Printer-Poet, Poet-Printer Session 1: Setting type for Divya Victor’s translations of Catullus 99

Printer, you have decided with the poet to print these translations side by side as blocks. As such, they will push and pull, becoming a dialogue that breaks from a call and response, a dialogue that dares to be transparent or reflective as side by side mirrors or windows. Here, these two voices will sit along the same horizon. Here, these two voices will be equal and will arrive from the same mouth and share the same saliva. They will lend themselves to the mouths of everyone, and it will be along this plane where we will all commit the same act of violence against the text, against these voices as we read them aloud. You see how these blocks of text mirror blocks of type, and you wonder about the influence and if their structure can be translated.

Printer, white is the most difficult ink to print with, but it is not known why. Perhaps you are subconsciously confused into thinking the ink is paper – that something can be applied to it – that ink can surface its own language. Being the printer that you are, you know that your choice will be decided upon as you build the lines, one at a time. Color is mere adornment at this stage – an entertained fantasy; it speaks nothing into the work yet.

You begin by measuring the longest line between both translations. The composing stick is set to 22 pica. From this point on, space will be accounted for, measured, and filled with numerous pieces of type in the form of letters, ems, ens, coppers, and brasses. The consonants will go first, set before the vowels.

Printer, you consider 14 point Goudy Old Style but then decide against it. The 12 point Bodoni you used to print a.rawlings’s poem has been recently planed by another printer who you work with and who has taught you everything you know about operating a C&P press. You reflect on the difficulty of engaging with this type face, the setbacks, the sheer confusion of which pieces would not take or receive the ink or hit against the paper properly. You think about how a piece of type can give and receive. Then, you consider the word properly. If a type face is planed so that all letters meet the same height, is it now proper? Surely, this is now no longer the same type face. Should you give it a new name, separate it from its sibling? Isn’t this how a type face emerges – through manipulation? Perhaps it is still flawed even after having been planed; certainly it has been manipulated again, for a new face dawns upon you. Printer, can you work with a type face that you do not know?

You attempt to set the very first line, but the entire line is affected by the last consonant you set and the end period. Something does not fit – that much is visible and tangible. Now begin the blind attempts to find out which piece of type is too large, or whether there is some unaccounted-for space between letters, or whether you simply measured the line wrong to begin with. You forgot to account for space somewhere. You look for the space and create it. The line is recast; the composing stick is altered.

You reset the line and the pieces fit, but when you go to test the line for lift, it does not hold itself. Something is loose. You have misjudged the space. This unaccounted-for space is small, so small that you did not sense it when you packed the type into the line. You try a bronze spacing between two consonants and it does not fit – all that is left to try is a copper spacing. It fits, but barely and with resistance from the lead that it rubs against. Printer, you know that you should never force space to be where it cannot fit. When you go to test the line for lift the line bows and breaks. A few consonants are momentarily stuck together from all the pressure you had put them under.

Printer, why do you overcompensate for the amount of space between letters? You are inclined to add more space rather than recycle it. Learn to set space with your eye and not your ego.

After you set two lines, you measure to create margins and to determine a gutter.

You struggle with keeping a line of type together as a line in a galley tray. End punctuation falls to one side, and pieces of thin copper spacing that are otherwise invisible within the line fall forward. You fear that the rest of the line will follow. Your own hands get in the way. At one point a period is flicked forward. You stare at your fingers, trying to remember which one felt the piece of type against its skin, but the sensation has all but disappeared. Printer, you are never aware of where your fingers are at all times; they simply get away from you. You struggle to become aware of your own fingers.