Archive for the ‘Ninja Press’ Category

Metaphor Taking Shape: Exhibition Checklist

March 31, 2008

An approximate checklist for the exhibitions Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book and The Publisher’s Roundtable: Book Artists in Dialogue has been posted on this site: Exhibitions. A PDF file of the checklist is also available: Checklist (PDF). This checklist does not reflect all additions and subtractions made during installation.

The exhibitions Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book and The Publisher’s Roundtable: Book Artists in Dialogue consider the ways poetry and book arts interact, their intersections and connections, their shared context and their potentially conflicting functions. Though many poets and book artists uphold the book as an almost sacred cultural object, their approaches and their interpretations of the term and concept “book” may differ vastly. The books in Metaphor Taking Shape and The Publisher’s Roundtable demonstrate some of the variety of ways poets, artists, and publishers have explored the book, its intimacy, portability, and physicality, and the ways they have asserted its position as a multifaceted historical and contemporary method of communication, as well as its signification as an evolving cultural object. The works in the exhibitions consider, too, the book’s history and potential as a verbal and visual work of art, the possibilities the format represents for uniting poetry and the visual arts. Both exhibitions explore questions of textuality, verbal and visual metaphor making, tensions between language and image, and the physicality of texts and books.

In part, Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book is arranged chronologically, showing some of the many ways poetry and art have been united in books since the turn of the last century. The exhibition also draws attention to important themes that have influenced poets, book artist, and publishers over time. The Publisher’s Roundtable: Book Artists in Dialogue features the work of six contemporary small presses that have worked variously with poetry and the visual arts, combing the two art forms in both traditional and innovative ways. The exhibition includes mission statements from each press, describing their goals, challenges, and accomplishments.

Both exhibitions highlight poetry and artists’ books from the Yale Collection of American Literature and the Arts of the Book Collection and draw from the Modern Books and Manuscripts Collection at Beinecke Library and the Yale University Art Gallery, showing the depth and richness of Yale University’s collections in this area. Including both celebrated works by influential publishers, artists, and writers and less well known examples made by individuals and groups that have not yet been well studied, the exhibitions do not attempt to represent a comprehensive view of poetry, art, and the book. Instead, the companion exhibitions present and celebrate the variety and vitality, the traditions and trends, the history and the potential futures of the vast and growing body of work uniting art and poetry in book works.

Nancy Kuhl ( and Jae Jennifer Rossman (, Exhibition Curators

Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book and The Publisher’s Roundtable: Book Artists in Dialogue. Companion exhibitions on view at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Arts of the Book Collection at Sterling Memorial Library, January-March 2008



March 19, 2008

Many thanks to our conference speakers for their smart, thought provoking, and inspiring presentations and discussions; thanks, too, to all conference attendees for making Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book a big success.

In support of ongoing conversation, a PDF list of Conference Registrants is now available. The text of the Publishers’ Roundtable preliminary conversation is linked here: Publishers’ Roundtable Blog Text. Information about the exhibition Metaphor Taking Shape is available here: Exhibition Highlights.

Part 2

March 11, 2008

The Publishers’ Roundtable conversation will continue in person on Friday at the conference Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book. Conference registrants are encouraged to download the complete blog text as a PDF in advance of the event:  Publishers’ Roundtable blog text (PDF).

Why do you Publish Poetry and Art Books?

March 11, 2008

Q: What is the primary motivation for your poetry-art presswork? In other words, why do you publish poetry and art books?

Carolee Campbell, Ninja Press: The primary motivation for my poetry/art presswork is purely investigative. Working simultaneously on all parts of the book is what excites and challenges me. The evocation of the poetry and its emerging physical manifestation is the magic—the magic of turning ones original idea into a compelling, artistic, seemless whole that, in turn, opens up an intimate dialogue between the artist and the viewer/reader—that’s the expedition I’m on.

Macy Chadwick, In Cahoots Press: My main motivation is to produce artist’s books as an art form. For me, books are my canvas.

