Printer-Poet, Poet-Printer Session II: The third translation – setting type (Divya Victor’s translations of Catullus 99) VULNING

Printer, you are sensing through the tactility of setting type that the name for this action is a sobriquet for it being another form of translation. Something awakens this realization during your encounter with VULNING. What calls your attention to each tiny piece of manipulated lead to see it first in its origins as type and then as letter before it becomes word? Which root in this object’s history holds more weight and with such weight has been silently demanding to be seen through other printers’ hands and eventual readers’ eyes? Printer, now you sense the eye and hand are translating together. The eye is the vowel and the hand, the consonant. Both encounter weight.

Printer, you fear what your body takes for granted. In the hereness of setting type for VULNING, your eye is heightened to the fact that your hand has been fingering more m’s in this translation. But what is doing the seeing here – the eye or the hand?

[It is a cold day in the print shop. You have a heater at your feet as you stand in one place before a case of type, slowly setting line after line. The work is slow because your fingers grow cold and are made colder with lead building up on them. The work is slow because you lean on the slowness to look each piece of type in the face with both the eye and hand (or hand as eye) to see if you have the right letter, to feel if you have the right letter. Printer if you slow the milliseconds it takes you to decide on the whether to set the piece of type you are holding or to toss it back into the case (or into the hell box if it is too grossly manipulated), you will see how you have come to trust and distrust this type face because you have come to an understanding with it.]

In these milliseconds, you might learn that your eye-hand or hand-eye can see the sharpness of a piece of type’s serifs and how much light the v-cut reflects that leads down into the trench of an arm or stem. Printer you are learning the play of light and shadow on a piece of type that will reveal the sharpness of its parts, that will reveal the piece’s ability to take ink, that will reveal if the piece has been weakened by the fibrous wood of paper from having been forced to engage in smash printing. Do not forget that your eye sees these things now, Printer. The work is slow because you feel the full solitude of working in your craft and it humbles you and makes you long for contact.

And no matter what words the type will become, you realize how estranged you feel from them – and yet the contact is there –  and so you make a choice to revel in that estrangement.

Listening through the skin of fingertips layered with lead, you unknowingly delight in running the very tip of your index finger over the pair of lobes that lead down to thin obliques on opposite sides of the m’s and then culminate into a thick stem or main stroke in the middle. But printer, if you are honest with your hand, you will admit that you feel the printed word first as letters and truly for each letter’s parts.

So it is the labial lobes or bowls that your fingertip’s tip listens for and counts the m’s that you set in this way.

[It is difficult to set type for hours at a time in one position.]

But the vowels are weighty to the eye. Printer, you pretend the eye into the mouth for a moment: all vowels hold weight because of where they are placed despite whether they are grouped side by side or caught between consonants. What you are most fascinated by is how you have been going along with feeling such relief when you come across groups of vowels to set type for, as if by being a group, as if by having been placed next to or between several something elses gives the impression of being a word in your mind’s eye and so, in your imagination.

And for a moment, a word takes no heed of the letters that form it; for a moment, a word is a mere shadowy feeling that can elicit relief of knowing something greater than what it can be – than what it is going to become.

Printer you feel the weight of what printing, of what setting type for a letterpress, does to illuminate our strange and perhaps estranged relationships with words.