Monday, October 25, 2010

The Even More

An interview with Yma Ray Leggett, author of The Even More, a collection of stories, games, linoleum cuts, jokes, and poems. The hand-bound book was recently published by Lettre Sauvage in an edition of 90.


Genevieve Yue: When did you start working with your mom this way, where you would think some thoughts and tell them to her, and she would write them down?

Yma Ray Leggett: Probably when I was about three years old.

GY: Do you remember the first things you had her write down for you?

YRL: Well, "The Dumb Doctor" was one of the first ones.

GY: Can you tell me what "The Dumb Doctor" is about?

YRL: It's about a little girl who doesn't want to go to the doctor. And she's arguing, "I want my chocolate now!" It's a really funny story, and she is screaming and kicking, and she said she's going to use her magic pear to make her party. It's really funny.

GY: Was this story based on experiences you had about going to the doctor?

YRL: Well, I do sort of act like her!

GY: Do you have a magic pear?

YRL: No. No one on earth has a magic pear unless it's electric.

GY: You've been making prints for a while, right?

YRL: Yeah.

GY: And I see we have a very nice linoleum cut that you made and printed.

YRL: This is the first one I did. I haven't done any ever since. I made this when I was seven and I still am seven.

GY: Who is the Stupid Dodo of Tips?

YRL: He's a dodo who has stupid tips.

GY: Who listens to him?

YRL: Well, I made him up. So me and my mom and dad are the only ones who know about him so far.

GY: Is it worth following his advice? Is it good advice?

YRL: No. Especially not for other birds. "Lay your eggs by the dog house." Yeah, it's bad advice for a bird.

GY: Can you tell me about "The Hand Game"?

YRL: Well, you read something... Mom, can you read something to me? We'll show her.

Fiona Spring: I have Frog and Toad. [As Fiona reads aloud, Yma places her hand over words in the book, replacing them with the word "hand."]

"Yes," said Toad. "Hand is my sad hand day. Hand is the time, hand I wait for the mail to come. Hand makes me very unhappy."
"Hand is that?" asked Frog, "because I never get any hand, Toad!"

"Not ever?" asked Frog.

"No hand," said Toad. "No one ever sent me a hand. Every day my mailbox is empty. That is why waiting for the mail is a sad hand for me."

the author at the West Hollywood Book Fair

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ah ah ah ah ah (ah)

Fiona’s description of Yma’s discovery of the hand, and hand-writing, recalled to me a single edition published by Allen Ginsberg in 1975 called The Poet’s Hand Book. It is comprised of 24 Beat hands traced and illuminated: Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman, Gerald Malanga, Bill Berkson, Jim Carroll, and others. I’ve only been able to find this one picture from the book, Ginsberg’s own with characteristic mantras scrawled on his fingernails. (The book goes for $6500 at, if anyone is curious/wealthy enough to see more of it.) I particularly love the floating “ah” that hovers between the thumb and the forefinger. To me it signals something yet to be grasped. I’m also fond of this odd little sentence from the seller’s description: “Lefties win on paper 14 2 10 but only on paper.”

The place of the hand has often been a contentious one in the history of printing, but the two are more intertwined than is commonly thought. Manuscripts, as Peter Stallybrass has noted, were a concept largely invented by printing, as the handwritten text was commonly defined against mechanical typesetting after the advent of the printing press. But print and writing mixed as early as the early modern production of indulgences, which, to save time (as a great number of indulgences were being meted out, especially by the time of the Reformation), left blank spaces for names and debts to be filled in. Like later fill-in-the-blanks like tax forms, checkbooks, contracts, and Mad Libs, these types of documents weren’t considered complete until the hand had made its mark in the form of an autograph. This was the writing of the self, through the hand, through touch, and moreover through our primary organ of touch.

Roman Catholic indulgence, 1521

Perhaps the most significant thing that we can write is our own names. It is probably the most common thing that we write by hand in the form of credit card slips or, if we are marginally famous, the scribblings on cocktail napkins (or poetry broadsides, as we are more accustomed to here at the press). But this returns us to the idea of the hand, of the fingerprint being some unique, signature marker of ourselves, of our actual bodies, which Ginsberg understood with The Poet’s Hand Book, and which Yma realized instinctually with her word-and-hand play. I am reminded that the French word for “now,” maintenant, literally means “hand-holding,” which shows how the time of any experience and its communication is intrinsically connected to the physical sensation of holding pen to paper. In writing we literally inscribe a part of ourselves onto a page. And like the indulgences of the age of incunabula, the printed section marks a time of the past, while the blank spaces open to unknown futures, dates and signatures, or prayers in Ginsberg's case, the yawning "ahs" just out of reach.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The hand had stirred her mind.

