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Hangers, Cardboard, and Type: Handmade and Unusual Books from the Poets House Showcase

Every summer, the Poets House Showcase exhibits over 3,000 poetic works from hundreds of different presses of all sizes. Most are conventional poetry books and chapbooks, accompanied by lots of prose works and anthologies, a bit of multimedia, and as many broadsides as we have room to display.

A handful of presses, however, contribute publications that are a little more out of the ordinary: some ephemeral in nature, others handmade in small editions with every detail attended to. Their books and poetic objects boast unusual formats, strange materials, and beautifully crafted bindings and art. Take a peek at some 2018 Poets House Showcase offerings from just a few of the presses whose work expands the bounds of what a poetry book can be.


Cardboard House Press

Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Cardboard House Press is a nonprofit and small press that publishes Latin American and Spanish authors in bilingual Spanish-English editions. CHP’s publications include traditional books of translated poetry, as well as a chapbook series, Drone, but the press also produces more unconventional books through the Cartonera Collective, a series of workshops in which groups of volunteers create books by hand, using repurposed cardboard as covers. This technique, invented in Buenos Aires in 2003 by the group Eloísa Cartonera, has grown into a widespread movement in Latin America that aims to spread literature and literacy by making affordable books from easily accessible materials. The result: handmade, texturally pleasing art objects that catch the eye and beg to be opened.

Hernandez, Raúl; trans. John Burns, Unemployed Poems / Poemas cesantes, 2018.
Santiváñez, Roger; trans. Elsa Costa, Roberts Pool Twilights, 2017.


Archetype Press

Run through the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography at Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design, Archetype Press allows design students access to the college’s impressive collection of letterpress equipment and bookmaking materials. Students learn the art of bookmaking through collaborating on artists’ books created through a variety of techniques, with a focus on typography done the old-fashioned way: setting type letter by letter. The press has been a space for hands-on discovery of bookmaking for almost 30 years, with dozens of artists’ books produced by students along the way.

Archetype’s contributions to the 2018 Showcase included two sleek, handsome chapbook sets by Martha Ronk and Gwen Muren, as well as this beauty, Center Sill, whose stunning visuals make a vibrant home for the poetry they surround.

Albon, George, Center Sill, 2017.


O, Miami Poetry Festival / Jai-Alai Books

Jai-Alai Books, a small press operating under the auspices of the O, Miami Poetry Festival, always seems to have an unexpected poetry project blooming. Its range of books and chapbooks, many of them poetry, focus on Miami culture and doings; recent non-poetry materials include a guide to foraging local plants, a facsimile edition of a beloved Cuban cookbook, and a brightly-colored look at the anointing oils used in some Caribbean and diasporic spiritual practices.

Jai-Alai and O, Miami cook up something new and different every year for the festival, and in 2017, one such project was “Poetry, Please,” a set of door hangers conceived of by Joachim Perez. The hangers feature three Miami poets’ reimaginings of the concepts of “Do Not Disturb” and “Privacy, Please,” designed as evocative replacements for the standard text, which were distributed to O, Miami festival-goers as well as to guests of multiple hotels in Miami Beach.

Duhamel, Denise, “Drowsy As a Zinnia in the Sun,” 2017.
McGrath, Campbell, “Donuts Disturb Me Don’t You,” 2017.
Seaton, Maureen, “Deep (Sleep) Diving Leave Submerged,” 2017.


Ugly Duckling Presse

Known for its decades of publishing experimental work and translation across genres, Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse creates books, chapbooks, artists’ books, and other media, all designed painstakingly with distinctive elements like letterpress printing and high-quality paper. Its all-volunteer editorial board assembles upwards of two dozen publications per year across a range of series; among them are Dossier, which focuses on investigative work, and the long-running Lost Literature, highlighting forgotten and neglected writers.

The Sad Songs of Hell, a playful “translation” of Rimbaud, was written by Brent Cunningham through the use of homophones, cognates, and a poetic intuition Cunningham terms “translation by excessive confidence.” The book offers the reader access to the original text, but through a filter and at a distance, much like translation itself: the minuscule print of Rimbaud’s French on each page can only be deciphered with the help of the ruler-cum-magnifying glass kindly provided with the book.

Cunningham, Brent, The Sad Songs of Hell, 2017.


Artifact Press

No discussion of contemporary artists’ books could omit Artifact Press, run from Richmond, Virginia, by poet and artist Heidi Reszies. Each letterpress book’s design pairs beautifully with its contents, while also tuning into the signature aesthetic that’s marked the press’s offerings since its founding in 2015.

These books are half or less the size of standard chapbooks, making them perfectly sized for palm, purse, or pocket, and the texture of the covers makes for an altogether pleasing sensory experience before you even turn to the first page. All four were produced by hand in limited editions of under 100. Aside from these four, Artifact’s 2017 output also included Rory Ou’s elegant how to make a book, held together with a screw post binding and containing hand-set type laid out with plenty of room for the words to breathe.

Titus, Allison, Topography of Tears, 2017.
Wilkinson, Joshua Marie, The Easements, 2017.
Cruz, Cynthia, Notes on Losing, 2017.
Reszies, Heidi, flowering parts, 2017.


The Center for Book Arts

The Center for Book Arts is not just an essential publisher of letterpress work: it’s also New York’s hub for bookmaking and the book arts as a whole, serving as gallery, programming space, bookbinding and printing classroom, and more. CBA’s annual reading series of 12 poets is the impetus each year for a portfolio of a dozen astonishing letterpress broadsides, one for each reader’s work; last year’s included broadsides by Dawn Lundy Martin, Monica Sok, and Rio Cortez, among others.

On top of these, CBA also generates beautifully made chapbooks and artists’ books. Pictured here is a page from the artist’s book High-Land Sub-Tropic, which features gorgeous linocuts by printing doyenne Barbara Henry and covers made of “h(l)eather,” a heavy-duty imitation leather paper that convinces both the eye and the hand.

Kruge, Kimberly, High-Land Sub-Tropic, 2017.


Headmistress Press

Last but not least, Headmistress Press’s one-of-a-kind trading cards make poetry tactile, fun, and shareable. Based in Washington, the press focuses on books by the LBT community, publishing the annual Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest winner as well as works by a range of lesbian poets. For the past four years, Headmistress has put out an annual set of a dozen Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, featuring portraits, quotes, and bios of a choice poet on each card, much like their equally collectible baseball card cousins. Displayed here are ten of 2017’s cards, including lesbian poets current and past, both in the canon and on their way to it. We hope 2019 holds a fresh deck!

Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Natalie Diaz, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Nickole Brown, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Elizabeth Bishop, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Pat Parker, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Celeste Gainey, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Adrienne Rich, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Kitty Tsui, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, Jenny Factor, 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, H.D., 2017.
Lesbian Poets Trading Cards, Series 3, JP Howard, 2017.

Posted In: In the Stacks