Celebrating 20 years of National Poetry Day at Wai-te-ata Press

Over 100 events and activities took place across New Zealand on 25 August to mark the 20th anniversary of Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.

The Printer's hands insert a space into the locked up metal type waiting to be printed.

At Victoria, Dr Sydney Shep and her Printer’s Devils hosted three workshops at Wai-te-ata Press to unleash the power of poetry through lead, ink and paper.

Thirty participants tasted the letterpress revival. “For some of you this is new technology, not old,” Dr Shep began her introduction to the hallowed craft, followed by a demo of typesetting. Participants selected a typeface from a range of cases: Garamond, Bodoni, Art Craft, Gill, whichever best expressed the poem they wished to print. Languages included Latin, Samoan and Cook Islands Māori.

The old cliché ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ took on a new relevance for participants as they set each individual letter, reading backwards, to complete a line or two of poetry. The lines were locked into two columns to form a collaborative found poem. Everyone had a turn inking the type and printing off the poster-sized poem to take home. Any ‘mistakes’ were embraced as new words. Wouldn’t you rather have a mallowquff instead of a mallowpuff?

After production, the type had to be disassembled. Finally, the group gathered for a dramatic reading of their collaborative poem. Each person read their line, one after the other, then in flash mob unison.

The energy and excitement in the room was a reminder that the craft of letterpress printing is alive and kicking. As Dr Shep said, “we’re all here – it’s not going to die anytime soon.”  

Huge thanks to Phantom Billstickers, Harley Hern and the National Poetry Day team, and all our participants.

Below: Charlotte Darling and Ya Wen Ho set type on National Poetry Day.

Charlotte Darling and Ya Wen Ho set type on National Poetry Day.