Interview with Jason Peabody the artist behind the broadsides of
The PRESS Poetry Series 1st & 2nd Annual Readings.
Jason Peabody began his artistic endeavors originally as an aspiring poet, but through his experiences of living in North Adams, Massachusetts and attending the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts he has now branched out into exploring the visual and musical realms of art too. Wrapping up his Senior year of undergraduate studies at MCLA as an English major with a concentration in creative writing as well as an Art Management major, Jason has worked for PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project as an Associate Gallery Manager, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator, and currently as Letterpress & Typography Intern.
What interested you the most in creating the broadsides?
Two things. We needed a way to compensate the poets who were reading at the PRESS Poetry Series last fall and since we couldn’t really pay them, I still wanted to see them compensated in some way. The other reason was that the broadsides allowed me to work with poetry in an immensely intimate level, where I got to explore the poems inside and out. I mean, I had to go inside of the poems themselves, extract an image central to what the poem was doing that wasn’t too literal and create an illustration that would be paired with the text of the poem itself so that the reader would have multiple levels on which they can read, interpret and experience the poem.
What was your biggest success while setting the type and creating the prints?
My biggest success with these broadsides. . . This is a good question because there so many levels on which success can be measured. I would have to say that my biggest was success that I furthered my abilities as printmaker, illustrator, and artist into creating things I didn’t know I create at this point.
Where there any challenges or obstacles? If so how did you work to overcome them?
There were many, many, setbacks. Anything from running out of enough type for setting a poem, the pains of mixing gray ink, really just mixing any ink that is ‘transparent white’ based (they should just call it ‘transparent’, leave out the ‘white’), there was actually a typo on one of the broadsides (it had to be re-printed), not having ink mixes quite the right color (which requires one to clean the rollers completely and try again), and really just getting things to print the way I had envisioned them and not straying from that for anything.
As for overcoming obstacles . . . these setbacks are just what come with the craft of letterpress printing. And when you finally get that last run of a fairly large edition and you put it on the wall just to step back and look at it. . . that was my payoff.
But, as I said mentioned in the handout for the opening of the show with all these broadsides, the setback didn’t only occur in the studio. There was the normal class and work schedule to balance with this project, many nights lasted until 4 even 5 in the morning just sketching, make compositions, carving linoleum, or doing other work. And then I found out about a week or so before the show was to open, that on St. Patrick ’s Day that my dog, Kelsey, had to be put down. It hit me pretty hard, and everything just kind of came to a halt. It was hard to get work started again and it was gruelingly slow at first, but my pace picked up. And what helped me most then was really awesome people who are my friends and an amazing girl who took really good care of me. Thank you Aurora.
All in all, setbacks are setbacks and obstacles are meant to be over come. So I did.
Did you experiment and try any new techniques during the creation process?
Yes, I printed my first reduction lino-cut. For Jeff’s McRae’s broadside “Friend”, I wanted to illustrate the line “one of us always left behind / a wreckage of acoustic instruments”. And once I realized what needed to do in order to achieve the image I wanted, I realized that I was going to be doing my first reduction. It was just a two level reduction so it wasn’t too complicated. It was all about registration and keeping my ink consistent which also wasn’t too difficult because the image didn’t have a lot of surface area which meant that I didn’t have to ink up the rollers as much.
But in another sense, each broadside was like its own experiment. Each one sort of required something new me whether it was in the design and composition process or registering things to print the way I wanted in ways that I haven’t printed before.
What is your strongest memory of the experience?
All the late nights that blurred together into the same cup of tea.
On a more serious note, probably the drive I took from Northfield, MA from Swamp Press to North Adams with a cigar wrapped with tobacco from the pioneer valley where I have lived in couple different places. I was picking up some type that we had casted for Abbot Cutler’s and Mark Miller’s poems and it was just an incredible early morning drive in the Berkshires. I love driving and the Berkshires have grown on me.
What poem or poems inspired your artistic vision the most?
I would have to say Jeff McRae’s poem “Friend”. I just really had a blast going through my research and preliminary sketches for the image of that carving. I think I filled almost half my sketchbook with fragments of that image, re-sketches, and sketches of so many different broken or “wrecked” acoustic instruments.
I’m not sure if could declare one over the others that inspired me the most though. For me, I think what inspired me the most was the entire process; from interpreting and analyzing the poem for an image, to design, setting type, doing my lockups, and finally getting to print it all up.
Did images present themselves from the text of the poems or did you have to find your own inspiration?
Some the images came to me easier than others. Some of the images would show themselves to me right from a specific line central to the poem’s imagery. Others, I would almost have to integrate the poem to get out of it an image that would stand.
For Mark Miller’s I ended up finding this amazing photograph of a mocking bird performing its somersault, of which ornithologists can find no practical reason as to why they do these. And so I emailed the Edward Rooks who took the photo for the permission to re-create the image as a lino-cut. He responded, gave me permission to use his image and was really excited about it. So now I am going to send him a few copies of that broadside.
Has this experience influenced or affected your craft in any way?
Definitely. I have learned a great deal about design; spatial balance, eye movement, and things like that. I improved incredibly on my ability to carve images out of a flat surface, which is great because carving is skill that transcends more than a few crafts and forms of art. But in another way, I have learned a great deal more about poetry than I may have originally anticipated. Whenever I was setting type for a poem, I could see what letters were used most in a poem, which was a direct reflection of the sort of sounds and the abundance and repetition of certain sounds present in the poem. I find those sorts of things absolutely fascinating because of my studies as an English major. So in that sense, now when I go to look at a poem for the first time or sit down to write one my own I’ve been paying mush more attention to sounds and what those sounds do for the reader or the conveyance of meaning or transfer of energy.
Jason, you are such a joy to be around. Reading this interview, gleaning a bit of the depths of your vision as an artist, your curiosity as a human and your delight in the way you have crafted your life just illuminates for me what is palpably wonderful about you.
I saw those piles of broadsides and have a better sense now of what you accomplished in this project. Congratulations! Love, Suzi
Jason, thank you so much for all the effort you put into this project! The broadside you made of “Epithalamium” is just gorgeous. It is a treasure to have and share.