Saturday, February 03, 2007

Vermont Fine Press Feature: PLOWBOY Press, Andrew Miller-Brown

Working daily with Claire Van Vliet at Janus Press, Andrew Miller-Brown handles designs, papers, and inks that slowly develop into projects of great beauty and impact. But he also has developed his own press, Plowboy Press, with an icon of a wide-spread V crossed by a horizontal at mid height, and a location given simply as "Vermont." The imprint begins in 2004 with a modest entertainment, and blossoms with Miller-Brown's fall 2005 work, "Boustrophedonic."

Andrew studied creative writing at Johnson State College (Johnson, Vermont) in 2000 and was always in the art department and print shop, where he began to study printing. In the summer of 2003 he talked with Van Vliet, whose press is about an hour and a half from the college, in the hills of Newark, Vermont. And he began working for her in 2004.

His first project independent of Van Vliet's work was his May 2004 "Fable of the Cow," 20 pages of computer-set type and shadowy cow and milking parlor photos wrapped in a chapbook-style dust jacket, itself a set of images from the photo negatives; on the reverse of the jacket is a child's fanciful drawing, also held to be a cow.

The piece is crisp and shows the precision that Miller-Brown draws on in his work, but he frankly calls it "not much," and it might have had very limited life indeed had the college not requested a printing of it -- which drove the project into its second printing of 25, for the JSC trustees. Now a third printing, of 100, gives Andrew an amusement to share with friends of his press.

"Boustrophedonic" is far more serious in its design and construction. Printed on Barcham Green Sandwich, in letterpress work (Adobe Caslon), the pages are accordion folded and bound in paste paper on Fabriano Miliani Ingres (dark brown with lush golden-brown stripes, like an upscale woolen suit fabric), in a Fabriano Tiziano slipcase of medium brown. The edition numbers 100 pieces. The text is
"a passage from Aelfric's Colloquoy, an Anglo-Saxon primer used to teach Latin to young boys. Originally written in Latin and later glossed in Old English, it is a series of dialogues between a teacher and various Anglo-Saxon tradesmen and laborers. In this dialogue, presented here as a boustrophedonic inscription, the teacher asks a plowman about his daily work. The word boustrophedonic comes from the Greek meaning "turning like an ox while plowing." It is also related to the Greek word for ox-guiding or an ox goad. During the translation from Phoenician right-to-left writing and the left-to-right system we have inherited, early Greek and some early Latin inscriptions were written in alternately right-to-left and left-to-right lines allowing the reader to read back and forth as an ox plows a field. The dialogue reads from left to right along the bottom of the accordion and moves up the entire accordion in alternate directions. The printer's translation of the dialogue follows: What do you say, plowman? How do you keep busy with your work?..."
[I leave the rest to you to read within the piece.]

One fascinating aspect of this formal, elegant, classically derived piece is that it develops into a social or political statement, and the final words are "because I am not free." Following this strand further, with Van Vliet, Miller-Brown crafted a strong political broadside in June 2006, using words from Aristotle to deliver a stinging critique of the Iraq war and its pursuit by the Bush Administration. (The broadside is issued by the Janus Press.)

Future projects from Plowboy include a larger book of poems from a Burlington (Vermont) poet with "lots of dark imagery, using handmade paper for covers," and a book based on what Miller-Brown's wife's grandmother brought from Italy when she emigrated in the 1950s with her family, including both recipes and stories.

Kingdom Books is pleased to offer two copies of "Boustrophedonic," pictured here, and one of the broadside "The tyrant who impoverishes the citizens"; contact us for more information.

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