C. Mikal Oness of Sutton Hoo Press: The easy part of this question is the ‘why do you publish poetry and art books” part: poetry and art are just better than anything else. Poetry is literally the most important thing in the world. All the world’s problems are answered by it: “men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there . . . .” etc. What is more difficult to talk about–and maybe it is because I’m most interested in the problem–is the primary motivation for making books at all in the way I do—letterpress. The one word answer that keeps coming into my mind as I’ve been turning this question over in my head for the last few years is: sustainability. I still don’t know how to fully make sense of this idea, because when I think of all the obvious ways I can interpret this notion, none of them are completely accurate in and of themselves or even taken together: spiritual food, money to pay bills, verve for art and life, control. For me so much is about process, and I like the reader to have a sense of the process of the making of the book when they use it; I like having it revealed in the binding for example, however subtly. But how does process jive with the notion of sustainability? I keep hearing in my head a small, off the cuff remark that Kim Merker said one day as we were having a coffee break in the press at Iowa. He said, “I like the letterpress because I can stop the machine at any time, walk away and come back to it.” I can stop at any time, I can stop at any time, I can stop at any time. Somehow that notion is at the root of my idea of sustainability, and maybe our conversation in March will help me come closer to understanding why and how. Yes, I grow my own food, I raise my own meat animals. I build soil. I grow grass. I remodel my own houses with materials I recycle, and I can stop at any time; I can invent a new solution; I can make shit up as I go along, and make sense of it and be surprised by it and be enlightened by it, and . . . .

Simon Cutts, Coracle Press: I’ve forgotten, but it just keeps going on. A kind of perversity, seeing how badly things can be done, and getting to know how simply they can be done. A kind of perversity, to deny conventional economic structures, to be in charge of the means of production, to just want to make something, with materials, as an objective correlative to ideas. Then to realize that certain things have to be done, or else they will disappear.

The Artful Side of Things

March 8, 2008

Response from Macy Chadwick, In Cahoots Press

In response, some consider artist’s books an art form, as I do, others don’t. On the artful side of things, here is a quote from sculptor John Chamberlain: “Artfulness has to do with taking a common thing and making an uncommon item…it’s the difference between making a product, copying something you happen to like, and going into an idea deeply and using very common material to bring out a knowledge that has not yet been revealed…this is the high tradition of what art is about, or what I feel it is about.”

Production, Distribution, Content

March 7, 2008

Response from Simon Cutts, Coracle Press 

Dick Higgins of Something Else Press used to say that he matched the time he spent editing, organising and producing a book to the time he spent in distribution and getting it out into the world : nine months production therefore nine months distribution.Dick learned from the formal plain-ness of trade printers and binders to make some of the finest books we have seen. Of course, this marriage between production and distribution cannot be extracated from its content.

A similar artisanal approach and understanding informs Jargon Books in their heyday. They didn’t necessarily have to do much of it themselves, although in the case of Coracle, as Erica keeps reminding me, we have more time than money and so end up doing quite a lot of it at home! Those kind of tradesmen, the printers and binders,  provide the idiomatic structures and strictures that we can break out of, again, without necessarily doing it ourselves, except editorially.

I don’t think we should go down the cul de sac of ‘book artists’, nor get bogged-down in the divisibility of parts of the field, editing,production (paying bills?)!,distribution.  Unless we each attempt to find a methodology for our activity different from ‘book art’, it will be doomed to a branch-line of the visual arts (like moving from ‘artists books’ to ‘conceptual performance’?) and also therby become the province of galleries and specialist dealers, and with the usual perjorative thrust towards expense and rareity, when in fact the qualities we really want are simple form, plain-ness, imperceptible editing, and hopeful availability.

“The Platform of Publishing”

March 2, 2008

Response from Simon Cutts, Coracle Press

It all sounds a bit like musical chairs to me! Why does the manipulation have to be based so much in craft process of printing done by yourself? There are great printers in the world, and you can order your book from them, once you’ve learned how to talk to them. That’s the technical skill.

I can understand the vows of letterpress fetishism – its very seductive physicality and materiality, makes you feel harmonized with the world and all that, but where does it leave publishing?

I think we might get too quasi-mystical with all this, in danger of the wrong kind of seriousness, of taking ourselves that way,(‘unimpeded intuition‘?, or even ‘unimpeded listening’ for that matter: when did you last have that!), too utopian for discussion, and who are we to say that printing books is an act of art-making? It’s a by-product of the publication. If you were trying to introduce books and bookmaking to an art school, instead of the fine-art printmaking course, then you might have to argue for that, but I don’t think that’s what our discussion is about.

That’s also the problem with the whole artist’s books field in a way, it’s more interested in the individual artist’s book than the platform of publishing, and thereby I think unfortunately less interested in the text than in some more fruity ‘creativity’.

