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Dwelling in Possibility: Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

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Dwelling in Possibility: Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

Dwelling in Possibility:

Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

An introduction by Emily Hancock

 Adrienne Rich. Photo copyright by Robert Giard.

Adrienne Rich. Photo copyright by Robert Giard.

There are some touchstone texts that seem to be always current, always resonant with wisdom, always “present” with us, whatever the year and however much the political and/or personal landscapes may have changed. 

Many of the essays of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) are such touchstones. I first encountered the transformative work of this American poet and essayist in graduate school, in her prose collection Blood, Bread, and Poetry, in which she declares (with Audre Lorde) that poetry is not (and poets are not) superfluous, but as necessary and nourishing as food and air to the person—the people—we might be and become. Poetry is communion and it is frontier—the meeting of the other and the self.

Jacket for St Brigid Press' edition of Adrienne Rich's essay, printed letterpress on Thai mulberry "water drops" paper.

One of Rich’s essays, “Permeable Membrane,” is this sort of text—invigorating, relentless, and charged with readiness to affect (infect?) the reader with its power and possibility. Again and again. First published in 2006, “Permeable Membrane” is a short piece capable of waking us up, of challenging our complacency, our silence, and our siloed existences.

Convinced of the inseparability of art and society, poetry and politics, Rich argues for and invokes a relational understanding of language: "Art is a way of melting out through one's own skin. 'What, who is this about?' is not the essential question. A poem is not about; it is out of and to.” As individuals and communities and a nation, we exist in a dynamic ocean of thought, culture, politics. We’re in the conversation—“root-tangled in the grit of human arrangements and relationships,” as Rich writes—whether we know it, like it, or actively participate in it or not.

Rich navigates both mystery (the “ghostly” presence and process of writing poetry) and politics (solidarity movements, dictatorship, and the American political machine) with equal subtlety, drawing from sources historical and literary to illuminate the world we find ourselves in as well as some of the choices and consequences that are laid before us. With the precision and prescience of an artist who has her finger on our pulse, Rich’s essay that was first published 12 years ago reads like it hit the newsstand this morning.

St Brigid Press' letterpress printed edition releases on March 8th—International Women's Day.

St Brigid Press' edition of "Permeable Membrane" was hand-set in Goudy Old Style type (cast by Patrick Reagh in California), printed on a hand-cranked press, and sewn by hand. 

Why print something that is still available in numerous books and anthologies? One answer is that part of the job of craft is to make new what is not; to re-new and re-connect us, from the craftperson’s hand to the receiver’s. From me to you. An energetic and artistic renewal, and a conversation, happens in this process. The poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield says, “A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from the tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.”

Another answer is personal to me: as much as I believe in and engage with the fantastic literature that is emerging daily, I believe in and desire to offer anew the already written—works like Rich’s and Thoreau’s and King’s that for years have been leaping off pages, enlarging perspectives, and spurring creative engagement. Each time we return to these touchstones, their wisdom becomes present again, positive change for our communities becomes possible again, and we become empowered again.

My hope for offering this edition of Adrienne Rich’s “Permeable Membrane” is that you may lean with her into the conversation and perhaps join more consciously in the great current of art that is making and re-making us, the poetry that is “language intensified, intensifying our sense of possible reality.”


If you would like to order the St Brigid Press edition of "Permeable Membrane," please click HERE. Scroll down below for additional details and photos of the booklet and the process of creating it.


The booklet's technical specs:

  • Hand-set in Goudy Old Style metal types, with Phenix titling.
  • 16 pages, letterpress printed on Mohawk Superfine text paper, with Thai mulberry paper jacket.
  • Frontispiece print is a digital reproduction of an original watercolor by Nancy Maxson, commissioned specially for this publication.
  • Hand-sewn with Irish linen thread.
  • Limited edition of 190 numbered copies.
  • $28 each.

Very special thanks and appreciation goes to our friend and collaborator Nancy Maxson, who created a marvelous watercolor painting, entitled Mirror, to accompany this edition of "Permeable Membrane." The painting was digitally reproduced on fine vellum paper at Bailey Printing in Charlottesville, and serves as the frontispiece to the edition.

