Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Exhibition
April 2 – May 2
Opening on April 2 at 7:30 PM
300 Page St.
San Francisco

The panel discussion will take place at the SF Zen Center, on April 30th at 7:30 PM.

I hope I will see you there.



What follows is an excerpt from an in-progress analysis/review of the artists’ book Things I Wanted To Tell You by Kristen Merola, published by Preacher’s Biscuit Books:

It is possible to put forward a metaphoric reading of the book. We could start at the title, Things I Wanted To Tell You, and assume that the illegible writing represents those “things,” and that those things have been made unspeakable, either through their own urgency or through the layered complexities of delay and time. This then, would be a book about a relationship, a relationship ended or suspended, with many things unsaid. We could put forward such a reading, if we like our books to end when we put them down. Or we could elaborate a different reading, one based in the relationship between the images and the text, the images of the text, and that reading could be extended productively, infinitely. Because we want our books to keep going after we put them down. Because we are concerned with the real book, the book in our hands, and the processes that it enacts.



Picture a grid, rigid and impossible. Picture a grid as a physical object, permeated by space, now bending, now sagging, now descriptive of its own lilting surface. Like the pages of a notebook curling and crumbling under daylight. Picture the grid cropped and framed, a photograph of bent space. Gravity. There is nothing as human as a grid. With lines close enough to hum in silence. With lines far enough for the fingers to pass through. Seen and gouged. Surface and city. Silence, pressed through to the other side. Against which light is draped. Against which the morning is swallowed. Silences accrue to noise. Against which the morning dissolves. There is nothing as human as a grid, now bending, now sagging, now descriptive of its own lilting surface.



This is the most difficult proofreading I have ever had to do.

This is the most fun proofreading I have ever had to do. They say it starts with one word.

These images are of laser printed proofs for the colophon/info printed on the back of the Al-Mutanabbi broadsides. We wanted to put the information in English and Arabic, so we had to enlist some help from some friends. All of the Arabic handwriting on the sheets pictured above is corrections and/or brief lessons for me. Even in the simplest, most mundane parts of a project there are possibilities to learn fascinating things.



On Al-Mutanabbi
Poem by Justin Sirois
Arabic translation by Haneen Alshujairy
Letterpress with hand-mechanical printing and delamination
Variable edition of 15

12” x 18”


Not For Sale

This poem and broadside were made as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project. What is the Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project? The official text from the poster:
On March 5, 2007, a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, the center of bookselling in Baghdad, killing 30 people and wounding 100 others. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition sent out an international call to letterpress printers to craft a visual response that would bring attention to this bombing.
You can read more about the project and see some of the other 130 broadsides here.

A note on process: This broadside was made in essentially the same way as the three described here. The primary difference is how it was delaminated. Instead of removing all of the surrounding paper, 130 different cuts were made into the sheet, and the paper was pulled away for as long as I could keep it intact.

But wait, there’s more: for those of you in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Zen Center will be hosting the first exhibition of all 130 broadsides, and a panel discussion about the project. The info:

Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Exhibition
April 2 – May 2
Opening on April 2 at 7:30 PM
300 Page St.
San Francisco

The panel discussion will take place at the SF Zen Center, on April 30th at 7:30 PM.



Because learning a new language can see help us see the world in a different way.




Registration is open for the Pacific Center for the Book Arts Printers’ Fair, at Fort Mason in San Francisco on Saturday, May 15th. The deadline on registration is soon, March 26th.


Registration is open for the 2010 San Francisco Zine Fest. The early bird deadline on that isn’t until July, but don’t wait too long—we are pretty sure that the tables will sell out this year. And there are now three stages of pricing: $30 for a 1/3 table, $45 for a 1/2 table, and $90 for a full table. The Zine Fest will take place in the usual venue, the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park in SF, on Labor Day Weekend, September 4th and 5th.

I would really like to see some more artists’ book and/or literary small presses at the Zine Fest. I know you’re here in the Bay Area. That show is a perfect venue for you.

I think that I’ve written this before, but shows and fairs like these have become my favorite way to show my work. They’re just so much fun.



The last post related a story, my personal experience, to the thoughts behind the New NewLights Press Library Policy. In light of that post I have been thinking about libraries, about how we, as (re)searching, potential readers, interact with libraries, and how the physical space of the library affects those searches.

It is important and necessary for libraries to have Special Collections containing artists’ books and small press books. Those collections are a great service both to the public (who now have access to amazing work, for research or just because) and to the artists and publishers (economic support from collecting institutions).

But there is one downside to having one’s work in Special Collections. Although it is (in most cases) accessible, it is not “out there.” Only the librarians and a lucky few others are allowed to browse the shelves of Special Collections. (But everything “back there” is usually stored in archival boxes, so browsing the shelves isn’t really that much fun anyway.)

