Printer-Poet, Poet-Printer Session III: a fourth and final translation – on inkage (Divya Victor’s translations of Catullus 99) VULNING

Printer-Poet, Poet-Printer Session III: a fourth and final translation – on inkage (Divya Victor’s translations of Catullus 99) VULNING

“Ink shrinks space down to the letter. You will print the earth in its split attention. You will print the sky in its diffuse impossibility. The work imposes its choice on us. Can [the printer] claim [her] daring if the choice is bold?”
                                                                                    -- Edmond Jabés

Printer, you work with what the eye sees when an object is held at a horizontal level. If what your eye sees is a pulled proof of a work that is not off center or having uneven margins, your desire to follow the impulse to readjust the type in the chase is not necessary. But printer – you also work with what the eye should not see as well. A reader of the work you print should not see or notice the type face you have used; the attention of the eye must fall elsewhere. Type faces are to be readable and understandable, hence – invisible. Many a contemporary type face serves to dazzle the eye – to distract it away from the language and the meaning embedded within the text and to pull it toward the design of the face.

But what of the history of the face? And what of the choice made for each letter under this face? How do you represent a type face that is designed not to be seen? Perhaps this is spoken through the inking on the page, and with that, how each piece of type can take the inking. Let the invisibility of such type face be made visible here as you speak the process of working to ink pieces of Bodoni type from a worn set. Printer, you work within doubled invisibility.

Printer, you are reminded to think backward when considering color choices for ink. For this project, you are going to print on black stock, so your ink must be one or two shades lighter rather than darker. The colors shake hands with the paper quickly. You imagine a silvery-toned lavender with reddish-brown accents for the left-hand side of the broadside where CONSONANCE will be printed, followed by an equally silvery-toned mauve with firehouse red mixed in for VULNING, which will be printed on the opposite or right-hand side. Your imaginings mix the colors on the glass plate, but printer, you underestimate the virile nature of silver; you cannot seem to bring enough red into the mixture – the silver gives way at first and then overcomes one of the most powerful primary colors we are familiar with.  Mixture of two colors that oppose each other is a long undertaking.

Once mixed, a pull down is made on remaining bits of black stock that were cut away from the original sheets. Printer you cannot believe your own eyes. When you look at the ink on the stock straight on, you see a reddish-silvery tinged color, but when you off center your gaze, the ink reveals its ghostly underbelly of silver as if it was always at the surface. A near daguerreotype, the ink becomes a holographic expression of an unvoiced history of the type or perhaps of the very nature of the language of the piece itself.

After the ink is smeared onto the slowly rotating disc of the press, you watch as the rollers take the ink, and you wonder how it will ever be enough or rather, how the ink could possibly be distributed so that a velvety sheen will emerge over the whole of the disc. When you can hear the ink hissing, you know it is ready. A silvery dusty rose. Now you are being reintroduced to the ink; you see that it is coming into being its color as you could not have known before as it spreads across the disc perfectly, no flecks of metal showing through. The ink is silent and listening. Breathing. Could it be that the ink is coming to you as it comes into itself? You will come to know it again and differently as it passes kisses of varying gravity onto each piece of type and then from the type onto each piece of black paper.

Pema Chodron says that when catastrophe is thrown into question, the smallest of things can bear the root of what a problem can be. Printer, the holographic nature of the inking on the broadside that you happily discovered when you cocked your head to one side was originally perceived as a problem when you couldn’t figure out why certain pieces of type, certain letters were not taking the ink. Engaging in the act of printing highlights those smaller problems – the ones that generally escape your sight because you’re too focused on what you feel to be the larger, more catastrophic ones. You initially predicted or prepared yourself for what you thought might be the most catastrophic problem – the measuring of the dimensions of VULNING to match the horizontal alignment of the previously printed CONSONANCE.

Printer, your greater challenge was in understanding why certain letters or parts of letters would not take the ink. You questioned the quality of strokes and bowls under a magnifying glass. Continual adjustments made to packing, to replacing potentially damaged letters with new ones, to relocking the type into place with new furniture, to holding the chase against the stone manually – some of these adjustments made with hopeful precision and some made by guesswork, eventually lead you to a printing of work that is made by sufficiently inked type, type that stakes its roots in failed attempts and pure mystery. But who can say what approach, what adjustment led to the final printed piece that you now have. Printer, at the moment that you realize your work has resulted in a final printed piece that you are both satisfied with and marvel over a little, you also wonder about the unrecorded attempts that have led you here. What an unnecessary and wild history that would make if it could be recorded without taking away from the level of engagement in the act of printing.

No matter how close you have listened to the printing of this work, what is before you is a shadow imprinted upon a page; it will not speak its brief history to you. One such imagining might lead you back to a point when you replace an “r” with another one that seemed at the time to be higher than the period that followed it. And then, another imagining playing out … when you cut a piece of tape to fit the back of the “c” (Do you remember that “c,” printer?) – a piece of tape so small and invisible, you had to use a pocketknife to cut it and the inside of one of your fingernails to scoop it up – how this one possible material might just serve as the adequate amount of packing to lift a troublesome letter up a hair. Suddenly, you DO remember that “c” printer; it was the one from the poet’s last name. This is why you would not give up on finding a solution to why that dreaded “c” wouldn’t ink. Since we are in an imagining here printer, recall how you felt during your last session when you grew quiet enough with the work to begin seeing and searching for the crispness of each and every letter you set as you set it into the composing stick. You grew so quiet that when you did come across a letter that you had set in the stick that was actually flawed or nicked upon closer examination, you questioned how you missed this flaw, you questioned if you had seen this flaw as something else when you first decided to select the letter and set it (that perhaps it wasn’t a flaw at all at the time), you questioned the history of this letter up to the point of when it was flawed, and then you went on further to question the history of the flaw or the flawing itself. All of this in a flash glance in a slow dance of trance and being entranced with the work. Printer, since we are still in this imagining, recall also your smiling during the moment when your eye told you the difference between the “n” and “u” – how the arm is more condensed on the “n,” or how the “a” (when setting this letter as a piece of type) appears to be less elongated than an “f” in the Bodoni. Still, “p, b, d, and q” continue to confuse or trick your eye. Here, in the act of printing, and only during the act, you are learning to read the language of letters (for example, how the coupling of vowels speaks volumes) of a particular type face, of a flaw.

Awakening from imaginings printer, you realized that you have finally printed a copy that is aligned – at least, to the eye. (And in printing, you always remember to ask yourself what the eye sees.) If it sees alignment in the moment that it is presented with some printed piece, you go with that positioning and ask no further questions and adjust no more. You are satisfied without needing to know how the universe has intervened.

And then suddenly it is before you (in your hands, yet somehow before you, too), a printed object of raw beauty, but also a living document with an unrecordable history of extreme care, dedication, failure, and humblings that only you carry printer, if nothing else and certainly no one else, not the object before you. The object before you lives and breathes as its own, but it will not exhale a history, not even when you name the object into a broadside as if it were a seashell you could hold to your ear and expect an ocean to respond back. Perhaps that unrecordable history is what you are actually holding in your hands printer, hovering somewhere beneath the ink under your fingernails and the layer of lead upon your skin.

But since we are here printer, look closer at what’s barely there or visible on this printed object. Can you see that the ink is not trying to compete with the blackness of the paper? How the ink seems to reflect the balance that type face faces in being seen? How the ink gives way to allow the eye to choose what it will see in the moment? What say you, printer? Type face or ink or both?