Yma still doesn't feel very comfortable gripping a pencil, but she never tires of dictating. Recently we've been gathering her dictated compositions into a collection that we'd like to make into a book. In going through the work I noticed that Yma created two writing games that we can present in her book: the "hand game" and the "speak for the trees game." Both of these games sprung out of the moment very organically and were instant classics. We were cruising through the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County, feeling the cool breath of the ferns when Yma informed us in a languid tone that she would let us know what the trees were saying.

Speaking for the Trees

The sticks of the lemon tree in the riverbed
the trees in the river
the bridge over the rocky path

The scroll is on the cave of the beast
the thousand scrolls of love

papyrus, frames of fresh bamboo

we can get through all this
we have passed it & know that it is true

"Speaking for the trees" reminds me of a book we have called Who Speaks for Wolf about a tribe of Native Americans who are in competition with wolves for the space they occupy. I've also heard of Shamans speaking on behalf of places and animals to their people–being intermediaries with the wild. It's an old and venerable concept that she tapped into and I liked the resulting poem.

Another time we were lying on Yma's bed reading The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. As I read aloud she placed her hand over the text, so instead of reading the next word I said the word "hand." Yma liked it and asked if I we could continue like that for a while. Then we started writing down the phrases as we went. We went back to The Secret Garden and read it through later so we didn't have a hole in the beautiful narrative.


In a house with one hundred mysteriously closed hands
there is no doubt that the hand, the fresh,
strong hand had given her an appetite.

The hand had stirred her mind.

She had been too weak to care about the hand.
But already she felt she could look at the ivy
growing on the hand. Howsoever carefully
she looked, she could see nothing
but thickly growing hands.

And, she looked them over, as the tree-tops
inside her hand- it seemed so silly-
she said to herself –to be near the hand.
If she ever should find the hidden hand,
she would be ready.

Today was Yma's first typesetting lesson. We got out the diagram of the California job case so she could search out the letters and place them upside-down into the composing stick. It had been months since we played the hand game, but the concept was awakened in her mind and she composed "Why did the hand go into the hand?" Then she placed a little star above it shining down on the cryptic words.

Monday, June 14, 2010

animated decay

Recently I came across a video that had been uploaded and downloaded from YouTube 1000 times. Contrary to popular opinion regarding the “perfect” reproducibility of digital media, the result was heavily distorted, with images and movements rendered thick and abstract, and the videomaker’s voice sounding like it was underwater.

I’ve long been interested in the degeneration of images as they move from one medium to another, or are copied successively using the same reproductive technologies. I once took the iconic man on the moon photograph and photocopied its copies until Buzz Aldrin slid completely off the page. It took over 500 acts of copying for that to happen, and in the meantime his bulky astro-form became nearly indistinguishable from the pockmarked lunar surface on which he was standing.

Another time I took an image of a film strip from Bruce Conner’s REPORT and applied a similar technique.

Here is the original, scanned from a book:

And here is copy number 50:

I like the way the strip curves, reminding us of the malleability, and manipulability, of celluloid. In this case, Conner’s REPORT reworks the famous Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination, so the material is already optically printed over, layered, and as can be seen with this selection, punctured. Because REPORT hole-punches through the actual moment of death, it suggests all the missing information, the gaps and empty spaces, around events we have recorded in some way, as well as the inherent flaws that such acts of recording always entail.

I tried to work with this idea of degeneration with the images used in Negative Sky, scanning found photographs and then rendering them as photopolymer dies for use in a letterpress. After they were printed, I applied a light gray ink and randomly reprinted them, sometimes over the first image, sometimes in a different spot. Vernacular photographs are suggestive of memory and keepsakes to begin with, and here I was interested in using the process of decay to push them further into the realm of ghosts.

Ghosts live, or they move, in aberrant ways. They lurk in the spaces we assume they don’t, in between acts of reproduction, even in supposedly flawless media. While the static-y videotape that haunts the Ringu/Ring franchise might be a more popular example, I think Alexander Stewart’s Errata most vividly explores this idea of animated decay. Photocopied off a photocopy, and with each page used as a frame for animation, dots and lines come alive, constantly changing shape and color and direction. The film is only a few minutes long, but it’s clear that the copies could go on mutating forever, ghosts that not only live in the machine, but transform it altogether.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

in the fold

Paper is a Chinese invention, the oldest known pieces dating from around 140 BC. 200 years later, Ts'ai Lun, an official of the imperial court reported its invention to the Emperor and therefor went down in history as the inventor of paper. Although not the inventor, his innovations in the process of making hemp into smooth insect repellent sheets revolutionized his country.

