Press in 1961. , according to Rosmarie. “This was a factor in our decision for Burning Deck not to target books that would be kept on closed shelves. Hejinian also asserted, “The works are not there to be pretty, they are there to be read. “
For someone like me, who writes critically about artist publishing, the times when Schlesinger pushes his subject matter to define a landscape of the book arts and artist books (and at times clearly expresses his own feelings about the subject) are the most interesting. Clay lays bare the heart of the endless debate of the democratic multiple against the limited-edition artist’s book set against the backdrop of the early days of Granary Books and the founding of the famous New York art bookstore Printed Matter:
In my mind, [Clive Phillpot] was also a key polemicist, in some ways creating a wedge between [Edward] The Ruscha model (a purist, conceptualist, cheap democratic multiple) of the artists’ book is exemplary – almost to the exclusion of everything else.
Phillpot, a former art librarian at MoMA and one of the pioneers of artist’s book writing, was involved in the early days of Printed Matter, which was founded as an artist’s book distributor affordable. The Attic and the other small presses at the time were more devoted to the art of publishing more expensive artists’ books as multiples. While much of this debate has been spelled out in many other books, discovering these insightful slices of different publishers’ reasoning for their positions clearly highlights a common concern: making books that won’t be read.
In this context, the cleavage between the unique and the multiple, the precious and the affordable, the craftsmanship and the concept, is deeply rooted in the notion of How? ‘Or’ What books are read, and if the gulf between book craft and the democratic multiple crusade can be bridged. “Could you switch to the other in a meaningful way?” Or would everyone be lost? Are there any differences so powerful that the two could never converge harmoniously? Clay asks. In a 2016 interview, INK-A! Press founder Inge Bruggeman shared a similar sentiment and cited research on the subject conducted by former director of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Betty Bright.
Schlesinger also has his own press, Cuneiform, started in 2000. Many names from this collection appear in the catalog of cuneiform books, demonstrating his depth of knowledge and interest in this particular medium. The landscape of publishers who today use typography, in addition to other innovative printing techniques, continues to expand. The next main source book may collect accounts from creators such as typographic artists Tia Blassingame (Primrose Press) and Ben blount; those who work in urgent publication evocative of the revolution handout, like Paul Soulellis (Queer.Archive.Work) and be Oakley (Gender failure); and zine editors like Yusuf Hassan (BlackMass editions), which expands the possibilities of books produced with affordable techniques, such as a photocopier.
Poetics of the press illustrates how precious first-hand accounts are in historicizing a moment and a medium. Many of the subjects interviewed looked to the future of the book as technology redefines what is possible, affordable and innovative. With several interviews conducted over a decade ago, I wonder what reaction subjects will have when they revisit their optimism (or, in some cases, their pessimism) about handprinted books and the future. of the edition. I hope this book is one of many to come in a growing story told by creators who rise to the challenge of being publishers.
A poetics of the press: interviews with poets, printers and publishers by Kyle Schlesinger (2021) is published by Ugly duckling press and is available online and in bookstores.