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Letterpresss – Books & Broadsides

Photos provided by Jack Mader.

Tanka Year
a hand-make suite of poetry books in the Japanese Edo style

6 x 9 inches • 4-book suite, 31 pages each • Edition of 7 numbered copies. Edited and hand set in Garamond, and Goudy Hand Tooled fonts on Thai Mulberry paper by George Roberts at DownStairs Press. Hand-made covers of kimono cloth on boards. $300. SOLD OUT (Standard edition available. See below.)

TANKA YEAR, began with the gift of a workshop from my spouse, Beverly. Taught by Sheila Asato at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, this two-day class on how to make book cloth from old kimonos was filled with historical and cultural information revealing the elaborate physical structure of the kimono, as well as its cultural, historical and aesthetic resonances. The results of the workshop, and several days of follow-up work in my studio, both surprised and pleased me, compelling me to consider a project worthy of such elegant fabric.

I set upon the idea of writing and printing a book of poetry. Tanka, a traditional Japanese verse form, like its brother haiku, carries some specific technical and content requirements ~~ thirty-one syllables, five lines, observation of nature, and reflection. My good friend, painter Mieko Yamazaki, explained, “tan”, in Japanese, means short, and “ka” means poem or song. So a tanka year could be a collection of brief poems about the passage of time through the seasons. I eventually chose to write thirty-one poems for each of the four seasons, thus making a “tanka” of each season - a suite of four books.

Most of these poems came to light in my back yard, or in my neighborhood, and were part of my daily habit of slowing down to notice how Monday was different from Sunday, how morning evolved into evening. Occasionally, as I was traveling, poems sprouted from other contexts. Subtexts identify those pages, and may help the reader. The original project sold immediately, and people began asking if the poems were available in another form.

Thus a standard edition, which attempts to echo the aesthetics of the hand-printed, deluxe edition, without encumbering either the printer (me) or the reader (you) with the time and cost a deluxe edition requires.  In the end, the poems carry the day. They are all here in this book for you to enjoy, I hope with the same spontaneity in which they were written.

Sample poem from this volume


moon settles into the sea
sun not yet murmuring
islands rise from their silence…
ghosts of some distant time
with no need of us

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