Writing with a pen is one thing, writing by piecing together tiny individual bits of lead type is quite another. But in a strange way, it is exactly what I strive for when I create – the meshing together of verbal and non-verbal stimuli with the same juxtaposed outcome.

I did my first letterpress workshop this summer, through the Naropa Summer Writing Program (an experience in itself), with instructor Karen Randall, one awesomely creative letterpress maven. The best part was doing the workshop with my best friend, Kathleen. The worst part was packing our entire house one night to prepare for evacuation from a wildfire above our home in the foothills, and then unpack (thankfully) the next day. But, of course, we kept on printing throughout the whole thing…

First, you write a poem. Then you set the type. Upside down. And backwards. It’s awkward – and it completely separates you from the verbal aspect of writing, which is important, because then you can actually concentrate on the design of the layout.

Typesetting workstation

Mosey on up to the workstation, pull out the font of type that you’d like to work with (Times New Roman, 14 pt, for example), and get to work. I found the process relaxing (except when I was thinking about the fire) and strangely rhythmic. If you look closely, you can see that there is a lot of filler surrounding the type, to get it to sit just right.

The type is set upside down and backwards.

When you’re done, set the type into the bed of the press and lock it in. This is Kathleen locking her form (setting her poem).

Locking in the type

Then you ink the type (trip), set the paper, and run it through.

Finished product

The hands-on form of writing through letterpress is abstract and methodical, allowing you to slow down, focus on the primary elements of your form and words – the result is pure and beautiful to touch, as well as read.

The process of creating through the tremendous stress and anxiety of my home potentially burning down (which it did not) was quite another experience, but somehow strangely related. It took all of my inner resources to stay present in the moment, both for the ability to participate in the class, knowing there was nothing I could do (once our belongings were packed into our cars), and also to allow myself to see beyond the crisis. All I could do was watch and accept and release. Sort of like making art.

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