The newest work by North Dakota’s poet laureate and celebrated novelist will be old-school, printed on an antique letterpress that went out of use decades ago.
Larry Woiwode, of rural Mott, said he plans to be there while college students with ink-stained hands print a small, artisan-style book of his poetry on a museum press in a small rural town.
The presses will be cranked today and Saturday and, God willing, the ink dries, and, even if it doesn’t, Woiwode will read from “Land of Sunlit Ice” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bismarck Public Library.
Woiwode said he’s excited about the process, especially the idea of using a museum-piece press to print these poetry chapbooks in a day and age when digital technology rules the printing world.
“All books are becoming artifacts and soon will be museum pieces,” he said.
The 200 or so chapbooks — so called for their small size when they were hawked by chapmen on the street long ago in Europe — will be numbered, signed by the author at the reading and could be collectible one day, Woiwode said.
It will contain the best gathering of 14 of his poems, recent and past, to appear in a single collection, he said.
North Dakota State University students will be printers of this first edition using antique letterpresses dating from the 1920s at the Braddock News Letterpress Museum in Braddock.
The students will hand feed the pages one at a time through engraved plates, use antique wire stitchers to bind the 32-page books and trim them on a ’40s-era paper cutter.
Allan Burke, a newspaper publisher in nearby Linton and founder of the letterpress museum, said firing up the old presses for a student project is his dream of how the museum should be used.
“I believe it’s beneficial for students of all ages, third grade through college, to have a hands-on chance to learn about the history of communication and to create it with 100-year-old machines,” Burke said.
Suzzanne Kelley, the students’ professor, has a more prosaic thought about the experience, which will require a very quick turnaround from the printer’s shop.
“I’m hoping the ink is dry,” Kelley said of Woiwode’s reading.
“My class is so excited to use these antique presses. It’s so tactile, smelling the ink, and getting a feel for how books used to be made,” Kelley said. The letterpress museum is located on the grounds of the South Central Threshing Association and presses are run at least once a year during the fall threshing show.
Burke said local volunteers helped prepare the museum for the students’ project, installing a furnace and fans to warm the building and help dry the pages when they roll off the press.
He said the letterpress could be used by artists and folks interested in hand-printed works, including announcements or invitations.
“I’m hoping others will use the presses over time,” Burke said.
The students are enrolled in Kelley’s Introduction to Publishing class. They stenciled and printed the chapbook covers on an even older press, dating from the 1890s at the Hunter Times museum newspaper at Bonanzaville in Fargo.
Kelley is also editor in chief of the North Dakota State University Press and “Land of Sunlit Ice” will be among its published works.