This is medium weight paper with a hot pressed "laid" effect that feels like ribbed fabric. This isn't a book model. Just a formation of folds that crunch flat and pop apart when handled.

This is a very simple book structure that we plan to use with children. We want to print a river going down the middle crease and then have each child carve their own tree in linoleum to print a 3-d forest popping up. When it's folded together it looks like a slightly slanted booklet that we'll fashion a sleeve for.

Cam's way of book design is very fun to watch.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is paper?

What does it do? And what do we do because of it?

Why do I, an ecologically conservative person use paper as my main means of expression? When many of my friends have stopped their magazine and newspaper subscriptions, avoid fancy packaging, operate the written word mostly in I am pushing paper around, leaning over a white sheet, reading, studying, copying, remembering, folding, gluing, sewing.

Paper can be made from the waste of industry. It's becoming an afterthought. We seek out paper that's not made from virgin materials. Paper is the energy put into its production and how we use it.

Paper is a harness.

Recently Cam had a brainstorm of book structures based on origami techniques. One of his structures will be part of the next rendition of the Forest Drive. We spent a good portion of our day looking at it and discussing what content it was fit to carry.

The front cover has this nice polygon shape. The foredge can be cut to make a rectangular shape without disturbing the structure which will be sewn into the larger book as a single signature.

The first spread is a hexagon with an upturned triangle beckoning to be flipped under the index finger.

The second spread reveals two triangles balancing each other at the corners and segment of the previous spread peeking through.

The back cover with its shadows. Maybe it will reflect a richly colored sheet that starts the next signature? Could this structure be about putting things together, about divisions like stations in radio frequency, about shadows and reflections? It marks the first foray into the Forest Drive. The paper invites our hands into a smooth, blank place. Our fingers gently pinch and rub along the folds.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Desiree Morales featured in Chaparral

Chaparral is an online poetry journal that doesn't feature hundreds of people at a time or have busy pages with ads galore, or publish just anyone any time. The issues of Chaparral are lean and muscular, featuring an electric group of hand-picked writers whose poems all touch on an evocative theme. The pages are comprised of sparse information on a black background.

Desiree Morales, whose poem, "Negotiating Death in Los Angeles," was featured in the Forest Drive showed up in the Spring issue of Chaparral.

The journal features the striking artwork of southern Californian, Shawna Taklender. The high contrasts and natural shapes of her work suit the journal very well. I'm picking up on a theme of rooting in the landscape and going out in many directions. I'm thinking of poets all spread out around the south land in their little rooms made of drywall and wood, smelling the dry June sage and orange trees on the wind. I'm imagining people huddled together around a fire deep in hallucination, their bodies are still yet they're acting together in other realms. I'm thinking I should get another glass of wine and read more poems from Chaparral.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vamp & Tramp

Vamp & Tramp Booksellers have an extensive online catalog of fine press editions and artists' books. It's a great place to shop and to see what's being done in studios and print shops around the world. We are honored that they carry our work and have showed and placed it at libraries, museums and in private collections. The world of fine press is a widely dispersed community and Bill and Vicky at Vamp & Tramp do so much to bring us together- even new comers like us.

Our recent project, the Forest Drive was added to the online catalog.

While perusing the catalog I fell in love with this broadside by Red Hydra Press in Alabama.

Cam's fantasy penny farthing

At Lettre Sauvage we pride ourselves on investing long hours of toil on projects that dig us just a few more inches further into the rabbit hole. You never know when you'll turn that dark corner and suddenly find yourself in free fall through the limitless space of a colorful dream-scape. All we know for certain is that we have to keep scraping.

This Saturday Cam woke up, put on his dashing plaid pants and rubber-toed sneakers, plopped down on his black leather perch and began drawing a penny farthing bicycle.

In his words: "When people used to fall off one of these they called it 'catching a cropper" because you fly over the handlebars and go head first into the ground. They have a high center of gravity combined with a very forward seating position. In my design I tried to mitigate this flaw by sweeping the front forks back and curving the rear axle out, pushing the riding position down and back from the front axle."

Don't you want to be Cam's imaginary cyclist?! This is comfort and charm.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Community Studio Graduate!

Bungalow 36 is a place you'll want to visit to fall in love with letterpress all over again. The charming designs will inspire you. We're so happy to say that the mysterious Bungalow 36 creator first ran a letterpress here at our studio. Now she and an antique letterpress are at the bungalow bringing beauty into the world.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Open Studio - May 1

Join us in person or in spirit on May 1st 6-10 pm as we open our studio to celebrate three new letterpress editions.

the Forest Drive
, which was completed earlier this year is a collection of poems by Sophia Kidd, Jackson Wheeler, Desiree Morales, Brynn Saito and John Charles Shippey interspersed with typographic images created by Cameron Leggett and printer's blocks of yore.

