Michele Burgess describes her artistic process as a craft “that should push the idea forward rather than be used to call attention to itself…for the purpose of using and enriching the elements and forms that a book possesses to translate thoughts, feelings, images, and information to the viewer in the form of a journey.” In the three projects—Torn Web, Last Cloud, and The Book of Darkness—on which I have collaborated with Michele, I have experienced an enriching journey indeed, observing with awe and appreciation her process of consistently complementing my poems with deeply resonant prints that capture the multilayered content of my work. Her deftly subtle, yet powerful interpretations reflect a rare combination of exquisite printmaking, poetic acumen, and the highest level of artistic skill. Her books are inspired journeys that remain mysterious and original with each new viewing. As a poet who is most reluctant to work with artists who mistake interpreting poetry with mere illustration, I feel Michele’s books and prints have enriched my poems to the point of transporting them into double works of art that carry a single integrity in which the reader becomes the viewer and the viewer the reader, without any interruption. In which the visual and literary complement each other in such a way that “the book” leads the viewer and reader on an artistic adventure that reveals a thrilling visual terrain that haunts and welcomes at the same time.
What follows here is by way of dealing with the questions raised about my relationship with Bill Kelly and Brighton Press when we were putting together our artists' book. We worked on this project over a long period of time—several years, off and on—and in various places. It's difficult to speak in a few sentences about the nature of what was, for me, an extraordinary period of time, but here goes:
I have never had a more rewarding experience than the days I spent working with the people at Brighton Press. The physical work of putting together our book often seemed quite secondary to our conversations as we explored ideas of what we might want in such a book. Bill, who actually bore the burden of the physical labor, might disagree, but I found this absolutely exciting.
Sending a manuscript to a commercial publisher usually ends a process that begins with the solitary but intimate act of writing poems. Except for a few choices, perhaps, left to the poet, his poems move off into the opacity of the publisher's house; they become invisible and no longer "at hand."
The purpose of Brighton Press seems, quite literally, to keep every facet of the creative process continually "at hand." What was once solitary becomes rich with the continual give and take of shared work; what was intimate grows deeper in the mutual desire to envision the whole.
The book we produced together belongs equally to both of us. It is, as one might expect, a beautiful book. In all truth, however, I must say that I felt some sadness when the book was finally in my hands. The work was at an end, although in some essential way it remains with me.
I hope that this conveys some small sense of how privileged I felt in working with Brighton Press.
Martha Serpas, poet:
I am imagining one of these books, its pages flipping as if wind-tossed, as an experience of the wind as passionate with a double effect—cleansing and destructive.
Ian Tyson, sculptor:
With two dogs and superb printers, working at Brighton Press puts an artist under an aesthetic obligation—one cannot offer something trivial. The experience is truly collaborative because whatever one commences with inevitably changes as alternative solutions present themselves. For me this is a creative process—not slavishly following a preconceived layout.
Great consideration is given to the choice of materials, which allows one to intensify the original concept throughout the project. This is an immensely important aspect of making a book. The team members at Brighton Press are dedicated perfectionists—a rare commodity.
C. G. Hanzlicek, poet:
Working with Brighton Press was for me a joy in many ways. Bill and Michele paired me with an artist whose work I deeply admired, and who, I was convinced, understood my poems exactly as I wished them to be understood. The creation of the book from start to finish was a long process, and there were many delays along the way, but every delay resulted in an improvement to the design of the book. Who but Brighton Press could make you relish delays? The most important feeling for me, however, came on the day the finished book arrived and I unwrapped it for a look. The sense that I had then was that I had been given the rare opportunity to make art twice. One always feels pleasure and pride at finishing a poem, but opening my Brighton Press book for the first time gave me feelings of pleasure and pride that were even greater than when I had written the poems. My poems had been elevated into a whole new esthetic realm by being so beautifully presented. The wine was the same, but when it was served in a beautiful vessel, it tasted a whole lot better, and nobody creates a more beautiful vessel than Brighton Press.
Sandra Alcosser, poet:
I lived with [these] etchings for several months. Conversed with them. To collaborate is to travel in the imaginary of another, to abandon one’s solitary practices. At night while I slept, my feet grew sooty.
Brian D. Cohen:
The books of Brighton Press are not predictable. They are not marked by the flavor of a dominant personality, as are books by Baskin or Van Vliet. They are—each one, and every
one—perfectly realized books. Every element of each book they publish belongs, every choice is quietly right, each volume is, inevitably, perfectly itself. They don't think of putting poems and images in a book, they think book.
As an artist who has collaborated with the Press, I know something about how they do
things—persuade, cajole, or trick artists into surpassing themselves in their contributions. They helped me (I'm putting this rather kindly) make decisions about my work I could not have made myself. Their books frequently represent the finest examples of work by the artists with whom they collaborate—has Manuel Neri, Faith Ringgold, or Harry Sternberg ever been so revealing, so direct, so unassuming, and so much themselves?
When the opportunity for creating a book with Brighton Press first presented itself in the early spring of 1993, I was in the throes of finishing a rather complex assembly of sculpture and drawings entitled "The Christopher Whitby Coloring Book." The piece was far enough advanced that I was experiencing that familiar ecstatic desperation that occurs with all endings of intense involvement...that hiatus between works however brief when an artist is most undefended and vulnerable. My first impulse was to reject, or at least put off until some future date, this opportunity with remarks such as, "too precious," "commercial," "limiting," etc., etc....and then Michele used the word "pagination"...and now, nearly one year later, the book Procrustes Inn Register is the intellectual base for the Procrustes project whose culmination will be a large sculpture which will include the seven pages of Procrustes Inn Register transcribed into a predella. It would seem that the making of this book at this time is a natural sequential pagination of my process as an artist and as a person. It was unavoidable....