Looking into Letterpress with Carolyn Fraser - Perfect for Poetry

Jenny Butler
Jenny Butler
12th of July 2011

Today's guest blog from Carolyn Fraser is a very special one. We look closely at the work of Caren Florance and a particular project of hers titled Prime. Using the words of 7 poets from Australia and New Zealand it's very easy to see why letterpress is perfect for poetry. - Jenny x

‘At the Opera’, by Australian poet Les Murray. Printed by Caren Florance at the Otakou Press in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Cover and title page for a folio of broadsides (posters) using a poem each from Australian and New Zealand poets, Printed by Caren Florance at the Otakou Press in Dunedin, New Zealand.
‘The Piano’s Birthday’, by NZ poet Michael Harlow. Printed by Caren Florance at the Otakou Press in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Letterpress printing has had long association with poetry – many printers are, in fact, poets. Once you've hand-set metal type, this makes a lot of sense. Many poets see language as a physical artefact – letterforms and the placement of words on a page are intrinsic to poetry. It is true, also, that poetry is often short. Shorter than Ulysses, at least, or Anna Karenina, and when you are hand-setting metal type, this makes a big difference.

Before radio or Twitter, the broadside – a one-sided printed piece – was distributed in public places spreading political propaganda, public announcements and the lyrics of the latest popular ballad. These days, the broadside is a lovely meeting place for printers, writers and visual artists. One such person is Caren Florance (aka Ampersand Duck) who is a book artist, printer and teacher in Canberra. In 2010, she was printer-in-residence at the Otakou Press at the University of Otago Library in Dunedin, New Zealand, and in a remarkably short period of time produced a portfolio of broadsides featuring the work of seven Australian and New Zealand poets.

'…If you like’ (untitled), by NZ poet Vincent O’Sullivan. Printed by Caren Florance at the Otakou Press in Dunedin.
A collaboration with printmaker Peter McLean called 'Sky.' The poem by NZ poet Brian Turner and Peter's wood engraving, plus a direct print from a piece of found wood. The text is set in Baskerville and Imprint Outline.
Sight-Reading by Australian Poet Stephen Edgar.  Printed by Caren Florance at the Otakou Press in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Detail of one of the broadsides Caren made in New Zealand at the Otakou Press in Dunedin. This is a Robert Adamson poem with the text handrolled & printed on a Columbian Eagle iron handpress.

Feel the Fell, 2009. Artist's book of offset and handset letterpress, hand-sewn. Quote from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Collection of Artspace Mackay.

A common question to printers producing this kind of work is: who buys these?  The answer varies from title to title, but the one constant is the State Library of Victoria. The Rare Printed collection at the SLV houses an important collection of artist books and broadsides. Give Rare Printed Manager Des Cowley a day, and he'll pull together a selection of important letterpress-printed works for you to look at. An Australian focus would feature work by the Wayzgoose Press, who in addition to their typographically-experimental book work have produced a great number of broadsides.

- Carolyn x

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