And what about the art and craft of making the publications? I can see from the website you have a liking for fine papers, and an interest in design. So are these skills you have, or that you buy in? A bit of background on that perhaps?
Yes, I have become pretty enthusiastic about all that, and happily this is being encouraged by Roy, who owns the family-run printers down the road (Palace Printers), where our books are printed and bound.
In one way, this focus on quality and reading pleasure seems a fairly safe route in light of online publishing, Kindle, etc. There are some things you can’t (yet) replicate digitally – the robust physicality of a book, for instance, the feel of the page, the intimacy of the small good book you carry with you – your book – the manipulability of the object. Intimacy, personalisation, physical presence – these are emotive factors in the special pleasure of reading books, I think.
For me, it’s also important to give the poetry its proper space, and the versatility of the small press is terrific in this respect. If you want five blank pages between each poem, you can do it. If you want three endpapers instead of one, that’s fine. But the more you get into book-making, the more there is to consider. With the Sister Mary Agnes book, one consideration was about the best paper for reading the poetry and the best paper for Garry Fabian Miller’s ‘camera-less photographs’. The photographs come out nicely on an arty glossy paper, but the poetry is horrible to read off that. The poetry reads perfectly off a subtle textured paper, but the images don’t quite shine. So, after playing a while at the printers with various samples one Saturday, we found a paper with a wonderful feel and look for reading, but still smooth and perfect for holding Garry’s images. A heavier paper (we used 160gm) enhanced the feel further, and I’m really pleased with the way it’s come out.
While on the subject of materiality, we will be developing our own collection of print and image-making facilities. We have just got hold of a silkscreen printer, and at some point we’d like to pick up a letterpress. I’m actually curating a series of short letterpress poetry publications right now, which will be launched next year. I found this beautiful 1928 Thompson letterpress printer in the village and have invited some of my favourite poets to contribute. That’s going to be an exciting series.
But going back to the question – yes, I design the books myself, with input from the writers and artists involved. When everyone’s happy, I’ll take the book down to Roy and we start playing with papers and colours, endpapers, covers, testing prints and tweaking.