This interview was conducted for the Wells College Book Arts Center and String Room Gallery in support of Marianne Dages‘ exhibition, Objects of Unknown Use. The interview was released as No.2 in the In/Conversation: On-Language series from Oxblood Publishing, an independent publishing project founded by H.R. Buechler, the 2016-2018 Victor Hammer Fellow.
The latest release from Wells College Press is now available on our online shop
First Reader (An Homage to David Berman)
by Bruce Bennett
2017. 6″ x 9″ hand stitched paper wraps.
100 copies signed by the author and numbered
Each copy features a unique marbled paper by Nancy Gil who also hand set and printed the entire book on a Vandercook Proofing press.
First Reader chronicles one side of a decades-long shared friendship in poetry. David Berman and Bruce Bennett met in Archibald MacLeish’s legendary creative writing course English S at Harvard in the Fall of 1961, and were the first readers of each other’s poems until David passed away in June, 2017. Bruce has written of David and his work: “He was an exquisite and prolific formal poet, and an exacting critic, who was always in my mind when I wrote. He was also, always, a most loyal and generous friend.”
Here are some things that stood out for me about David. He read Latin for pleasure. With regard to certain areas of knowledge, he was among the most intellectually curious people I have known. His appetite for information, including arcane information, was insatiable. He was a gourmet and a connoisseur of wine and, perhaps especially, champagne, so one was indeed fortunate to share a meal with him – and “indeed” was among his favorite words. (“Memorable” was another, and was often applied to meals.) He knew the Bible, both Old and New Testament, practically by heart, and often mulled, discoursed on, and wrote about Biblical themes. If I had a question, any question at all, relating to religion or the Bible, I knew I could rely on David to answer it, and in considerable, and quite specific, detail.
He was an exquisite, and prolific, formal poet, who wrote poetry all his life, and was blessed to find his community, and indeed his spiritual and artistic home, among his fellow Powow River Poets, a distinguished group which meets monthly in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was an exacting critic, who took the vocation of being a critic very seriously, and who was therefore, as a critic, knowledgeable, sharp, utterly discerning, and invariably just. (Which isn’t to say I always agreed with him, but that did not matter in the least. One doesn’t need to agree with a First Reader. One just needs to take another very close look.) He possessed, and reveled in exhibiting, an extraordinary, one could almost say Borgesian, memory, frequently dazzling others with instant recall of abstruse historical and other facts, dates, and, of course, details of the law, which was one gift that made him a world-class lawyer.
David was an extraordinarily private and reserved person. One always knew, or sensed, the boundaries, yet, when he was particularly amused by something, he would occasionally laugh uncontrollably, a laughing fit which was, needless to say, infectious to whomever he was sharing the joke with. Though I knew him for more than fifty-six years, in many ways he remained something of an enigma to me, but at all times a unique and precious enigma. Though I didn’t see him nearly as often as I would have liked to, and should have, during the last several years, he was constantly in my mind, — and always in my mind when I wrote, — as an abiding and cherished presence.
Finally, and I can say this simply, he was a most loyal and generous friend.
—Bruce Bennett 2017
The Wells Book Arts Center is pleased to accept applications for the eleventh Victor Hammer Fellowship in the Book Arts.
The fellowship is named for Victor Hammer, an Austrian printer, book designer, typographer and portrait artist, who fled Nazi Europe to come to Wells College in 1939. The Hammer Fellowship is a two-year book artist-in-residence program that was founded in 1998 designed to help emerging book artists establish their name in the field. The Hammer Fellow’s expertise and various activities enhance the educational mission of the Book Arts Center and Wells College and increase awareness of the book arts as a field of study and practice both at Wells and in the community at large.
The Book Arts Center teaches introductory courses in letterpress printing, hand bookbinding, calligraphy, and various upper-level courses in binding and printing. In addition to courses taught in the academic year, the Book Arts Center offers two week-long series of workshops in the summer at Wells College.
The successful candidate for the Victor Hammer Fellowship in the Book Arts will hold the position for two years, fall 2018 through summer 2020. The position includes teaching two courses each semester, one of which will be Intro to Letterpress or Intro to Bookbinding. Duties include production of work for Wells College Press, maintenance of Printing, Bindery and Papermaking studios and assisting the director. The fellowship includes an apprenticeship at the Press and Letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler in nearby Skaneateles and producing an independent body of work.