“Unimpeded Intuition”

February 29, 2008

Comments from Carolee Campbell, Ninja Press

I want to reiterate the emphasis on the investigative aspect of making books as art. Given that one brings a high level of technical skill to the process, as any musician or dancer would, the thrill of exploration is at the heart of the work. If “poetry is the discovery of a sound which arises out of unimpeded listening” (Nathaniel Tarn) then, taking that sound, giving it a three dimensional tactility using unimpeded intuition, becomes the process. For me, the process is as important as the product. I’ll introduce the product into the marketplace later. That is why I wrestled with some of the original questions put to us.

Response from Macy Chadwick, In Cahoots Press

I whole heartedly agree with Carolee that the process is where the magic is. Never am I more inspired or engaged as when I am creating a book at the press. Where are these images taking me? What is this concept really about and how can I find the words to communicate this message both to me and to the viewer? It is this process, this struggle sometimes, that truly makes printing artist’s books an act of art making.

“An Investigative Process”

February 28, 2008

Remarks from Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press

Q: What is your sense of your press’s readership? Who is your intended reader? How do your readers figure in your understanding of the total “meaning” of any individual book you’ve published? What role does your sense of your readers play in your publishing decisions (selecting texts, images, publishing model, etc)?

CC: Making and publishing books is strictly an investigative process for me, investigating and stretching my own technical, creative, and intellectual boundaries. I neither consider the readership in my selection of projects nor the resulting book forms.

Q: Does poetry provide particular opportunities /challenges for interaction with artwork that might not be available if you were working with prose? How do you approach poetic projects differently? Does the poetic line function differently in the context of an image-rich book than the prose line or sentence?

CC: Poetry is a distillation of word and imagery not found in prose, a boiling down, the alchemical gold lump that remains behind. It holds me in its thrall throughout the process of the design and distillation process, not to mention the long nuts-and-bolts process of setting type, proofing, printing, and binding.

I don’t approach poetic projects differently. I always approach them in the same way—investigatively—its a digestive process—through the metaphorical gut. First, I begin to set some type to see what it might look like. Simultaneously, I begin working on models for the structure of the book. I try materials I know well and investigate risky new ones. I investigate techniques for building the book structure that will reflect my response to the poetry it holds. As my experience of the word deepens, each successive book model will mirror that shift to the limits of my technical skills.

Publishers Respond: Choosing a Publishing Model

February 17, 2008

How does your choice of publishing model (livre d’artiste / luxury edition model, handcraft / fine press model, low-cost / higher distribution model, etc.) shape the meaning of the book works your press produces? How does the printing or binding method affect the reader’s understanding of (as well as experience of) a text? What is the relationship of the process and the product?

Simon Cutts, Coracle Press
It’s less a question of model, than of idiom. Even the illustrated poetry book is an idiomatic object, owing much to the nineteenth century and one which is occasionally useful. But there should be no separable parts of text and image, but just an attempt to find a synthesis that precludes and overrides their separateness. It’s a question of finding the simplest approach within an understanding of the gestalt.

Carlolee Campbell, Ninja Press
I’d like to say, at the outset, that I work essentially alone. I design the books, set them in type by hand, print letterpress on a Vandercook Universal I on dampened handmade paper (in the main), and then bind the entire edition with some assistance in the bindery. Edition sizes hover around 100. This background should put my responses to the questions on a better footing. I don’t choose a publishing model. The publishing model is arrived at through the digestion of the text. It all starts with the text. The design is text-driven—when there is text. The effect that the printing and binding has on the readers understanding of a text cant be known. There isnt a common understanding, especially in poetry. The books I make present and represent my understanding, my experience of the text. What the reader brings to the book? One can only guess. The relationship of process and product is only everything.

C. Mikal Oness, Sutton Hoo Press
I make fine press books because I’m interested in publishing verbal text in concert with visual text. Most of my decisions about design are based on what I might think is interesting at the time about how meaning is made, not so much about what meaning is made. The latter always leads to contrivance. I suppose I can also say that one thing that is always on my mind when I’m making decisions like this is that my mode of production—the very labor and time intensive act of printing by hand—is something I like to push on, to taunt, as if to say, “Yes, this is a persnickety detail that many readers may not notice, and to do that for 200 copies is a little over the top, but I’m going to do it anyway to be sure the experience of this book is complete according to my vision for it.” The process, then, is the product.