Art: Of the Places We’ll Go

Arami Matevosyan, BFR Staff

The following two pieces are part of a four-piece series titled Of the Places We’ll Go.

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Death, Then Life, Arami Matevosyan

You never claimed residency on earth. Somehow the idea of mortality was never enough—you wanted to live through the fruits of the next couple centuries, and this notion of life and death did not fit your agenda. You were composed of stardust, no doubt: immortal and ready to burst at any moment. And in your grand scheme of things, you ventured to explain to me that you just wanted to watch people burn the world, all while nestled in your corner of the universe.


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Enamored with Glow, Arami Matevosyan

It was your aura that mesmerized me: strong, vibrant, defiant, unwavering.

Absolutely beautiful.

I wanted to chase after you to see where you lead me, but I could never seem to keep up. Terrified of losing sight, I ran into the gnarled roots of your stories and lost myself in the exhilarating glow of your light. I was drunk on your mystery and I never sobered up.

Essay: The Art of Letterpress

Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor

BFR Bookmaking

Writing is an art. The creative process takes time and skill to perfect and the product, the message contained in the sea of words, has the potential to influence an individual, a nation, or even the world.

But what of the vessel through which writing is conveyed? We live in a world where e-books are on the rise, bookstores are closing, and libraries are spending more of their budgets on databases than paper. The printed book, once responsible for revolutions, is becoming devalued in the face of digitization. It would be easy to let the book go the way of the record and phonograph. Digital publishing is easily accessible and often cheaper than its analog counterpart. But before we disregard it completely, we must remember that the printed book itself is a product of the creative process.

Last Fall I took a course at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library called The Hand-Printed Book in Its Historical Context. As a rare books library, the Bancroft has the feel of museum, and like a museum, its collections contain objects worth marveling at. Some of its materials are historical—a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a copy of Ginsberg’s Howl stamped by censors at U.S. Customs—while others are completely one-of-a-kind. Let’s face it: they just don’t make illuminated manuscripts like they used to.

But while I learned in this course that the Bancroft preserves ancient and beautiful books from the clutches of Time, I also found that the art of bookmaking has not died out. Next to the Reading Room of the Bancroft—the gallery for these ancient treasures—is a room that houses a working Albion cast-iron printing press from the 1850s and cases upon cases of moveable type. In this studio is everything an artisan would need to create a book, from handmade papers to ink to bindings.

During this class, I underwent an abridged apprenticeship and was eventually initiated into an artisanal process. Some things came quickly: I learned the lingo (dropping your plate of movable type is called making Pie) and refined the skills (arranging your type requires the ability to read both backwards and upside down!). But I also discovered that some things can’t be taught by someone else; sometimes you have to go with your gut. If the italic versions of two letters print so close together that the ink runs, you might have to add an extra space, even if it appears in the middle of a word. If the page becomes too indented, you might have to adjust the amount of force used to work the press. If the pages are thick, you might have to add to the amount of thread used in the binding. You might have to go against convention for the sake of aesthetics.

Like any great art, hand printing is only as good as the intuition and skill of the artist, the bookmaker. The book that I created—The Bookworm with selections from the writings of Robert Hooke (Berkeley: The Bancroft Library Press, 2014)—may not be a work of art. It was my first time at the press after all. But true artisans exist in the field of bookmaking, from the twentieth-generation bookmakers in Italy to the owner of Berkeley’s very own Pettingell Book Bindery.

Last Fall I took blank paper, ink, and a needle and thread, and I made a book from start to finish. And I learned that the pages themselves are just as important as the words they contain.

A Moment of Reflection, with David Foster Wallace

Brittni Bertolet, BFR Staff

Bertolet 1Four of us sit on the back stoop of our cabin, at the precipice between forest and not, with the dim glow of the porch light illuminating only half faces. David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System, lays open in front of us. The cover has been stripped from its spine—exchanged between sweat-covered hands one too many times—and the yellowing pages are left loose-leafed and frail.

It is the end of the summer. A winged insect lands on exposed skin, breaks membrane, and fills itself with red and warmth.

I do not notice the mosquito until it is far too late.

Bloated with blood, it withdraws once it is satiated and retreats back to the forest behind us, beating wings to continue ceaselessly onward, leaving only a concurrent point of irritated flesh. I slap the enflamed skin and curse the pest as it flies away, vexed with these creatures for their hindrances, while the others continue to swat the space around their heads. For a moment, we do not move otherwise—the stoop a point of claimed place in which we refuse to feel intruded.

Let’s go inside. I’m getting eaten, someone finally suggests, standing up and brushing wild from the bottom of their pants. I turn to the forest one last time as a firefly fluoresces amongst the trees, lighting darkened paths and inviting us to explore. It is gone before I am entirely sure it was ever there. But now my skin is tender, scratched raw in the night, and I think of these tiny creatures—of their persistence in the wilderness, of their realness, of their distinct Otherness. I wonder if they know what I am. I wonder if they know what they are—their swift departures taking pieces of myself I can afford to lose: the sweat from my arm that now clings to hind legs, and the red warmth, which nourishes and gives it flight.

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Short Fiction: Dynamic Tension

Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

It started in her fingers. Marie could feel the joints constricting and solidifying under her skin. With each new day and each new client, they grew tighter, unbearably restrictive. Marie was certain that they would stop working all together. But they didn’t, and when every client inevitably said, “Press a little harder please,” Marie would comply, leeching the tension from their oiled, shimmering pores like soap from a sponge.

From her fingers it moved through her hands, wriggling into the tendons and bones like inchworms through an apple. But her hands still kneaded the backs of strangers until they became as soft and malleable as butter on a warm day. Marie’s joints cracked and rebelled, but still she pressed harder.

The tension moved up her arms, into her elbows, biceps, and shoulders. She hunched. She flexed. She even tried self-massage, but nothing released the ever-growing knots under her skin. Her neck grew so tight that she couldn’t rest comfortably on her bed, every movement of her head, no matter how slight, pulling on the rigid muscles. Every little thing that touched her exacerbated the tightness. Marie tried twisting. She tried writhing. She tried lying very, very still.  But nothing soothed the perpetual aching in her body.

Her back felt like a slab of concrete punctuated with tennis balls but still she had to press harder. Each and every client it seemed needed to be elbowed, crushed and bullied into relaxation, their muscles like eggs waiting to be cracked. And so Marie pressed harder. With every passing day, she bore down with greater ferocity on the backs, arms, legs, and necks of strangers, trying to draw any small semblance of calm out of their taught, abused bodies. But it was never enough. “Harder” they would say, and harder she would coerce them into slackening themselves out on the table.

There was nothing to be done. This was her livelihood. There was no solace in her hours of loneliness for even then she had crush out her own constricting body parts. She was a block of ice. A gnarled old tree. An over-full balloon just waiting for the moment it could pop.

“And I just can’t take it anymore!” Marie cried out, looking to Dr. Meyers for guidance.

The doctor looked up from his notes, nodding, brain on fire, wishing that there was someone there more qualified to handle this situation.

“Marie,” the doctor said, “I know exactly what you mean.”