Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

SIDELINES: POET CHRIS BANKS ON BECOMING A FLEDGLING PRINTER

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SIDELINES: POET CHRIS BANKS ON BECOMING A FLEDGLING PRINTER

Writing poetry is a labour of love, and sometimes that love finds expression beyond the act of writing. Many poets are naturally attracted to small press and micro press activities. They make chapbooks and pamphlets. They seek out alternative methods of distribution. Some of them, like award-winning poet Chris Banks, take it to a higher level. The decision to purchase and operate a printing press can be a major commitment and a lot of work, as Chris has found out. It can also be rewarding and a whole lot of fun. This spring, Chris will be printing a broadside of one of my poems, and I’m eagerly awaiting the result. I recently asked Chris about the steps he took to get his River Rock Press imprint off the ground.

PAUL VERMEERSCH: Tell us what kind of works you are going to be printing and publishing through your new press?

CHRIS BANKS: I guess I had been thinking about starting a small private press that printed limited editions of poetry broadsides by Canadian poets for a long while. I am a huge fan of letterpress broadsides but it seems to be a dying art here in Canada. It was only last year that I decided to jump into it after I bought a small 6x10 hand-operated Kelsey Excelsior tabletop letterpress. I printed two small broadsides last summer. One based on a poem by my wife Teresa Dunat-Banks and one based on a poem I wrote. Over the next few weeks, I will be printing broadsides of poems by Adam Getty, Carleton Wilson and, of course, you Paul, in limited editions of 50 copies.

PV: For the layperson, can you define some the things we're talking about: letterpress, broadsides?

CB: Letterpress simply means the process and equipment used to print text from type. As for a broadside, a broadside is any sheet of paper printed on one side, or both sides and folded. I’m not sure if what I’m doing fits the traditional definition of letterpress since I’m printing digital type on photopolymer plates. I use a boxcar base which is a type-high piece of aluminum that locks up in the chase, or frame that usually holds the type, and the photopolymer plate then sticks to this base. I like photopolymer plates because they ink well and you are not restricted to what fonts or sizes of metal type you possess. To be honest, metal type needs a lot of storage which I do not have either. Photopolymer plates are cost-effective and eliminate the necessity of hand-setting. As for the rest of the printing process, it is strictly traditional methods.

PV: Are there other Canadian makers of broadsides that you admire or wish to emulate?

Oh, I’m still very much a tyro, a basement printer, but what little printing I have done has given me a new appreciation for those publishers in Canada who are still printing books and broadsides using traditional methods. People like Andrew Steeves and Jason Denowitz. I’m not sure if what I’m doing is comparable to the work of those who make their living as printers but is it real? Definitely. I like real.

PV: Tell us more about the press you bought. What exactly is a Kelsey Excelsior?

CB:The Kelsey Excelsior is a hand-operated flatbed cylinder press. The Kelsey is not the first press I would have preferred, for it has a well deserved reputation for being temperamental, but it was the only press I could afford. Sometimes I can get 50 nice copies of a poem within a couple of hours that print beautifully, but more often there is a lot of problem-solving and tinkering going on. This process can take a very long time before you can get to printing something that looks presentable. The Kelsey Excelsior is an old iron workhorse so it requires a lot of patience.

PV: Do you have any long term plans for River Rock Press, or are you just taking things one project at a time?

No, not really. My first love is still writing poems so that will continue to be my main thrust. However, the plan for my small private press is to keep publishing small runs of broadsides by those poets I admire. I’m also talking to Gaspereau Press about printing a private chapbook of my poems in a limited run of 100 copies under my River Rock Press banner.

Chris Banks is the author of The Cold Panes of Surfaces and Bonfires, winner of the Canadian Authors Association Jack Chalmers Poetry Award. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario, and often writes about his printing adventures, among other things, on his blog Table Music.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page