Applicants must have extensive experience in binding and letterpress printing, experience teaching, and a MFA in Book Arts or a certificate in a related field. Applications should include a CV, 15 digital images of the candidate’s own work, 7 digital images of the candidate’s students’ work, a statement of teaching philosophy, and three letters of recommendation. Since the Fellow will assist in the design and production of poetry broadsides for the Creative Writing Program, as well as announcement posters for book arts events, images of any such work would be helpful to the search committee. Applications are due by March 30, 2018, and are to be submitted electronically via the Wells College employment page, http://www.wells.edu/employment . Wells College actively seeks to diversify faculty and encourages candidates to apply who can further expand the program through multicultural approaches and is an equal opportunity employer. No phone calls please.
Questions may be addressed to bookartscenter [at] wells.edu
Time to start thinking about basking in the warm sun and making things with your hands. July 15–28, 2018…come to Aurora, NY!
Each July, Wells Book Arts Center hosts the Wells Book Arts Summer Institute. This year is bigger than ever with 6 courses to choose from for each of the 2 weeks. Join our all-star line-up of instructors and learn new techniques or hone existing skills in a variety or paper, printing, and textual arts.
Each week is filled with intensive, hands-on instruction and practice, but there is also time to relax and enjoy the spectacular sunsets over Cayuga Lake or swim or take things at your own pace. Of course there are people who want to work on their projects late into the evening, and we encourage that too!
Week 1 – July 15-21, 2018
• Michael & Winifred Bixler (Bixler Letterfoundry)
Type Casting and Monotype Composition
• Peter Fraterdeus (Peter Fraterdeus)
West Meets East — Energy, Expression and “Emptiness” in Calligraphy
• Ron Gordon (Oliphant Press)
The Anatomy of Book Design
• Amos Kennedy (Kennedy Prints)
Letterpress Posters with Big Wood Type
• Scott McCarney (Scott McCarney VisualBooks)
Hybrid Textual/Visual Books
• Danielle Myers (Petrichor Paper)
Papermaking with Local Plants
Week 2 – July 22-28, 2018
• Aimee Lee (Aimee Lee)
Make Hanji: The World of Korean Papermaking
• Bruce Licher (Independent Project Press)
Philatelic Letterpress: The Art of The Hand-Crafted Stamp
• Steve Pittelkow
Marbling on Paper and Cloth
• Jenna Rodriguez (Jenna Rodriguez)
• Dan Rosenberg (Wells College – Dan Rosenberg)
Writing Beside the Press: A Poetry Workshop
On December 8, 1-3pm and Saturday Dec 9, 1-3pm—Stop by Morgan Hall on Wells Campus in beautiful Aurora-On-Cayuga, NY and print a letterpress Christmas or generic Seasonal Holiday card for Free. (Additional cards can be printed for only $1 a pop!) and/or shop at our pop-up shop for hand printed and blank books, letterpress greeting cards, limited edition posters, signed poetry broadsides, and even the new Wells College Press Coffee Mugs! All are welcome.
The Wells Book Arts Holiday Printing Workshop & Sale is part of the Christmas in Aurora event that runs throughout downtown Aurora on December 9, 2017. For more information on Christmas in Aurora, visit the Facebook Event Page
The latest publication from Wells College Press is a chapbook produced collaboratively by The Wells Book Arts Center and the Advanced Poetry Workshop of Professor Daniel Rosenberg. The official press release tells much of the story, but the introduction written collaboratively by Book Arts Center director Richard Kegler and Professor Rosenberg gives a two-voice narrative on how the book came to be:
This began as a class. We distilled it into a book. I wanted my Advanced Poetry Workshop to get their hands dirty with language, and print their own work. I was interested in how the act of typesetting affects composition. I was interested in that too! How writing a poem changes when you don’t have the endless convenience of digital media. How the process of typesetting is a time of reflection and editing. So we hatched a plot. An apple basket full of 19th century wood engravings had been donated to the Book Arts Center. The artists were unknown. The purpose was unknown. They seemed ripe for ekphrasis: creating new art, in language, in response to these image/objects. Each poet selected a block. Some reacted to the figures depicted, others to the blocks themselves. In either case, they had to respond with materiality, handling and assembling individual words. The book is completely collaborative. We conceived of it together, and the poets revised each other’s initial, digital drafts. Together, they decided on typefaces and a unified layout. They accepted the limitations of space and learned the fundamentals of letterpress composition. When it came time to pick a title for the collection, the group’s choice for the best cover stock delivered the answer: Mohawk 80lb Carnival Persian Blue Vellum. Each poet worked into several nights setting, revising, and printing their poems to meet the deadlines. One evening’s mantra: “Kill us, Dan.” But they didn’t have to print their work in two colors. This book is chaos contained in a unified form. Ultimately, what we present here is a single vision in multiple voices.
