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Thin Ice Press

Watch Dr JT Welsch discuss the University of York's in-house printing press - Thin Ice Press.
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This is a poem. This is also a poem. This is a poem. Here’s another one. Hey, poem. Poem. Poem. Poem People who are already suspicious of poetry will sometimes say, ‘That’s not a poem. You can’t just put a bunch of words or letters on a page and say it’s a poem.’ But actually, you can. And that magic ability to turn any bit of language into a poem just by calling it a poem is part of what gives our encounters with all poetry such magic potential. The page itself, like the stage for poetry in performance, acts as an invisible frame. It creates an exceptional space where normal rules or expectations can be suspended.
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Putting an everyday object in an art gallery turns it into an ‘installation’, or a kind of sculpture, offering us a fresh encounter with objects we might know too well. In the same way, the frame of the page refreshes our experience of language. Whatever kind of poem you’re reading then, it’s worth thinking about the poet’s role in all this. Like any writer, they are obviously responsible for choosing what Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes as ‘the best words in the best order’. But we also need that invisible frame. Although the poet might have had that frame in their head from the start, sitting down to write and knowing they want to make a poem.
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By the time it reaches us, however, it has taken on further layers, further frames.
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This is a poem by my colleague, Vahni Capildeo. This wonderful long title – when sitting in the kitchen is like being within the body of a stringed instrument where it joins the neck - becomes part of the frame. Putting a title on something is perhaps the most immediate way to mark out that exceptional space of art. Then we see the striking layout of the poem itself, with these huge gaps and visual patterns that emerge. Therefore, our encounter with the poem will likely be shaped by our experience of other visual as well as literary art. And as with any poem, it helps to bear in mind the physical process behind this printed frame.
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I recently reprinted this poem for our department’s Thin Ice Press. Printing it with letterpress means I typeset each individual letter of each line, including those big spaces. Then I put each line together and locked them into an actual metal frame, called a ‘chase’. I set up our little tabletop Adana press, spread ink on the ink plate, then printed each card by hand. The fact that these things are usually done all on a computer these days doesn’t change the sense of working together at every stage to preserve the poem’s frame.
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The reader is part of that process too, of course, sitting down to read a poem with a sensitivity to all the material, typographical, or linguistic features that mark out a poem’s exceptional space.

In this video, Dr JT Welsch discusses ‘Thin Ice Press’. Thin Ice Press is the newly-built in-house printing studio in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York.

Our iron presses chart the evolution of print from 1838 to 1926. They offer the opportunity to experience the relationship between writing and printing practices through publication, practice-led research, teaching and public workshops.

If you’ve enjoyed learning about ‘Thin Ice Press’ in this video, have a look at our dedicated website to find out more.

What did you learn about the process of printing from this video? What was new to you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Poetry: How to Read a Poem

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