Thanks also to W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., for permission to reprint "Permeable Membrane."

If you'd like to read more of Adrienne Rich's prose writing, here are a few titles to get you started:

  • A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008 (the collection in which "Permeable Membrane" appears)
  • Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (which collects Rich's earlier essay, "Blood, Bread, and Poetry")
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics

Some photos of "the making of" our edition of "Permeable Membrane": click the images to see a larger photo and accompanying text.

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Old Poems, New Forms

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Old Poems, New Forms

During some Spring Cleaning at the Press a few weeks ago, I rediscovered a sweet small project that had somehow gotten buried by other works-in-progress. 

“Overnight on Abiding-Integrity River”

an unfolding poem

Ancient Chinese poetry has long been an enjoyment of mine, particularly poems translated by David Hinton. And a favorite author that Hinton translates beautifully is the early T’ang Dynasty poet Meng Hao-jan (689-740 C.E.).

One of Meng’s crystalline four-line poems struck me as a lovely candidate for a miniature book. At 2-inches square and a half-inch thick, this unfolding journey is small in size but large in scope. Meng’s linked, sensory lines seemed to naturally suit themselves to a linked, tactile format.

I set the poem in metal type, printed it on my trusty foot-treadled Golding press, and cut-and-assembled the paper pieces by hand to form the book. It’s a very limited edition — just 21 books. $15 each.

If you'd like a little ancient new book of poetry, click here.

Many thanks,

St Brigid Press

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Thoreau and Friends

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Thoreau and Friends

Hi dear Friends of the Press,

As the temperatures rise on this eve of the Summer solstice, we are rocketing along with new work here at St Brigid Press. Thanks for taking a moment to hear about it!

Recently we turned our attention to a new book honoring someone with a Very Big Birthday coming up in July ~ Henry David Thoreau turns 200 on the 12th! 

 Thoreau's birthplace, the Wheeler Minot Farmhouse in Concord, MA. Photo credit: John Phelan

Thoreau's birthplace, the Wheeler Minot Farmhouse in Concord, MA. Photo credit: John Phelan

What began as a small commemorative project has since evolved into a multi-faceted book. As Emily’s research into Thoreau’s life and writings progressed and as local, national, and international news unfolded, we began to see a strong connection between Thoreau’s work and that of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and began to feel the timely resonance of all three men today. 

Turns out, Thoreau’s famous essay “Civil Disobedience” had a profound influence on both Gandhi and King. In different times, places, and circumstances, each man developed a philosophy and a practice of nonviolent resistance to injustice. Those ideas and their implementation lead to powerful individual and societal change, and are as relevant today as in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, we’d like to introduce the new publication due out soon:

A Handbook for Creative Protest: Thoreau, Gandhi, & King in Conversation

The Handbook will present selected excerpts by each author, along with a Preface and commentary by Emily Hancock.

At about 35 pages, it proved a bit too large for us to accomplish at this time via hand-set metal type, so we decided on a unique and flexible “hybrid” design: The interior pages have been digitally typeset and designed by Emily and will be printed offset at a local shop; Emily will then letterpress print the covers and hand-sew the book here at the Press. This hybrid design lets us allow the full text to be what it needs to be, and yet still incorporates signature elements of the handmade book that are important to us and to you. 

Our fingers are crossed for a late-July release. Stay tuned!

If you would like to put your name on the pre-order list, please email Emily at stbrigidpress@gmail.com 

Many thanks, and all the best,

St Brigid Press

Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.
— Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"

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The People's Press

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The People's Press

The constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press is something we’ve always taken seriously here at St Brigid Press. We’re grateful to be able to practice our crafts of printing and poetry in a free spirit and a free society. 

It’s important, however, to continue to be vigilant ~ to remind each other and our elected representatives of how precious and vital are our democracy and freedom. We have many wise voices, past and present, who stood up (or, like Rosa Parks, sat down) and spoke out for our inalienable rights. 

