Self Publishing – A Poetry Chapbook Finds It’s Form

self publishing, portland, independent publishing resource centerMy experience with poetry was bound to arrive at this crossroads. Making this decision became inevitable. Self-publishing, yes or no.

Periodically over the years, my work has found a traditional publisher. Over the last five months or so, I have been seriously weighing and comparing MFA programs. The conventional route is something I strive toward, an outlet I will likely always seek.

I daydream the process of bookmaking though. The easiest way to succinctly describe such mania? With my eyes closed, I can feel lay out. My hands shift type across the phantom page while I sleep. Like a carpenter with wood, or a sculptor with clay, or perhaps the determined arborist who perilously scales to treetops in order to shape the old Douglas Fir before it collapses, I have a compulsion not only to make words. But to make them. Somehow I’ve always known the answer to that question was, yes, you will truly create one book. At least one.

portland, erick mertz, self-publishing, independent publishing resource centerStep one in fulfilling that mission, a project that I call The Last New Year was to halt imagination. I had to wake up and learn how to create that book. I joined Portland’s Independent Media Resource Center in order to take book binding and letter press classes, the centuries old art of setting movable type. Hands on. This was the way I’d bring The Last New Year into reality. One painstaking letter at a time. I would learn where each letter would be situated, not on Microsoft Word or an Adobe program. My hands would learn how to position a chase. What the best craft is for a layout stick. I would chisel out ink for the press.

IPRC is situated in an old printing shop. The store front is set on Division Street in inner Southeast Portland near the Willamette River. The side-by-side twin garage doors open onto one of the hotter commercial corners in the city. Breweries. Artisan breakfast. The shop’s industrial feeling does not wash out with a simple June breeze.

Class was set to begin at 11:00AM. We began ten minutes late. Not exactly sharp. As our class of four students clumsily learned the art of letterpress, a few others stumbled into the shop. They joked with the steward, coffee mugs in hand. In those moments, I could not have felt any more in touch with being a writer. Metal met metal. Old wood scraps piled up in the shop corners.

I drifted back into memory on the faintly acrid smell of cleaners and solvents.

letterpress, independent publishing resource center, erick mertz, poetry, poem, the last new yearMy old man used to work in an office. I can still trace the route down I-205. Through a narrow, fluorescent lit tunnel there was a machine shop where rugged, blue collar men built his designs.

I have a boy of my own now. My thoughts often drift back to those long gone Saturday mornings where my old man brought me into work with him, but no more than when I plodded between type trays looking for perfect fonts, ideal spacing and felt like a craftsman. I don’t design machines. Not like my he did, at least. We’re always in our father’s shadows though.

I design words. I cobble out little knots of intricate text. After such a long wait, I’ve come through that tunnel of my own, into the shop where I begin melding word with form.