Monday, December 8, 2008
Birdsong and Books
I am listening to a radio broadcast of Messiaen’s birdsongs set to music, and thinking of working at the Hampshire Typothetae in Northampton, Massachusetts, round about 1980. It reminded me of listening to the Morning Pro Musica radio broadcasts of the late, great Robert J. Lurtsema, which always began with a very long recording of natural birdsong. I remember listening to Robert J’s best gravelly baritone introducing Ravi Shankar ragas while snow fell outside the printing studio and we all (printmaker Barry Moser, poet Chase Twitchell, master printer Harold McGrath) drank coffee and played Pitch. Magical company and magical times for a 19-year-old Smith College sophomore. I mostly distributed type (de-composed the type and put it away), swept the floors, and made coffee --and felt very, very lucky to be there.
Moser was working then finishing his Pennyroyal Press edition of Alice in Wonderland and beginning work on Moby Dick. I was interning at the Typothetae one or twice a week, as I recall, and working for Ruth Mortimer in the Smith College Rare Book room. All those rare books and letterpress arcana worked their way in to the books of my Spellkey fantasies, especially the final book The Books of the Keepers.