In honor of their voice ~ your voice, my voice, our collective American voices ~ we’ve created a series called The People’s Postcards.  

Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant from the Caribbean who, in his early 20s, found a job as an assistant to George Washington. He eventually became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, helped author the Federalist Papers, and served as the first US Secretary of the Treasury. The quote on our postcard was part of a speech Hamilton gave at the New York state convention in Poughkeepsie, where he urged representatives to ratify the US Constitution.

Born a slave in Maryland about 1818, Frederick Douglass became one of the most ardent and eloquent human rights activists and orators in US history, speaking and writing on behalf of African-Americans, Native Americans, women, and immigrants. He also became a government official and newspaper publisher. The above quote was part of a speech Douglass gave in the District of Columbia on the 23rd anniversary of emancipation in DC.


Friends, we are the WE in “We the People…” Let’s keep up the good work of forming a more perfect union. Together.


The People’s Postcards

  • letterpress printed by yours truly
  • postal service-compliant at 6” x 4.25”
  • pre-stamped! — ready to pen and send
  • sturdy bamboo cardstock paper
  • $8.50 for a set-of-10 stamped postcards
  • order direct from Emily Hancock at stbrigidpress@gmail.com

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Loving Letters

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Loving Letters

Hi Friends of the Press, and a very Happy Feast-Day of St Brigid to you all! We are most glad to celebrate this day with the launch of our latest book ~

Love Letters: An Abecedarium of Type Designs by Frederic W. Goudy

This project all began with the simple love of letters ~ letters beautifully designed, cast, printed, and shared. 

One of the most gifted and prolific type designers in American history, Frederic Goudy began his life’s work at his Village Press in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1903. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing until his death in 1947, he designed well over 100 typefaces, many of which are still in use today in both metal and digital formats. 

At St Brigid Press, we are honored to care for and print with a couple of rarer metal castings of Goudy’s designs. This book presents the gorgeous 60-point Cloister Initials and the elegant Friar in the form of an abecedarium, or “a-b-c book” ~ the large Initial letters are accompanied on each page by the name of another of Goudy’s typefaces, printed here in his Friar. The book was designed, handset in metal type, and printed on the circa-1915 iron handpress here at the Press by Emily Hancock.

If you want to see more of the process on printing a page of this book, please see our previous post, “Diary of a Printed Page.”

 Steve Matteson, Creative Director at Monotype and historian of Frederic Goudy and his type designs.

Steve Matteson, Creative Director at Monotype and historian of Frederic Goudy and his type designs.

Frederic Goudy energized a new generation of type designers with his beautiful, time-tested work. One of those designers who takes inspiration from Goudy is Steve Matteson. Steve is one of the finest digital type designers in the world, serving currently as Creative Type Director at the legendary Monotype Corporation. His roots are in metal and cast iron, though — he and I met in the Fall of 2015, at the American Printing History Association’s conference celebrating the iron handpress, held at the Rochester Institute of Technology where Steve first studied typography. 

From the Droid font family to digital revivals of Goudy’s own types like Bertham Pro and Friar Pro, Matteson has a brilliant sense of lettering and typography. And history, too — we were thrilled when Steve agreed to write an introduction for Love Letters. In a few paragraphs, he manages to introduce us to Goudy the late-19th/early-20th century craftsman, and to bring the beauty of Goudy’s art and heart forward into our present age. 

We love letters. And Frederic Goudy's are some of the most beautiful ever designed. May they spark joy in you as well!

  • Edition of 45 numbered books.
  • 6 x 4 inches (closed)
  • Interior papers are Rives Lightweight mouldmade paper (cream), with accents of French Paper Company’s Parchtone Natural.
  • Covers are Chestnut-Pinto Lokta, handmade in Nepal.
  • Sewn side-bound with linen thread.
  • Preface by Emily Hancock.
  • Introduction by Steve Matteson.
  • Goudy Old Style type for the text was specially cast for this printing by Patrick Reagh in Sebastopol, California.

TO ORDER, please continue to our secure check-out HERE.

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