As a child I wrote many a “happy song”, often compiling them in books of my own construction with accompanying drawings. Thankfully these weren’t such “that all may read”, but remained private, incompletely formed little objects that I enjoyed making and owning.
Since then I’ve been learning about the bookmaking process and how techniques have developed to a more sophisticated level than folding printer paper, scissor-snipping the creases and binding with sellotape. I’ve had a chance to experiment with design choices for Oxford Poetry, which is printed very elegantly by OxUniPrint in Headington. The satisfaction of picking up and cradling newborn issues, fresh from their snug boxes, is nonpareil.
Working at Enitharmon Press has been particularly inspiring. Marina Warner summarises beautifully:
“William Blake dreamed up the original Enitharmon as one of his inspiriting, good, female daemons, and his own spirit as a poet-artist, printer-publisher still lives in the press which bears the name of his creation. Enitharmon is a rare and wonderful phenomenon, a press where books are shaped into artefacts of lovely handiwork as well as communicators of words and worlds. The writers and the artists published here over the last forty-five years represent a truly historic gathering of individuals with an original vision and an original voice, but the energy is not retrospective: it is growing and new ideas enrich the list year by year. Like an ecologist who manages to restock the meadows with a nearly vanished species of wild flower or brings a rare pair of birds back to found a colony, this publisher has dedicatedly and brilliantly made a success of that sharply endangered species, the independent press.”
Collaborating with typesetters, cover designers, printers and marblers across the UK, Enitharmon does indeed create some real “artefacts of lovely handiwork”.
And it certainly didn’t feel like one of a “sharply endangered species” last Saturday: Conway Hall was bustling for the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, an all-day extravaganza promoting the wide variety and innovation of contemporary poetry publishers. It’s the perfect opportunity to see what books are being created now, and even take a few of them home.
I’ll be wandering through today’s world of books over the next few weeks, pausing to consider ideas of process and production, the modern-day craftsman, books and their aura, books as art objects, what illustration brings to the equation. I’ll saunter into several libraries and private collections, interview an antiquarian bookseller, tour a printing press and provoke a debate about whether ‘looks’ matter. If I don’t stray too far from the path, it should all culminate in an open workshop and exhibition (so please look out for the call to join in!).
Ideally I’d like to make manifest that form is a glorious, inextricable part of content, wielding great power. That thinking about the book restores a degree of care and attention when approaching poetry, enhancing appreciation of texts. The physical book responds to the human part of us, and its history is above all people-centric – a story of individuals making things to share within a community. Delighting in the book expands aspects of our creativity by keeping us ‘in touch’ with who we are as corporeal human beings.
Thank you for joining me and for reading – after all, as Emerson wrote, “’Tis the good reader that makes the good book”. The same applies to a digital residency, I should think!