In Memory of Water

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Why and How

Posted by [email protected] on September 18, 2013 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

The Stanza Stones project features six poems written by Simon Armitage. The poems on the theme of water have been carved onto stones along the South Pennine Watershed. The nearest poem to my home is the ‘Rain’ Stone at Cow’s Mouth Quarry above Rochdale. 'Rain' in Armitage’s words “seems to stand with its jaws open, agog at those prevailing weather systems which come barrelling across the Atlantic then unload against the first hills that stand in their way”.

The poems Snow, Rain, Mist, Dew, Puddle and Beck are collectively known as ‘In Memory of Water’ and were previously published in a pamphlet issued by the Ilkley Literature Festival but I thought that the poems and the project deserved recognition in a beautiful edition. In October 2012 I put my idea for a letterpress printed book illustrated with wood engravings to Simon and he liked the idea. I needed to find a printer and initially tried Incline Press in Oldham, they were interested but too busy so they recommended John Grice who runs the Evergreen Press in Gloucestershire. John is generally recognized as one of the best letterpress printers in the country. He was keen on my idea and suggested I talk to Hilary Paynter a past president of the Society of Wood Engravers. I did and Hilary, a Devonian, was attracted to the idea too.

On a cold, rain filled weekend in April 2013 I took Hilary to visit each of the Stanza Stones which stretch from Marsden up to Ilkley Moor. Hilary took photographs and made sketches of the landscapes before returning home to Bideford. Shortly afterwards the proof prints of beautiful wood engravings started to arrive in the post. I revisited the printer to talk through the format, what paper to use, what type-setting and how the book should look. Throughout it all the emphasis was on producing something beautiful and worthy of the Stanza Stones project. Simon also provided some additional words for the book providing poetic prose about the locations of the stones.

The next step was to find a binder for the book. I contacted the Fine Bindery in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire who produce hand sewn, hand bound editions. I opted for a quarter leather spine with cloth boards, with some special copies being housed in a custom built slipcase. I also wanted some 'presentation' copies in a Solander box with the book, this time bound in full leather, accompanied by a portfolio the six broadsides of each poem illustrated with the wood engraving. 

One of my inspirations for this, my first attempt at publishing, has been the American novelist and poet John Updike who remarked that “a book is beautiful in its relation to the human hand, to the human eye, to the human brain, and to the human spirit.” I know that by working with very talented artists, whether that is a wood engraver, printer, binder or indeed a poet who can write phrases as lovely as “…or here, where water unbinds and hangs over the waterfall’s face, and just for that one stretched white moment becomes lace”, that I’ve succeeded in producing a book that confirms Updike’s words.