This spring's Advanced Poetry Writing course was treated to a unique experience in publishing this semester: work produced during the semester was set in metal type at the Book Arts Center, printed on antique Vandercook presses, and hand-bound to create an exclusive edition of 75 chapbooks. Assistant Professor of English Dan Rosenberg created the opportunity through a partnership with the Wells Book Arts Center Director Richard Kegler.
"Part of how we pitched it is that we would have the students respond to pieces of art that are in the Center's collection," explained Professor Rosenberg. "We emphasized the process in terms of revision and composition on the press, and the class was really into the idea. Rich brought out 19th century wood engravings, each student picked one, and they wrote a poem in response to their chosen block."
For the eight students participating, the project offered a different type of writing experience from other poetry courses, as students adapted their written work to the format of the chapbook and the particularities of letterpress printing methods.
"Given the amount of work that had to go into each page, we wanted each student to focus on making their poem as good as they could make it before bringing it to the Book Arts Center," Rosenberg said. "We revised several times in workshops, and once they were far enough along we started to work with the metal type. As Rich and I had hoped, almost every student started to change their poem. When you're holding not only every letter and every comma, but every individual space, it changes how you see the poem. And it really dramatically improved their work."
"Having a limit on the number and length of our poem's lines made us think more critically and be better editors," said Savannah May Sprague '17 (English: Creative Writing). "While selecting the singular letter for each word, I noticed unnecessary words. I plucked them out and was left with strings of words that tasted good on the tongue."
At the end of the process, a special release party celebrated the students' work — both in composing the poems and creating the books. Copies of the completed chapbook, which the students decided to name Persian Blue Carnival after the paper they used for the covers, were available for sale, alongside examples of the process and the wood blocks that had inspired it. "We had parents and members of the wider community come, and it was a moment of intense pride for the students and for me," said Rosenberg.
Will this opportunity become a regular feature of the advanced poetry course? "It's something that we're interested in doing again. [Richard and I] are tired right now, but we agreed that in a year and a half we'll be ready to do it again."
"One of the students, when asked what her most formative experience was as an undergrad, listed this class, and this experience in particular, which was really gratifying. It's so uniquely Wells – not just the facilities and the student involvement, but the autonomy to collaborate and do what we felt was right with this project. And the books look beautiful."
Persian Blue Carnival can be ordered online at https://squareup.com/store/wells-college-press/item/persian-blue-carnival.
Congratulations and great work to the students involved: Jane Fillion '18 (English: Creative Writing/Political Science), Luna '18 (Visual Arts: Studio Art), Emily Marshman '18 (English: Literature), Afton Noha '18 (English: Creative Writing), Katelin Pierce '17 (Psychology), Macy Grace Smolsky '17 (English: Creative Writing/Theatre & Dance), Savannah May Sprague, and Andrew Zellers '17 (English: Creative Writing)!