Booksmart: Pairing poetry and the artistry of letterpress printing

Oct 16, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Karen Weeks and Jessica Farquhar: pair the literary and visual arts at Moxie Letterpress, housed in the Butchertown Market.
Karen Weeks and Jessica Farquhar: pair the literary and visual arts at Moxie Letterpress, housed in the Butchertown Market.
The pairing happened at a baby shower in July. Karen Weeks, an artist and founder of Moxie Letterpress, met Jessica Farquhar. The two discussed children; Weeks is pregnant and Farquhar has a toddler.

They chatted about a new business Weeks had set up after a four-year professional odyssey that began after she left Indiana University in 2003. Her adventures had taken the native Louisvillian to New York City, where she worked for the upscale, commercial Soho Letterpress; to Berkeley, Calif., where she worked for a bookmaker; and to Lexington, where she worked for the King Library Press at the University of Kentucky. Her last stop was and Akron, Ala., working with Amos Paul Kennedy, a contemporary letterpress printer, papermaker and builder of artists’ books.

After returning to her hometown in January, Weeks wrote a business plan and in March set up Moxie in Butchertown Market, 1201 Story Ave. Nearly four months into her endeavor, she was open to projects that paired visual artists with writers.

Farquhar, a writer herself whose poetry has been published in regional journals and who received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women this year to complete a manuscript of poems, jumped at the opportunity to work with Weeks.

“I just knew that it was my dream to be involved in a letterpress,” Farquhar says.
By August, Farquhar had paired five artists with five local poets to produce broadsides that merged each poem with distinct visual art. As the writers read their work to a crowd of about 250 people at Moxie’s digs during the Aug. 31 F.A.T. Friday trolley hop, the business presented and sold the broadsides, which were produced by hand on an old-school printing press. (All prints are signed, numbered and sold at affordable prices, usually under $50.)

Since then, the duo has been working on other readings and broadsides that bring poets and artists together. The next reading is Saturday, Oct. 27, with poet Cate Marvin, whose book “Fragment of the Head of a Queen” was published recently by Sarabande Books. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, The New England Review and Ploughshares. On Friday, Nov. 23, Louisville poet Jeff Skinner will read his work. Both readings begin at 8 p.m.

Farquhar credits Skinner for not only mentoring her in her own writing but strongly encouraging her to cultivate this literary and artistic venture, which includes a national poetry chapbook competition. It will be judged by poet Matthea Harvey, who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and whose latest book of poems, “Modern Life,” was published this year. (The deadline is Feb. 1, 2008. For more details, visit
“I had a lot of dreams when I set out,” says Weeks, whose work fulfilling orders for upscale ephemera keeps her busy and brings in revenue.

And while turning a profit is part of her dream, so is someday replicating the types of projects and programs of renowned letterpress organizations like New York’s Center for Book Arts, the San Francisco Center for the Book
and the Minnesota Center
for Book Arts.

“Overall,” she adds, “I want this to be a fusion of the visual and literary arts and a way to support the local arts community.”

Contact the writer at
[email protected]