The making of: 'In the mirror, and dancing'

A special project was the basis for one of the final events that marked C.K. Stead’s tenure as National Library Poet Laureate. On August 8 a book entitled ‘In the mirror, and dancing’ was launched at the National Library. This publication of a collection of C.K. Stead’s poems was enabled through the support of the Alexander Turnbull Library and of the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust; accompanying the poems is a selection of drawings by expatriate New Zealand artist Douglas MacDiarmid and the book has been hand-printed by ATL Collection Care member Brendan O’Brien.

Printer Brendan O’Brien at the Fernbank Studio, July 2017.Printer Brendan O’Brien at the Fernbank Studio, July 2017. Photo: Mark Beatty

A sketch of the page layout of ‘In the mirror, and dancing’.A sketch of the page layout of ‘In the mirror, and dancing’. Photo: Mark Beatty

One of the distinguishing features of this book is the use of historic printing technology - each word is assembled letter by letter from loose type, the type is then locked in a frame known as a “chase”, rubber rollers are used to ink the type, and the page is printed. In effect, the type is impressed upon the paper - it “bites” into the surface of the sheet to give an embossed or three-dimensional effect. This effect is slightly exaggerated by the soft nature of the cotton-based “rag” paper that the text is printed on. In keeping with the earliest methods of book production, the press is powered by the hand of the operator and the binding is also completed by hand - once the ink has been allowed to dry, the sheets of paper are folded, collated and stitched into book form.

The metal type set and ready to print for ‘In the mirror, and dancing’.The metal type set and ready to print for ‘In the mirror, and dancing’. Photo: Mark Beatty

The printer holding a section of type before printing.The printer holding a section of type before printing. Photo: Mark Beatty

The generous support of the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust provided the materials necessary for ‘In the mirror, and dancing’, for reasons of economy few books are produced by this labour-intensive method each year, remarkably, this was a first for a current poet laureate. The project also provided a rare instructive opportunity for library staff to visit the printer and to observe first-hand the process of a book being created using traditional methods. The project also provided a rare instructive opportunity for library staff to visit the printer and to observe first-hand the process of a book being created using traditional methods. Although the edition is now sold out there are available copies to view in the National Library and Alexander Turnbull Library Collections.

The components of C.K. Stead’s poetry and Douglas MacDiarmid’s images, hand-printed on fine paper, contribute to make an extraordinary book - an uncommon publication that blends the work of a contemporary poet and artist with the time-honoured arts of book making.

Poet C.K. Stead and Brendan O’Brien numbering and signing the edition August 8, 2017.Poet C.K. Stead and Brendan O’Brien numbering and signing the edition August 8, 2017. Photo: Mark Beatty

By Brendan O'Brien

Brendan is a member of the Collection Care team at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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