I went to the letterpress workshop in Plymouth yesterday to print the Orcombe.com edition of Bob Cobbing's wonderful poem 'Wan Do Tree'. I really like the practical process of printing, working with the machinery to make something beautiful, and it's a special pleasure to work on a Cobbing piece. Each print day requires planning and preparation, trying out various design ideas and then working out what can actually be done with the equipment and available type. There are other people working in the print shop on completely different projects and I couldn't get anything done there without the 'old school' printer technician Paul Collier who runs the place. So it is in various ways a collaborative effort. The photo above shows the type for 'Wan Do Tree' set up in my favourite press, furniture clamping the composition in place, with ink-charged rollers ready to go. The colour is called boysenberry and it looks rich on Somerset satin paper.
My first experience of printing machinery was learning to print on an offset litho machine in the basement of the Poetry Society, this was at Earls Court Square (London) in the early seventies, and it was Bob Cobbing who taught me how to print. The machine was used for the large format Poetry Review edited by Eric Mottram and it was possible to print there just by asking if you had the front. I made some pamphlets and sold them door to door in South London. I also learnt silkscreen on very home-made equipment about the same time. Bob printed some of his Writers Forum books there as well as Poetry Review, and used the printing process for direct composition, just as he did on mimeo and later on a photocopier. There's an excellent piece by Lawrence Upton on Bob Cobbing here.
'Wan Do Tree' is copyright (c) Bob Cobbing 1977. I'm grateful to the Bob Cobbing estate for permission to make my new edition which is available only at Orcombe.com