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A Review of John Fuller & the the Sycamore Press

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Photo from The Type Desk blog

Check out a nice review of John Fuller & the Sycamore Press by Ryan Roberts on the Type Desk blog.

The most entertaining parts of the book have to do with the pitfalls of the printing process. Among other things, John mentions how he had once run out of fs while “setting a particularly clotted double-spread of Mick Imlah’s poem about Quasimodo.” So what did he do?

Well read the blog to find out!

Click here to order the book.

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An excerpt from John Fuller and the Sycamore Press

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

In John Fuller and the Sycamore Press, Ryan Roberts interviews publisher John Fuller to find out more details of his press. As Ryan explains, meeting in Fuller’s home in Oxford, the conversation was casual, an enjoyable time to learn the facts of the press straight from the publisher himself. Check out a few of the questions and answers from the interview.

Roberts: So what determined, for the broadsheets, the number to be printed?

Fuller: I suppose we were influenced by the thought that with certain poets we could, in theory, sell a lot of copies. In other cases, I think we just went crazy when printing and there was more daylight than we thought and the paper was there and we just sort of went on for longer doing it. I think that was true of John FullerBernard Bergonzi’s. We had printed a vast number. I seem to remember that it was purely accidental — just a sort of burst of energy. Because when you’re actually out there doing it — there’s the paper, it’s all inked up — you go on doing it as long as you can, until it gets dark. And you want to print them all in one day. So 200 copies is a fair number, but if it’s all going well you can get through many more. The thing goes ‘thwump, thwump, thwump’, and if you’re hand-feeding the paper in regularly and you don’t have to keep stopping for disasters you can get many more done. I think on certain days we found ourselves printing more than we really should have done. I think that’s the answer. It’s pretty arbitrary, actually. It’s to do with printing conditions and whether things have gone wrong or whether the daylight continued long enough for us to print. Not very serious reasons. How many did we do of Thom Gunn — 500? I must have thought, ‘This is Thom Gunn. I can surely sell 500.’

Roberts: And here we come to James Fenton’s Put Thou Thy Tears Into My Bottle.

Fuller: This is the one I misprinted the title. He didn’t seem to mind. I had some theological explanation for sticking with it, quite apart from the laziness in order to reprint the whole thing entirely, having done it. I think we could just draw a veil over that. No doubt if you don’t say anything about it being an error it will become a sort of postmodernist twist on the biblical text by James himself whenever somebody writes up his work. [Turns to Anthony Furnivall’s pamphlet] And then our attempt to print music. He was, I think, an organ scholar at Magdalen. I can’t remember exactly how I decided to print his song.

Roberts: So how did you go about setting the music for this?

Fuller: I used… you know that stuff, which in England is called Letraset, where you rub letters from a sheet? It’s got a slightly sticky back and when you rub it like a transfer the letter comes off. You can get ordinary fonts and John Fulleryou can get a sheet with musical symbols. I got staved paper, Letraset musical symbols, did a score and had a zinc-lined block made from it through a printer. I did the circular staves, by the way, with a pair of compasses. Quite tricky to do them neatly enough to reproduce, and then did the letters around. [Checks ledger book] There is an acute on Mallarmé, obviously, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my type. I certainly wouldn’t have done an accent on a little bit of type in the way that I described for the Larkin poem. Furnivall just set this Mallarmé poem, and I was rather intrigued by the challenge of publishing music. It just seemed an interesting technical challenge. And it was, really, because normally music is quite big — you prop it up on the piano and look at it from a distance. That was the largest size I could do getting those blocks into my forme, which is quite small. I seem to remember that the blocks filled out the entire forme.

Roberts: And then there are the Nemos … I’m considering separating them out from the rest of the bibliography, perhaps under a miscellaneous category.

Fuller: I think that in the sort of technical bibliographical sense it was just another of my activities that I brought under the umbrella of the press in order to help to market it. I think I thought I was simply going to account for it in the ledger as though I were publishing it, that I would include it for accounting purposes in case I was ever going to have to pay tax. In at least one instance, I ran out and photocopied some more. [Consults ledger] Yes, Truexpress — I must have taken my last copy along and had them do some sheets from it.

