A Scrivener’s Song

i decided to try and learn how to print, principally so that I could print my own poetry chapbooks. I wasn’t a very good printer. My enthusiasm for offset printing was re-kindled by the drama of the illegal printing of bibles by the Soviet Russian Baptists. I still cherish the idea of the power of printing presses…


Rubber rollers hummed, trough-knobs turned,

images kissed paper, offset cylinders churned;

plastic-tacky ink, claustrophobic tarry smell,

palm imprints un-cleaned by petroleum gel.


Victorian flywheel hand-wound very, very fast,

white paper reams cut, old guillotine iron-cast;

window-crack spoiled print rollers, rag required

to towel, cog crunched fingers almost expired.


Russian religious-rebels became career goal,

samizdat scripture, honey for hungry souls;

this offset apprentice offered his very best shot:

system settings eccentric, more often than not.


I dreamt of pirate printers, so very gospel-certain,

unauthorised bibles printed behind Iron Curtain;

God’s mandate obeyed, illegally published:

scriveners imprisoned, punitively punished.


Print career ended, used bookshop called next,

I dreamt now of old typefaces and historical texts:

authors yielded power once, not puerile pop stars;

I improved writing poetry, I read moving memoirs.


I’m approaching sixty and almost have it made:

Poetry projects now mix my two past trades;

fondly I collect limited print books, letterpress loved,

I strain for biblio beauty, deferring white gloves*.


  • there exists a pervasive myth that rare (and valuable antiquarian) books should, indeed must be handled with white cotton gloves. In fact, handling books with gloves is apt to do more harm than good. Gloves are just as likely to be dirty as fingers, but gloves do not allow nearly as much dexterity as uncovered hands.





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