blindpigpress would not exist without bill poole.
i met bill upon returning to niagara after graduating from nscad (nova scotia college of art and design). professor robert dawson of the dawson print room at dalhousie university asked me if i had ever been to the wayzgoose in grimsby. i said that i hadn’t. he said that i ‘had’ to go—and that when i did, i should introduce myself to bill poole.
my need to print must have been great because i wouldn’t normally talk to someone without knowing them (the technical term is ‘shy’), but i did.
bill said that i should come up and print at his shop on the escarpment in grimsby. i did and i never went away. i’m not sure if this is exactly what bill meant, but nearly every weekend for a decade i would go up to the printshop and put together books, posters, etc. bill and his family became great friends to me.
there were so many things that i learned from bill and from working in the shop. many of them had to do with beer.
the three most important things (to me) were 1) never be afraid to scrap a bad idea, 2) if it’s not fun, don’t do it, and 3) design and work are tangible and fundamentally ‘good’ things.
in the years since his death in 2001, i have, in varying degrees and with varying success, tried to work all of these things out.
in the printshop it was easy to throw things away that weren’t working. you would try, you would explore and if it didn’t work, you had scrap paper. the cool thing about the process was it actually took time, but that was all it took. you had to invest time to see a result. there was a direct correlation between the thought and the work and the result. bill was never bothered to throw something away.
to me, the greatest thing that bill did was print books. this takes the sort of dogged and plodding work ethic that well suited him. there is a repetitiveness in book design that he liked and also a ‘pretty’ usefulness to the object that i think appealed to him. he certainly printed a lot!
one of bill’s famous sayings was, ‘if it isn’t fun, don’t do it’. bill liked fun things. he liked play and he liked whimsy. he liked doing something for no good reason (okay, maybe there was a reason in there that only he understood). he liked discovery : this was all part of the fun (it was also a part of his printing work). if things couldn’t be fun, he became irritable.
i have found that i too need things to be new and interesting and fun. as i get older this is more essential or central to what i do. if you can’t have fun printing and designing and making things, the you can’t have fun. bill liked to be interested. he liked to be busy. he liked to take things at their own pace.
bill worked at his printing a lot. in my mind’s eye, i can see him setting type. his long, nimble fingers plucking the letters from the case. his eyes moving between the copy he was setting and the composing stick. the thin clicking sound of the type in the stick mixing with the tuneless humming over the radio playing low in the background.
it might be an overstatement to say that bill thought work was sacred (we didn’t really ever talk about that sort of stuff), but i would say that he did think that work was important. what you did was a part of what and who your are.
if your work was immoral (bill invariably spoke about lawyers, real estate agents, stock brokers and bankers as being not good things to be—he once told me that he was glad none of his children ended up being lawyers).
there was always something on the go in the printshop—always a project, always a crusade. human effort and endeavour were important. it was only through this effort that change came about. only through this effort that culture got built. you do not start an art gallery unless you believe deeply in culture (and bill started an art gallery from the ground up).
bill understood and respected the process by which work and design took place. design was a process for bill, he understood the steps he repeated and how things progressed and went together. this built in him an ease of working that was deceptively simple. when he was working he didn’t look like he was working.
i once saw him put together a turkey box to transport his chickens to the beamsville fair. he made it out of corrugated and his cuts, scores and folds were assured and done by someone who knew his materials, but someone who had also repeated the process many many times.
this ease of work and enjoyment of work (along with his overalls and generally dishevelled appearance) made bill appear to be more of a quaint figure than he was. bill was gentle of demeanor, but he was fiercely committed to his work (you don’t produce as much work as bill did without being driven).
and yet he did it with the minimum amount of ego required. he never really articulated to me his reasons for printing all these things. again, you don’t do something like poole hall press without being committed to the work.
i think bill wanted the things he printed to be brought into existence. his interests were not that of the mainstream : modern classical music, printing, typography, lewis carroll, canadiana, art. i think part of why he did what he did was because he wanted these things to exist (or, in some cases, re-exist) and he didn’t see them out in the world, so he set about to create them.
i think bill was too much of a child of his time to not value hard work. but he didn’t value hard work for its own sake. the most difficult way of doing something was okay, but there had to be something at the end : personal satisfaction, culture, a book, beer. tangible, real things.
the time i spent with bill was good time. he influenced me in many ways, most particularly in my ‘thinking’ about work, design, and what we do as human beings. how we relate to others and how we relate to the world around us.
i miss him. a lot. i think he may be the only one who understood.