Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
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From A to Z: Our An (Collective Specifics) an im partial bibliography, Incidents in a Non-Relationship or: how I came to not know who is


Project Statement

The premise of this book was to take the type in 48 drawers of type, make a text that made sense, and use all of the elements in the fonts once and only once. The book was to be a pseudo-bibliography, and an expose of the peculiar character and activities of all the people I had met during the time I worked as a staff typesetter at the West Coast Print Center. The project succeeded, and all of the type was used (with the exception of a few numbers and some punctuation). Composing the work was akin to doing an elaborate scrabble game. Every letter in the book corresponds to a character. Each letter of the alphabet is consistently used. Each character has a page with a poem and commentary, and a strange colophon on the verso made up of the sorts. Throughout the book a narrative recounts character A's versions of the events that unfold in the "non-relationship" she is having with a certain Z on whom she has a crush. The marginal notes are all specific references to imagined conversations, excerpts from letters, diaries, reviews, and all are numbered. The specific circumstances of their production are explained in the footnotes at the end of the book, pages set in an insane, manic night in which all the sorts in the cases were used up in the setting of these crazed, paragon-dense, cryptic but legible passages. Every element in the book relates to every other element, and the whole is a tightly woven, hermetically perfect set of interlocking references. A world, literary, social, gossipy, narrative, and mercilessly and wickedly drawn. All characters were real, but their identities were changed in gender and age so that they were barely recognizable, with the exception of a few whose poetic styles were unmistakable. I was certain the book would provoke furious response, and I left town just as I put it into the hands of the poets who had served as its inspiration. I needn't have worried. Few recognized themselves, fewer cared. The book remains the virtuosic triumph of that early period, unlike anything else and unlikely ever to be imitated or replicated. Letterpress printers who saw me during the time this was being produced thought it was a crazed project.

Production Narrative

Setting the initial parts of this book and laying out the original structure and form were relatively easy. The type drawer were full and composition, though it often required moving from drawer to drawer, was fairly straightforward for introductory sections. Picking type faces to match character styles and then setting the original "poems" on the recto of the sheets was the next step, and editing was often required as type ran short. The setting of the back sides of each character page required three steps. First, all the sorts left in the case had to be set up and proofed, then they had to be arranged on paper, as in a scrabble game of punning sense. The setting into a final form came after, with pressure to use as many of the sorts as possible. Part way through the process, after I had worked out many of the solutions to these puzzles, I had the manuscript stolen from the back of a car. It was in a knapsack, no doubt taken by someone who thought it contained something of value. I had no choice but to start again, and was quite overwhelmed at the time. The marginal notes took forever, since they were in six and eight point type. The ten and twelve point narrative texts went without difficulty. The tiny header and footer texts took patience, but no particular extra effort. The setting of the table of contents, edition numbers, and above all, the final end notes were the more virtuosic achievements. The binding choice was the result of having spent an inordinate amount of time binding the previous book, 26 '76. The black combs were quick and easy. The plain brown wrapper covers seemed very funny at the time. And writing and printing the review that looked as if it had come from the NY Times made me feel very clever.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: The book is all typographic.

graphical: Layout and format are crucial structural elements of meaning.

Critical Discussion

As a book about the poetry scene, about language, about form, and letterpress as a creatively constrained and productively generative medium, this is a unique work.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Publication Information

publisher: Chased Press

date of publication: 1972-00-00

publication history: 100 copies were published by Chased Press in 1977. [A. Schutte]

Aesthetic Profile

subject: artists' books (LCSH)

themes: The possibilities and limitations of linguistics and typography. [A. Schutte]
The follies and foibles of a poetry community.

content form: experimental text (local)
narrative (local)

publication tradition: artists' book (local)

inspiration: Alistair Johnston's Auerhahn Bibliography.

related works: Prove Before Laying takes up some of the working-under-letterpress-constraint theme.

community: press The West Coast Print Center and various poetry communities in its orbit.

Related Documents

manuscript type: other

location: other

note: None remain, sorry to say. I shed everything when I left Berkeley in the fall of 1977, thinking I would not return.

General Comments

I wrote that NY Times piece, set it in Times New Roman, printed what looked like a department store ad on the back, tore it to make it look like a real cutting, and passed it off as a review.

title note: The title deserves a gloss, or translation. "From A to Z:" the alphabet, obviously, but also, characters within the text include A who is writing to Z because she has a crush on him (the "non-relationship" of the subtitle). "The Our An" is a pun on Auerhahn, the bibliography that Alistair Johnston had just completed. I'd envied him the bibliographical and artifactual obsession he'd been able to indulge in in making that work, and wanted to engage in a similar project."The Politics of Language:" is also printed on the title page.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Chased Press

place: West Coast Print Center, Oakland/Berkeley, California


horizontal: 7.375 inches closed

vertical: 12 inches closed

depth: .25 inches closed

Production Information

production means: letterpress (local)

binding: comb (AAT)

bookBlock: paper kraft paper
endsheets: paper brown paper

ink (local)


format: codex (AAT)

cover: The front cover, 7.375" x 12", is plain brown paper with nothing printed on it, bound on the left.

color: no


pagination: unpaginated 66 pages

numbered?: numbered

signed?: unsigned



Related Documents

manuscript type: other

location: other

note: None remain