Letterpressing in the great Midwest

victorian house, rural nebraska, june 2010

I’m in rural Nebraska doing a writing residency. It’s stunning, with huge rolling fields that go on longer than my eyes can make sense of, hot, hot winds and an even hotter sun, barns filled with art and artists, late night bonfires and more lightening bugs than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s truly extraordinary.

printing sign, nebraska, letterpressing

I’ve made my writing home in the back of a barn, surrounded by salvaged paper and coffee tins full of nails and screws and bolts and things I don’t know the names of…

font, nebraska, case of type

And when I’m not writing, or at the swimming hole up the road, I’m playing with the 100 year old letterpress! There are nine printing presses here and the 240 fonts all in little perfect drawers (called ‘cases’).

letterpressing, nebraska, font, type
...except I forgot the "n" in "sounds"...oops!

Not only am I falling in love with the metal type and the thick gooey ink, letterpress terminology is amazing: you fill a ‘composing stick’ with each letter, ‘the quoin key’ locks the type in place (called, ‘locking up the chase’) and the ‘furniture’ fills in the space around the text.

letter pressing, nebraska, ready to print

After inking up the press, I printed my first sheet – only to discover I had forgotten the “n” in sounds. Oops. So back to the drawing board for me. With the “n” firmly in place, I started playing with papers of different weights.

It certainly is a labour intensive process and totally changes how I feel about words. It’s so easy to toss words around now, it just takes a finger against a key, really, but back in the day, each letter had to be chosen, then placed, stringing words together so painstakingly.

letter pressing, nebraksa, poem

I dream in fonts now and have a notebook full of ideas to play around with…more soon…

ps: truth be told, the rain doesn’t sound so much like clapping ‘round here as it does like the apocalypse…

pps: check out my guest blog post about Nebraskan letterpressing at the Paper Place…

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