Terre Haute, nestled near Indiana’s western border, is a magical wonderland. Of sorts. It has a well-documented, ongoing battle between an enormous population of crows and residents who shoot flare guns and fireworks at all hours of the night to scare them away. The birthplace of Max Ehrmann, the Coca-Cola Bottle, and Eugene Debs, its geography is so criss-crossed with railroad tracks that John Dillinger reportedly swore he’d never rob a bank in Terre Haute because his escape would probably be blocked by a train. And if he never said that, I’d believe he did. As someone who attended college in Terre Haute and whose first two books contain a lot of poems written in or about The Haute (which is what the cool kids call the city; also “The Big Dirty”), I can attest that being stuck in traffic for 45 minutes due to a train barreling through the intersection not only happens like all the freaking time, it’s also a legitimate excuse for being late to class. Fun stuff.
There are a ton of neat things about Terre Haute and the surrounding area (like Vigo county being one of the best bellwethers for presidential elections), and there are a ton of not-so-great things (like all the meth). But let’s focus on one of the neat things.
The Fair Press.
To be fair, what I know about the Fair Press is fairly little and not very pressing (OK, I’m done, I swear). I did find a website, which contains info for a single book and touts the Fair Press as the publisher of the Snowy Egret, the “oldest independent U.S. Journal of Nature Writing,” which in and of itself seems pretty durn cool. I see a P.O. Box listed on its site, but not a physical address.
However, I know that at least at one time, The Fair Press resided at 1638 North 10th Street in Terre Haute (That current location is right across from Union Hospital, where I have been admitted twice: once for severe dehydration, and another time because I broke my hand by punching a concrete floor. I never claimed to be the most intelligent person. I digress). I also know that a person named Karl Barnebey worked there, and that Karl used hand-lettered, calligraphic aluminum plates to print at least one book. It says so right here:
This is on the last page of a book of poetry called “Born of Cretan Spring,” written by Prof. Donald Jennerman (who taught at ISU) and published in 1981. My copy is signed and dated by the author and has a little sticker on the front that says “Local Author” because I bought it in Terre Haute at a now-defunct bookstore called BookNation, which was a fantastic bookery run by a city councilman. But, again, I digress.
Go ahead and read the words in that image again and see what pops out at you. What pops out at me is that the plates used for the printing process are hand-lettered calligraphic plates. Each letter and number in the book (hell, even the price tag on the back cover) is the product of a hand-made symbol.
That’s not something you see too often anymore (“That” being the hand-lettered aspect of the printing, not the $3 price tag for a poetry book, although I haven’t seen that in a while, either). Not that there’s anything wrong with hand-lettered books being on the rare side. Someone (Karl) would need the proper tools, machines, and training to print text derived from hand-lettered, flowing calligraphy, and those tools, machines, and training aren’t nearly as accessible or as common as a laptop or a printer. Printing a book the longer and more painstaking way takes time, dedication, and knowledge of craft and process. Every time I hold this book, I know I’m holding something truly unique.
Plus the poems are pretty durn cool.
Anyways, next time you’re in Terre Haute (It is, after all, a travel and vacation hotspot. Right?), check out 1638 North 10th Street and see what’s there now. (Unless it’s someone’s house. Please don’t peek in the windows.) Whatever’s there is on the spot where Karl used cool hand-lettered plates to print Don’s poetry.
Also, another digression: if you do go to Terre Haute, please go to Sonka’s Irish Pub and get the cheese-stuffed brew pretzels. With the beer mustard. They’re delicious.