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manifest press

i’ve spent a lot of time theorizing about the connection between my writing and my printing, thinking about the way that setting a poem in type physically connects me to the piece, how laying it out on the press bed differs from laying it out on a written page, or a digital page, how the constraints of the medium/supplies/machinery constrain the work. that thought process has been present in some way in most of the projects i’ve undertaken in the last couple years, by intentionally working with materials that i’ve got leftover from past projects, by editing the poem itself while i’m setting it, etc., but in working on this last project i think i finally had a real breakthrough in manifesting the ideas that i’ve got about this whole process.

the poem that i was setting was one of my favorites from my manuscript from my second to last quarter at evergreen, logopoesis. it was an experiment in listening and translating. i wrote it during a class seminar discussion about gertrude stein using a listening/writing technique that i’d been playing around with for a few months at that point, and have since become quite comfortable with, in fact almost all of what i write these days has some aspect of this writing style in it, less explicit note-taking and more stream-of-consciousness response and language stealing. i made myself write for the entire discussion (probably about 45 minutes?), and the poem as it appeared in my manuscript was unedited save for the line breaks. it stood out to me in the manuscript for its playful ruminations on language, and because i felt like i didn’t write it by myself. i wrote it with the help of the class, with the help of gertrude, etc. i was just the conduit, the hand scrawling on the page. it was “discussion poetry.”

last semester i decided to re-visit the poetry i’d written in the last couple years in order to compile it into a manuscript (or manuscripts), and i was compelled to do some fine-tuning of a lot of them, this one in particular. that would be the first edit i did of it. at the end of the semester i decided to use it for my final typography project and turn it into a book, so i edited it a second time and set it in type, which would likely be the third edit. although i can’t remember specifically changing anything about it the first time i set it in type, i’m sure i did, because i almost always do.

the book turned out to be a little bit of a disaster. i was dropping individual red words into black text, which is totally a nightmare. registering layers of text is totally unforgiving, if you’re off by a fraction of a pt it’s pretty obvious, and this was only my second time registering ANYTHING…so it didn’t go so well. in the end i had one half of a successful print after countless hours in the studio shifting things up and down, back and forth over and over and wanting to rip my hair out. after getting one side i gave up and hand inked the other side, which came out horribly. the other thing was that the book format was just not really doing anything for me or the poem.

so i ditched it and took the advice of my classmates to make it into a broadside.

at this point i had taken apart most of the type, so i had to re-set it, and switching to the broadside format meant that i needed to edit it one more time for length, so i did that. then came the breakthrough part.

figuring out how to cram this vast amount of text onto a 10.5″ x 24″ sheet of paper in a way that felt aesthetically pleasing and did justice to the work was an interesting trial. those aforementioned constraints had never been so real. this poem was so totally shaped by the press, and what emerged for me was magical. the new layout brought to life the “discussion” part of the poem. instead of lining up along the left margin the stanzas float around the page. the clouds of words and gaps between them mirror the activity of a conversation with many voices centering around the nebulous feeling of shared ideas. we are all talking about the same thing. or are we? we all think that we are talking about the same thing.

the print isn’t flawless (also, the scan quality isn’t great), but i learned a lot doing it. and i think i’ve made impressive strides forward in pushing the limits of the press and my skills (not to mention the above discussed theory/practice connection strengthening): discussion poetry

 

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