Filter is a hand bound journal produced and edited by Jennifer Borges Foster who produced last year’s Roethke Readings for ACT. The books feature screen-printed covers, an accordion-fold erasure booklet made from hand torn Rives Heavyweight paper, hand-torn endpapers, hand-tipped in original art, and a vast array of talented contributors including Mary Jo Bang, Rebecca Brown, Matt Briggs, Kary Wayson, Trisha Ready, Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter, John Olson and many others.
Readers: John Olson, Trisha Ready, John Osebold, Kary Wayson, Deborah Woodard, Corrina Wycoff, Brangien Davis, Erin Malone, Elizabeth Colen, Carol Guess, Brian McGuigan, David Mitsuo Nixon, Kate Lebo, Emily Kendal Frey, Adriana Grant, Tatyana Mishel, Roberta Olson, Bob Redmond
Music: David Mitsuo Nixon, Jose Bold (John Osebold and Kirk Anderson) — all of whom happen to be members of theater/music/art collective “Awesome”.
Original Erasures on display by: Rebecca Brown, Brangien Davis, Ariana Kelly, Jennifer Borges Foster.
This edition of Filter is sewn together by hand using various colors of waxed Irish Linen thread and an exposed spine binding with a modified buttonhole binding technique. End papers are hand torn and come from various sources including Japanese Washi paper, pages from Apgar’s Plant Analysis Adapted to All Botanies (1892) (some of which include the notes, illustrations, and actual flower pressings of a Mr. D.A. Powell made in the Spring of 1904), and color plates from Travelling With The Birds (1933). Judging from the photos and Borges past work it will be a fantastic object.
Borges notes she is interested in reviving handmade books. Her effort seems part of similar efforts at such a revival with have been produced by Grey Spider Press in Sedro Wooley (including Rebecca Brown’s Excerpts From a Family Medical Dictionary), Paul Hunter’s handy, pragmatic, and completely hand produced volumes through Woodworks Press (Seattle), books produced by Clare Carpenter at Tiger Food Press (Portland), and the now defunct (er rather “just sleeping”) Spork Press published a hand bound volume and even produced the handbound novel Tropic/of/Cubicle.
These efforts are back breaking. I love the physical objects they produce. When I have a work inside of such an object, it feels encased, enclosed, and held in something that is meant to last. But, as a reader I rarely seek out such things. I bought a copy of Rebecca Brown’s book in the letterpress edition, and it was an awkward reading experience because I didn’t need any kind of reading mishap — spilled coffee, dog eared page, broken spine. I am careful reader. But I like to read my books and it is hard to read a book that took longer to make than it takes to read it. (Somehow I’m comfortable with the idea that it takes a long time to write a book, but the production of such a labor intensive product seems to separate the book as a object from the text it contains.)
The producers of these objects often come out the other end looking beat up. The makers of Excerpt for a Family Medical Dictionary seemed at loss to explain the amount of time it took to produce the book during a presentation after the fact. No one can pay for this work. This is work that is clearly work in the finished object. These finished objects show the labor that went into them. Writing tends to hide the labor that went into it. Most good writing I think seems organic and off the cuff even if it is not. But, handmade wears “handmade” on its sleeve. To hold a handmade object is to hold nights a person didn’t sleep very well. The world has moved beyond the John Henry’s of printing: books on demand for instance are precise, glossy, and uniform to a fault. But, these are also their strengths. It costs for instance ten bucks to get a copy of a bound book from Lulu.com. How much does it cost to procure handmade paper, set type, and print, and learn the art of producing a book? This labor is competing with the pressing of a button. Press a button and a book on demand is requested and generated. Enter into a handmade book project, and a month your life, months of your life, are laid into handmade paper.
The futility of it, the pure waste and excess of it, adds I think to the overall allure and madness of the handmade book.
I reviewed Tiffany Lee Brown’s book. I was sent a postage paid envelope and asked to return the book, which I did. What is a review of a book compared to the labor that produced it? I could easily have just read Brown’s text via email and written about that. But, it was important to see the book in the context of the object that held it. This is the difference then, I think between the handmade book and the book on demand. As a writer I’m very practical about it. I want my words to be held in a book, but I don’t really care too deeply about where they are held. If ebooks are the most accessible format, than so be it. Get rid of the physical book. That’s fine.
But at the same time my books occupy space in my house. and I like having well made books. I like holding them more than reading them. I have a linotype produced anthology of the first fifty years of the best American short stories. I love the book itself more than the musty old stories in it. I have a bond volume of charts and tables assessing particulate matter in Washington State Rivers. It is a pretty book.
But, these things take time to make.
Spork posted this note that explains the toll this kind of work can take:
“Seven years we functioned, unfunded, unsupported. Seat of our pantsing it and it was hard and we hated it and we loved it and we hated each other and loved each other and always disagreed and for the most part left each other the hell alone, in our spheres, and knew that though we did not agree with each other’s choices, that did not mean that those decisions were without value or merit. We liked the way things worked. Things worked well. And we don’t like not doing it. Our unfunded and unsupported position was, of course, untenable.”
Work is work and at least with the handmade object this work remains in something tangible.