despite being an atheist, i am a big fan of the writing (and life) of the catholic-american writer/monk thomas merton. i choose to personally disregard merton’s writings on the spiritual life and god and stuff and i tend to concentrate more on his work about peace and reflections on society etc. i have even traveled down to the monastery where he lived (when i was there, the front-desk monk turned out to be dude from chicago who had worked in the printing industry and had ordered some of the first fonts of hermann zapf’s types in north america).
i have printed a couple of merton pieces before.a horrible little book of poetry called monk’s pond (after a magazine that merton published) that will never been seen by anyone other than me. and a couple of broadsides. the first celebrated the purchase of a font of 18-point Perpetua type and was a beautiful poem that merton wrote entitled ‘Love winter when the plant says nothing’. still a favourite of mine. i actually printed it on paper purchased at ikea (ikea, damn your eyes, bring it back!).
the second broadside was a favourite quote of merton’s regarding propaganda : ‘There is no sickness in the world that can be cured by propaganda.’ Pretty true, eh?
during the summer, i printed another merton piece. the quote reads :
If we are ever going to have peace again,
we will have to hate war for some better reason
than that we fear to lose our houses, or our refrigerators, or our cars,
or our legs, or our lives.
If we are ever to get peace, we have got to desire something more than reefers and anesthetics—
but that is all we seem to want: anything to avoid pain.
It is terrifying that the world doesn’t wake up
to this irony: that at a time when all our desire is
nothing but to have pleasant sensations and avoid painful sensations,
there should be almost
more pain and suffering and brutality and horror, and more helplessness to do anything about it,
than there ever was before!
i’m not really sure why it ended up taking the form that it did, but that’s one of the great things about letterpress : you aren’t really bound by large sheets of paper running through a press at a million miles an hour and inflexible technology. letterpress lets you bend the rules.
the piece turned out to be an assembly of eight separate pieces of paper with an envelope that has hand-sewn japanese paper label. the paper that the quote is printed on is fabriano academia. the envelope is made in our shop and uses some orange textured cover stock that was acquired in a method that i don’t feel free talking about in print.
again, i’m not sure why, but i thought that the quote needed to be on two long lines and should be broken in a way that had sections of the quote fitting on the same width of paper (except in the case of the first and last pages).
i used 18- and 30-point Univers (i heart Univers above all other sans serif types) and a variety of ink colours. it was a total of 27 passes through the press.
i printed 25 of these suckers. and i’m still doing the hand stitching of the labels. something to do of a long winter’s evening.
there’s a few things going on here that i like. first, i don’t really agree with merton’s ideas about god and stuff, but i still respect and understand what he says because of the way in which he expresses himself. you don’t become a monk without being gung ho about god and spirituality and stuff, but even at his most – um – catholic, there’s always a spark of humour or fatalism or beatnik wordplay that makes me smile.
merton also did some work with victor hammer (if you have seen American Uncial, you have seen hammer’s work). i always have thought of this as a mismatch because hammer’s work (to me) seems very narrow and inflexible. whereas merton’s seems to flow from him. as blake said, ‘the cistern contains, the fountain overflows’. by typesetting his words, in a horribly misguided and ham-fisted way, i became a merton collaborator. this makes me feel good.
this piece demonstrates (to me) some of the best things about letterpress : it’s directness, the ability the printer/designer has to improvise and create on the fly, the close relationship to the materials (and hopefully from that relationship comes understanding).
i just sorta poked away at it over the course of about a month. if i needed a rethink, i went out and pulled some weeds or planed some wood. there was no pressure; although there was process.
i will not speculate if i think merton would like what i did. in most ways it doesn’t matter. he put the stuff out into the world (or, in an ontological sense) was the cause of the work to be out in the world and i used it. i used it because i believed what he said and it seemed to make sense at a profound level – especially with all the stuff going on in gaza and syria and the ukraine, etcetera.
i just have to find some way to get rid of the stuff now that i’ve printed it.