Richard Kegler and Dan Rosenberg
The origin of the wood engravings is still unknown, but the poems give them a new life.
This chapbook was created in the spring of 2017 using the
resources of the Wells Book Arts Center. The typefaces
used are Perpetua, designed by Eric Gill and cast at the
Bixler Letterfoundry in 2017, and Obelisk, designed
by Herman Ihlenberg and cast at the Johnson
Type Foundry circa 1881. The illustrations
were printed from wood engravings
from the Father Thomas
Of the 75 copies, this is No.__
Copies of the book can be ordered at the Wells College Press online shop
Wells College is uniquely situated within the greater scope of early women’s rights history. Regionally, the college is in close proximity to Seneca Falls, NY, site to multiple critical events in the US Suffragette Movement (in particular, the first National Women’s Rights Convention held in 1848 as the Seneca Falls Convention). Culturally, the college is of significance as originally being established as an all-women’s college by Henry Wells. The latter fact of significance because despite going co-ed in 2005, the Wells College population remains predominantly female.
Our students are no strangers to the current political climate. As such, it came as no surprise when one of our work aides at the Center, Alissa Bell (junior, Art History major), announced a few days prior to International Women’s Day that she intended to participate in the Women’s March initiated A Day Without Women, and not work her regularly scheduled hours. She also inquired as to whether or not I would be, and that our other work aide may also not be present.
The announcement, made in subtle passing, gave me pause.
As both faculty and studio manager to a small and intimate student-body, I make it a primary goal that all of my students think critically about every action within a greater social, political, cultural, and historic context. In response, I drafted an email stating my awareness of ADWW, expressing my concerns with what was at the heart of their decision to participate, as well as articulating my personal history, conflicts, and why I would be working. The email closed with a request :
…if you do decide to not work, to participate, I beg of you to think critically about what your actions mean, beyond just not working (…) to situate your position within a larger body politic. (…) to think about the visibility and inclusivity of this movement compared to other movements overall. I ask that when you do come to work, or see me later, to be prepared to have a discussion with me (…).
Additionally, as a print studio, you have the option to print materials expressing your political statement during work hours—something (the Center) would support and encourage.
The email resonated with Alissa, who decided to participate and generate a printed piece in response.
Alissa says of her decision:
Originally I had intended to participate in A Day Without Women knowing that it was flawed, hoping it would send a message to the college, hoping that it would help highlight how many women really don’t have the same privileges as I do.
However, it ended up meaning more to her, after unexpectedly having to grapple with this amidst the complexities of a rather difficult situation involving a friend and member of her cohort just days preceding. This situation placed a great deal of additional emotional strain and stress on Alissa (who I will say is a very kind, generous, and empathetic person). After a series of discussions with fellow cohort about her decision participate in ADWW, in conjunction with what she was grappling with on a deeply personal level, she arrived at the following conclusion:
Sometimes the most important, radical, and productive thing that we as activists can do is take a break and take care of ourselves so that we can continue to work and not run ourselves down to the point where we are no longer effective. Self care can indeed be a part of warfare and on Wednesday that’s what I needed.
Alissa later wrote, citing articles from the Feminist Killjoys blog and BitchMedia, as sources for her broadside text, which is a summarization of an Audre Lorde quote, who in her Cancer Journals said:
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
Alissa’s broadside is simple and elegant, but pointed—true to Alissa’s personal print aesthetic.
Utility also being at the crux of all printed action, Alissa was tasked to print enough to distribute throughout campus. An edition of 40, she distributed many to personal friends, but also has left some with the student mental health trial club, HOPE; the WRC,“which is, in fact, not the Women’s Resource Center but the Wonderful Resource Center because they were told it felt alienating [as being] just for women”; and has tacked them up around campus.
While a small campus, the statement resonates with a large part of the student body, but also resonates with all of us during these times of great unrest.
Thank you, Alissa, for reminding us of that.