Behind the Scenes: Creating a Lit House Press Broadside
Location: Rose O’Neill Literary House
What is this thing called a broadside, you ask? My favorite definition comes from the book The Art and Craft of Handmade Books by Shereen LaPlantz:
“A broadside is a single sheet of paper that states an opinion—usually an inflammatory one. Broadsides started out as the last words of condemned prisoners and were posted next to the gallows for one day. During the Revolutionary War in the United States, broadsides were used to promote the Revolution.”
Just like many technologies appropriated from the past, including letterpress printing, what once was a tool of necessity now has become an art form. Our letterpress broadsides take an excerpt of a visiting writer’s published works and put it to visual music with typographical design and printed images. We have a catalog of antique metal printers’ blocks to choose from or we can go ultra-modern: have a custom illustration taken from digital file to letterpress-printable photopolymer plate.
For our latest broadside, a poem by the poet and translator Idra Novey called “A History in Six Couplets,” we chose another option—carving a mounted linoleum block. This can also be done with wood, but linoleum is a bit softer (read: easier to carve). The “mounted” bit of that block raises the final relief carving to the height required for printing, which we call “type-high.” And who was the lucky girl that got to carve that (extra large) linoleum block? I pulled out my Speedball Lino Cutter and got to work on that 10 x 20” slab of linoleum.
The design we decided on for this poem was simple: a city skyline, broken and gashed, but still standing. It’s a stark illustration for a stark poem. The text was to be printed over top of the lino print, with the columnar poem-shape fitting snugly inside the central building silhouette. One thing I needed to be careful with: I had to estimate the width needed to encompass the poem but not let it feel swallowed by the building size. And one thing that just coincidentally fell into place: the large jagged chunk of building I cut out lined up perfectly with the stanza: “And all around, chunks of concrete/ like torn bread.”
We chose a tall paper size to emphasize the strong vertical pull of the skyline-buildings and the shape of the poem itself, leaving a generous stretch of empty space at the top. After the linocut was finished, our Master Printer Mike Kaylor, set the type for the poem text, letter by painstaking letter, and got to printing on the beautiful Vandercook 4 Proof Press in our Lit House print shop. First, the linocut is printed and let dry for a day or so. Then the text.
The final result was ghostly—with the image printed in white on a muddy-gray watercolor paper and the text in a dark gray ink over the white—and that was perfectly fitting for this poem.
To see more of the beautiful broadsides made right here in our very own Literary House print shop, check out this page here.