Roberts: So Standard Press would have done the original, but Truexpress would have handled the copies?

Fuller: Truexpress was just a little local print shop that would John Fuller & the Sycamore Presshave given me something I could bind myself. I must have had a cover block made of the whole of the typographical cover of the Standard Press edition, just for convenience. And then I printed it on this yellow Glastonbury where I obviously had an awful lot of it as I’d used it often. So that was in 1973 that the press itself would have printed off the covers. I think Nemo’s presence in the ledger was just a sort of accounting thing. I sort of associated Nemo with the press, because I was doing the publicity postcards and it was something I was doing…

Click here to see how you can learn more about John Fuller and his Sycamore Press.

Oak Knoll author, Ryan Roberts, tells his story

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Read the first post in our new series of blogs, where Oak Knoll authors take us through their experiences in their field and as an author. In this post, Ryan Roberts, author of John Fuller & the Sycamore Press, explains what sparked his interest in publisher John Fuller and how he used his interest to create his first book.

John Fuller & the Sycamore Press: A Bibliographic History developed from my interest in the works of the British poet James Fenton. Since 2005, I have maintained Fenton’s official website at www.jamesfenton.com, a privilege that arose from my experiences managing the official websites of Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. As I compiled information to post on James’s website, I noticed his earliest works were published by John Fuller’s Sycamore Press. Fuller had been Fenton’s tutor for his first two terms at Magdalen College, Oxford, and the two remain close friends.  As I looked more deeply into the press’s output, I became intrigued by the scope of its production and became greatly impressed by Fuller’s keen knack for promoting young, exceptional writers, including Mick Imlah, Alan Hollinghurst, Elise Paschen, Fenton, and others.

James soon put me in touch with John Fuller and served as our host when my wife and I visited Oxford in June 2006, making sure to arrange lunch at John’s house so that bibliographer and subject could be properly introduced. I fondly remember that first visit — talking with John after lunch, my wife trying elderberry liquor for the first time, and the thrill I felt as John returned from the other room with a small stack of Sycamore pamphlets and his Sycamore Press ledger book for us to examine. He kept meticulous notes about his press work, including the cost of all supplies (paper, linen string for the sewn bindings, number of envelopes purchased, etc.) and, most importantly, the number of items produced and the date of publication. John graciously allowed me to keep the pamphlets, including some ephemeral off-prints, and borrow the ledger book to aid my research.

A collection of pamphlets published by the Sycamore Press

I returned to Oxford in early April 2007, and spent five days with the Sycamore Press archive, which John had organized in preparation for the Bodleian Library’s eventual acquisition. I again visited John to go through a draft of the bibliography and to discuss his work with the press. I recorded our conversation as a way of documenting details and notes about specific publications, only later deciding it might well serve as an interesting addition to the book itself. John’s recollection of details about the printing process for specific works was remarkable, and I hope the conversation reads not as a formal interview, but as a generous and open sharing of memories from the printer himself.

When I first conceived of the Sycamore Press bibliography, I remember talking it through with my wife on one of our evening walks: “In addition to a bibliography of the press’s output, wouldn’t it be nice to also have contributions from some of the authors about their experiences being edited and published by Fuller? A piece by James, for instance, or Alan Hollinghurst?” With this in mind, I wrote to as many Sycamore Press authors as possible and, in time, received replies from nearly everyone, which says a lot about how much the authors admire John’s work. The author contributions soon became more interesting than the bibliography itself, which is why they receive such prominence in the book. As I suspected, they show John Fuller to be a marvelous editor and judge of quality writing, and, especially for the younger poets, reveal the importance of his encouragement of their work.

Click here for more information on how to order Ryan Robert’s book, John Fuller & the Sycamore Press. After all, even Ryan’s son knows a good book when he sees one!

Keil Roberts with his father's book

Keil Roberts with his father's book