Windfall which is currently being sewn is an edition of poems by Erin M. Bertram, the winner of our First Lettre Sauvage Poetry Contest. The poems are marvelous and the cover art is a hand-carved wood cut by John Charles Shippey. We are currently folding, collating, sewing by hand. See me dragging a piece of bone over a folded sheet.

The beautiful broadside of Kim Andrews' poem "As in Nowhere, No-One" features an interesting take on the "sandragraph" print process. Genevieve had a geometric concept that I rendered using scraps of waste polymer stuck to a clean linoleum block. Kim was the braodside winner of our poetry contest.

May 1 marks the deadline for entering the Second Lettre Sauvage Poetry Contest. Hopefully a few entries will be hand-delivered. We're looking forward to all the poetry in store for us.

Our open studio parties are opportunities to show our work, demonstrate our presses and provide a backdrop for creative friends. In the past, our backyard has been transformed into a theater, our living room into a disco and our basement into an experimental noise happening. The photo below of our tarp/screen taken by John Nichols of the local gallery conjures memorable parties past.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Visit to Horn Press

Another beacon of book arts in Southern California, the Horn Press at UCLA, has been revived by Johanna Drucker in the School of Information Studies. We had the pleasure of visiting the press with members of the Southern California chapter of the American Printing History Association (APHA). In a little room on the fourth floor of the Broad Arts Center, one lovely old Vandercook SP15 sits in front of a window flanked by cases of type that fill the rest of the small space.

The press room is like a tiny berry bursting with the energy and brilliance of Johanna Drucker and her dedicated students. Johanna and her press just moved in last summer. They're energized and open to new ideas. Students have been crowding into the little press room creating exquisite corpse poems based on randomly selected themes. This is something we've enjoyed here at Lettre Sauvage along with the question and answer game in which half the printers set a questions and the other half answers to be randomly paired. Both of these are long-standing surrealist practices.

The image above is an amazing metal die- an uncatalogued item from the collection of the founder, Andrew Harlis Horn. This is clearly about an animal and a man caught in a primal relationship. The sheep (or goat) seems to see the man, while the man walks with his staff, his hood too low to watch the mountains and see the sheep. The water and air are impossibly one. Both figures -man and beast- absolutely dwarf civilization in a most romantic way.

Book Arts Gypsy Wagon

I am inspired by Peter and Donna Thomas, who are traveling the country on a book arts tour in a gypsy wagon they built together. I've heard of dream vacations, but this really appeals to my love of cohesion since it combines so many facets of their lives as they'll be working, living, touring, making friends and sharing this treasure they built together. Read about their journey. There's still time to catch them along the way.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Windfall Cover

The newly completed cover of Windfall has been the object of much musing. After spending so long with the poems, it's satisfying to see this book come together in a cover that, to me, really covers it. The cuts in the wood seem like little portraits of inexplicable sensations and the reference to a landscape with its struggles and flows is a fitting companion to the poems.

Windfall, the collection of poems by Erin Bertram, won first prize in our first poetry contest. The woodblock print is the work of another entrant, John Charles Shippey.

We first became acquainted with Mr. Shippey when he sent an unusual entry to our contest. The large manila envelope was full of fragrant old papers of faded typewriter and hand lettering. A drawing of the construction plans for a wooden deck and a shopping list added to the appeal of the refreshing, almost hallucinatory quality of the poems. Little notes about life, art and time filled the margins. There was also a conspicuous absence: the entry fee.

Cameron and I savored the perusal of the package over wine with a house guest named Chance. The next day I hauled out my favorite typewriter and answered John's letter assuring him that we would undoubtedly work together soon. It turned out that he was a friend of regular Sauvage contributor, Sophia Kidd. In her company we made a trip to neighboring Ventura to meet John. To our delight, he loaded us up with exquisite woodblocks and played guitar with us at his beautiful apartment one of the most cohesive residences I've visited. Shown below is the wood-working bench in the corner of the kitchen. In the other room were a bed and typewriter.

This is hopefully only the first of many collaborations with this beautiful soul and a cover that will live well wrapped around Windfall, words as sharp and subtle. The book will be bound and available in April 2010.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How to Make a Valentine.

Lettre Sauvage was featured in video on the website of our hometown paper the Ventura County Star.

Tegan was kind enough to come by and help out with the demonstration.

Thanks to Anthony Plascencia for the production.