PrintingLines perfectly straight, each letter tight to the next, another letter or a space an em or an en. The words enter through my fingertips, run up the right arm into the brain, spelling themselves in lead. The handmade paper thick, a cracker for a love song, embedded in it, delicious, fragrant. I can feel it with my teeth.
The rhythm of the press, unrelentingly familiar to me; I know every lovely cast-iron curve, smooth to the touch and cold.
Garamond, Bell, Van Dyck, Perpetua, Bembo, Centaur, beautiful in its serifs, a C that breaks your heart.
Mozart on the radio. I sit before the case, the lay of it as familiar as the piano keys. My right hand grazes over the boxes, choosing one, then another, as graceful as an arabesque.
There’s a 15-pica line in 12-point Bell, 14-point line spacing. One line extends vertically to the next. The lines are made tight with coppers and brasses.
I lift the lines of type from the stick, two or three at a time, and lay them on the composing stone. The chase lies there, ready with furniture placed to accommodate the poem.
The quoins, one at the head, one at the right of the chase. I tighten them against the furniture. Gently lift the chase to test the firmness of the lockup. No type must escape, a word would be lost or part of a word. poet could become pot or pet.
The chase rests on the stone. I ink the press. The ink in the can shines succulently; it is delicious, shining black. I spread some on the plate with my palette knife.
The press runs, hums, a small ching of metal. The rollers move up and back and down and up and down, spreading the ink in a glistening sheen. Soft, I want to lie down in it. It’s perfume fills the room, varnish, soot.
I add rubine red to enhance the black and sometimes a touch of blue, never apparent to the reader who doesn’t know that his or her reading is made richer by the ink.
I can hear when the ink is right, a slight hiss of attachment.
The press stops. The chase is locked in, the press starts up, the rollers ink the type. I feed the paper onto the platen, press the lever. The kiss. The poem.
Marie C. Dern began Jungle Garden Press in Berkeley, California in 1974. The books from the press are almost always letterpress printed and bound by hand. They are often poetry and sometimes short stories and every now and then one-of-a-kind.. She has collaborated over the years with writers and painters and most often with Carl Dern. The press is in Fairfax, California. www.junglegardenpress.com