David Jury and me used to meet about once a month to chat over coffee. I showed him my new artist book preparation where I was putting my six ‘mystics poems’ onto the page each laid out in the shape of a pot. DJ was just completing an article about writers who did shaped typography and he was intrigued when he saw my new work. On reading them he liked the words and my form of presentation. Being a cheeky fella I asked him if he might write a small crit so that I could place it on the back of my book so that potential buyers may get a gist of what my words were about and he wrote:
“Pete Kennedy’s words are contained in six ‘Earthen Vessels’. But none of these vessels is whole, their bases, by varying degrees, are missing. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that all knowable laws are absent. So what is it that holds the words together?
The more you look the more you read, the more you read the more you look. Their occasional dramatic change of scale: ‘Namaste’ and ‘I Am a Buddha Now’ rightly dominate whilst their additional ‘weight’ causes them to slowly fall, like sediment, towards the bottom of the jar… that does not exist. These vessels are spine-tingling.” Follow that Pete I thought.
Shortly afterwards he suggested that maybe he could do a letterpress version of the poems as pots for his summer project, would I be interested?
Interested, I had been wondering how I could do a simple letterpress version myself to take to the Wayzegoose book fair in Oxford this October and I would be chomping at the bit to see the wayshegoes with DJ’s version and we immediately embarked. My offer to help with the mucky jobs was politely declined as DJ see the process as essentially a contemplative and private one. Miles Wigfield, chairman of the Oxford Guild of Printers, observes that this is not unusual amongst letterpress enthusiasts who like to work on their own. So he began.
The first print took several weeks to complete as DJ had to work out how to get the pot shape I had accomplished using Quark. He asked for one of my drawings of a nice shaped pot and said he’d use it as a kind of template to outline his layout. He was fascinated with the notion that the pot itself although hinted at didn’t ‘exist’. This was in keeping with his own readings of Buddhist books where everything is in fact an illusion. He liked the way the words seemed to accumulate like sediment in a vessel. Vessel is a word I had adopted partly because it denotes jug, jar, pot or any other container which the ancients may have used to protect their precious objects in. Going even further back earthen vessels would have been amongst humankind’s earliest ever artefacts. That age old play between what is attractive to the eye and useful as an object which peaked with the design of Concorde and began with the design of a bowl to drink or eat from, that mix of meeting the designer’s needs in terms of available or newly invented technologies and the users requirements was probably solved earlier in pots than in the drawings of woolly mammoths on cave walls. My interest in pots, triggered initially by my curiosty about the Dead Sea Scrolls opened out to discover that many communities from India to Afghanistan and later into China had incarcerated valuable objects and/or sacred documents in pots then either buried them or secreted them in caves. The first writings were cuneiform on clay too. This led to my desire to create words in the shape of pots because of its deep ancient resonance.
Take a look at a previous blArt I did for more info about my pots: https://apulhed.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/a-change-in-my-habits-i-am-giving-good-notice-of-an-event-for-your-diary/
DJ has a long time fascination with letterpress and has collected some old wood fonts which he had not previously been able to use. Now, with the change of fonts and their size in my work, he is able to blow the dust off and use them. This all benefits my writings for the pots which are always in flux anyway and now have been re-written, almost weekly, to fit the new needs of the collaboration. Working with DJ has been invigorating. Initially I had faced my own challenge to shape the words into pots now DJ took on the mantle for his versions and where I had merely increased the size of the Bodoni bold font to denote important words and phrases DJ began to use very differing fonts to his main Bodoni. I had used full stops repeated to make up some spaces in order that I did not have to re-write or add too much to my original ‘poems’. DJ pointed out that every space is potential for making a mark or statement, every space is valuable. He began to introduce strings of shapes to substitute my dots. He soon saw that the knots or strings were not adequate, didn’t look good. So, he said it’s a shame not to use letters in those spaces, maybe in a smaller font? To begin with he had tried using words like ah and om but that wasn’t enough. Maybe we can put in a ‘sub-text’, do you have any other poems we can use. Well yes, as it happened I was typing up and re-doing some other poems, poems I sometimes write about everyday things, thoughts and observations on the way my life is going or went or should have gone. Much simpler than the mystic poems which were the result of hundreds of hours of study and contemplation, writing and re-writing, reading to a ‘public’ re-appraising starting again and so on. Yes, that sounds great, send some to me and I shall see how they fit. And fit they did. So the first print now has a sub-text too which adds several layers of meaning which ever way you read them. The page as a whole now becomes a fascinating mix of visual and contextual meanings. You can read the poem in its original then the subtext or read the whole of it as one or don’t read it at all just enjoy the visual effect.
Soon enough DJ was wanting the words to break out of the sedimentary base of the pots which don’t exist. Another compositional device creating more interest, more possibilities to ‘play’ and arrive at more exciting results. By print 3 DJ started to turn some of the words upside down or reverse them, now they become multi-dimensional.
Poem one is inspired by the writings of Herman Hesse. Poem 2 by the life of the present Dalai Lama. Poem 3 is about the deep mythological interests of C G Jung.
Although I was unsure when to reveal to the eagerly awaiting world or artist book and letterpress enthusiasts news of our collaboration David had no such qualms and on Wednesday 30.7.14 he gave a talk to a small gathering of letterpress enthusiasts at The Waiting Room in Colchester (which I could not attend cos of my weekly commitment to Ballroom Dancing. One day I am hoping to replace Lewis Smith at the top of the podium, although I am not as athletic, young nor handsome as he I am determined to topple him. You know me, I never let a small challenge overawe my dreams). The talk was well received and I thank Clare Marsh for sending me these two images, one of DJ flying and one of two of the prints we have made already.
I haven’t asked DJ what it’s like working with me but the smile on his face speaks volumes.
Now, on 25th Aug 2014 DJ is nearly finished with his letterpress edition of six of my poems. Each one has gotten more adventurous and it seems he has had a wonderful time pushing the boat out and using wood type he has bought but never used over a number of years. we should be ready to show the world the outcome in September sometime. Each print has it seems come up better than the one before so much so that it seems the first one is almost conservative, almost staid. but not quiet, i mean quiet not quite!
watch out book fairs here we come; whitechapel-DJ’s table 1st