That browsing, that wandering, is for me one of the most important aspects of the experience of a physical library. I rarely go to the library unless I need a specific book. I look that book up online, before I even set foot in the library, and write down the call number so that I can go right to it. And when I get to the library, I do, usually, go right to it. But then I wander, in the area around that specific book, to see what other books have been grouped with it, by the subject and by the way the collection has been alphabetically distributed across the physical space of the shelves. Looking, reading, looking closer, reading closer. The experience is often overwhelming. The wanderer in the library stands in the channel of the discursive flow, with a cross-section view of that channel, able to navigate through any plane that they choose. (This is both similar and different to than standing in front of a shelf at a bookstore, where the reader is simultaneously subject to, subjected to, the flows of discourse and of economics. In the quiet land of the library, where every book is free, money fades into the background. In the pulsing land of the bookstore, money is the river that has caught everything in its current. (What about small bookstores, used bookstores?))

And so in that wandering the reader finds books that they did not know existed, that can contain and lead to new thoughts, new directions. Wandering like this has led me to unimagined books, and some of those books have become extremely important to me.

If there are artists’ books and small press books in the library, in general circulation, they have the potential of both being searched directly and borrowed and of being discovered, of being a marvelous, convulsive accident that can reorient a reader’s relation to language and to how that language is distributed through culture. Books live (they always and only live) out there, in the active hands and desiring minds of readers.



About two months ago we put up a post concerning The New NewLights Press Library Policy, stating, essentially, that if a public and/or academic library buys a NewLights book for their Special Collections, we will give them another book (perhaps the same one, perhaps a different one) that they can put into general circulation.

I wanted to describe here, briefly, the experience(s) that motivated that idea and decision. When I was a graduate student at Arizona State University, I had, for the first time in my life, full and privileged (I was teaching so could check out books for months) access to a great library with an enormous collection. I could get my hands on just about any book that I wanted. They had some real treasures in their Special Collections, including a book printed by Nicholas Jensen, the Frenchman, (the inventor of the Roman typeface for books) in Venice in 1475. That book was one of my favorite to look at and handle (it is in Latin, which I cannot read), to contemplate the strange connections to history that all of us have.

But another important part of the experience of that history, of that library, the part that really informs the new library policy, is the experience of browsing the shelves, the circulating stacks, and the random finds of treasures that I was able to check out, take home, and spend real time with.

I rarely went to the library without a particular book in mind. And I would find it relatively quickly, and then wander around that book, seeing what else was near it, grouped into the same subject, arranged by their author’s names and the haphazard vertical structuring of the shelves. I would often walk away with several more books than what I came for, and those books opened new doors—doors that I couldn’t conceive of before I got my hands into those books.

And sometimes there were actual important (at least to me) historical works in the stacks. The poetry stacks had a bunch of small press editions, made by presses that I look up to, of the work of writers that have influenced me. And there they were, on the shelf, waiting to be checked out and taken home (Note: most of them had been placed inside an outer hardcover for protection, with the original cover still intact inside). I got to take home a copy of Jack Spicer’s Book of Magazine Verse and a pirate copy (the Jolly Roger Press) of his Holy Grail, to name just a few.

And after I felt that I had communed with them thoroughly I took them back, to wait for the next amazed person to find them, to read them, and to continue their work.



Why? The main reason is because Arabic (both the spoken and written versions) is really interesting. The second reason will be printed, photographed, and up on this blog soon.



[& so now infused with new old memories. & so now back again and subject to the flux, again. There is much to be done. Where did we begin?]

Recently the Pacific Center for Book Arts opened up registration for their annual printers’ fair. And the meetings for planning the 2010 San Francisco Zine Fest are underway, with registration opening soon. The CUNY Chapbook Fair hangs indeterminately in the future, and the 2011 Codex Fair, a year away, is moving as fast as it can. And all of these upcoming fairs, oddly, make me think about fairs.

Over the past few years art fairs have become a big deal. A lot of money gets spent on them, and even more money gets spent at them. For the moment of the fair the spectacle can expand and infect every piece of culture held up in sacrifice to it. And so we need not concern ourselves with such fairs. [If we ignore the raging and ravaging of the spectacle, will it cease to exist, cease to have power? Doubtful. We must produce against it. Hold your labor like a knife, like the blade of a plow. Cut into the spectacle like it was the land, it is the first land of culture.]

The concern then is small fairs, sometimes local fairs, sometimes not. (Sometimes one gets lucky and an international fair happens in the city where you live.) Fairs have become, over the past few years, my favorite mode of public display for the work. Mainly because the format allows one to sidestep the issue of “display” altogether. The books are there, on the table in front of their maker/seller, and they are there available for full perusal. No gloves and no cases. And if you like one, and if there’s more than one of the one that you like, chances are you will be able to take one home.

And not only do potential readers get to handle and interact with the work, but I get to interact with all of those potential readers as well. And “the crowd” at every show is actually made up of two groups: the people that come in to see the show, and the people that are there exhibiting as well as looking. And we are all there together, a community is visible, the connections are felt. And the community always gets a little bit bigger with every show. It reminds one of the necessity of kindness in this endeavor.

[Hold your kindness like a knife, like the blade of a plow…]