Poetry on the Page

I’ve just finished a great Continuing Education course , offered through Vic – ‘Poetry on the Page’. It was run by the inspiring and talented Dr Sydney Shep, Senior Lecturer and Printer at Wai-te-ata Press .

For the first lesson, we each set a few lines of poetry (using little metal letters) and printed them on an old manual printing machine – I managed to get my p’s and q’s the wrong way around, not to mention the b’s and d’s.  After that, each of us (all women, as it turned out) worked on our individual projects – typesetting and printing a poem, and designing and making the booklet it was printed in.   And what a creative bunch my classmates were – embossing and engraving, folding and sewing.  Each booklet looked quite different.

One thing I learned along the way was that every part of the process took longer than I thought it would – from picking each individual letter from its case and setting it in a ‘chase’ (& then putting it all back at the end – ‘diss-ing’) to cutting out the printed ‘colophon’ (that says where and when and in what typeface the poem was printed) to stick on the outside cover. But I enjoyed all of it: choosing the paper, setting the poem, inking the letters, watching the printed copy roll off the printer, and folding the finished pages into a booklet. I even enjoyed diss-ing, once I got the hang of where all the letters belonged.

It’s been very interesting participating in the whole process from go (writing the poem) to whoa (seeing it printed). It’s making me think more about line length and layout in poetry. Generally I write to an A4 format in 12 pt Times New Roman. But what if the page could be any size I wanted? How would a poem look in 14 pt Garamond or 10 pt Bodoni? What is the right size, typeface and format for each particular poem? Having I been arranging line breaks according to constraints of  A4 paper, rather than where they ought to be?  Hmmm…

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