Sunday, March 11, 2007

Never argue with a poem that knows what it wants

A certain amount of reinventing the wheel is surely inevitable when one is learning an ancient craft without an expert teacher by one's side. I know I shouldn't feel embarrassed about not knowing things that become obvious as soon as pointed out. I appreciate that making mistakes is a time honoured way of learning. I am, in fact, exhilarated by the process of figuring things out for myself and I'm a courageous asker of questions to all and sundry. But heavens, last Friday was a slow clamber up the old learning curve.

I decided to work on my printing project first and my cleaning project second, which meant that only two drawers of lead type got the vacuum this week. It was lovely to don the printer's apron and set up the etching press in the relative cool of the morning. My two tone experiment worked like a dream so registration became nothing but a bad memory. But I just couldn't seem to get a crisp, even quality to my prints.

Rightly or wrongly I do have a tendency to blame my materials or equipment when things don't go my way. Irritatingly, the scrap paper I had fished out of the recycling bin at work seemed to take the ink much better than the nicer cartridge paper I was planning to use- something to do with the smoothness of the surface I think. I ended up with a lot of prints but none I would bind since the ones on marked and creased scrap paper look better than the ones on clean paper.

It's not that I don't like the imperfections, I think they look edgy and interesting as well as ugly and dirty. I can imagine circumstances in which I would use prints like that, for example in works relating to punk, protest or peripatetic* discomfort . But I want to be able to choose where I use that effect, not just impatiently tolerate my beginner's incompetence.

Expert advice arrived after I had started cleaning up and pointed out a couple of variables that either I hadn't thought of (adjusting the felt) or given enough attention to (pressure). So maybe it's not necessarily a paper problem that's causing my prints to look like crap. These are all factors that require further testing next time. One sensible thing I did manage to do was take copious notes on each print about what I was doing to produce such crap images.

On the other hand, it's amazing how much better the printed text looked as soon as I folded the pages into vertical quarters. On the flat paper the words are, well, flat. In the mountains and valleys of an accordion fold the words march along full of rhythm and energy. The text stands up proudly and somehow manages to look crisper. It's as though the poem is rejecting the passive structure I had been planning and is demanding to be housed in a much more dynamic book.

*My newest best word... means itinerant.

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