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Sugar Grove poet's love of words inspires her to start press, institute chapbook competition

Sugar Grove poet's love of words inspires her to start press, institute chapbook competition

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Candace Butler’s love affair is well documented.

First came filling up notebooks with lyrical poetry. That practice dates back to her youth.

Then came her choices of college courses for study.

Her work in the classroom clearly points to the passion.

Her published books of poetry record her spiritual joy.

However, nothing proves more telling of this affair than her recent decision to become a printer – not just any printer with digital devices. No, Butler rescued a 125-year-old, 500-lb. cast-iron press that requires arm and leg work to operate from a former print shop in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The 1892 Golding Pearl No. 3 was so covered in years of accumulated dirt that Butler wasn’t sure it would still work.

With scrubbing and devotion, the press now sits inside a small room on the campus of Emory & Henry College, ready to create and ready to speak of Butler’s lifelong love of the written word.

“After lots of cleaning, here it is,” Butler exclaimed with a gesture toward one of the two small presses in the basement office that is the printing site for Wild Leek Press, an independent literary publisher that boasts of its Sugar Grove home.

Butler grew up in the Smyth County community and still calls it home. She features many of its rural characteristics in her poetry. Her most recent chapbook, Nothing Is So Lovely, features poems with titles evocative to many Smyth residents: Song of the Mountains, On the Back of the Dragon and The Crooked Road.

When Butler acquired the antique press, she also bought a drying rack. The office celebrates the individual wooden and metal pieces of type needed for a letterpress as well as a chest of tiny drawers created just for type.

Butler admires the hand-carved pieces of type and the resourcefulness of a previous printer as she points to an “s” than was once a dollar sign.

The necessity of fitting the pieces of type together by hand on the letterpress and turning the wheel while working the foot treadle – the physicality of the work – inspires Butler, who reflects on “how beautifully handcrafted the printing can be. It honors the written word.”

Even more, she values the tactile experience of feeling the print on the pages, its raised edges and depressions. “It gives it [the written word] touch,” said Butler, who spoke of a resurgence in letterpress printing because it is “unrivaled in texture and color” and offers a “handcrafted aspect.”

Butler’s love for letterpress printing goes back to her college days at Virginia Intermont when she used a small sign press in a printmaking class. In those years, Butler pursued both writing and graphic design. However, when she did graduate work at Antioch University of Los Angeles, writing won out and she earned a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.

Today, she’s encouraging and helping educate students as a professor at Emory & Henry, teaching in the English Department and in publication and graphic design.

She’s grateful for E&H’s support of Wild Leek Press, an idea of hers that took seed in her undergraduate years. “I really wanted to contribute to the literary community,” Butler said.

To further her contributions and celebrate her mutual loves of the written word and letterpresses, Wild Leek Press is hosting its inaugural chapbook competition this year.

With an entry fee of $10, the press is encouraging poets – published and unpublished – to enter.

The first-place writer will have his or her work published as a chapbook and receive 12 author copies, which, Butler vows, “will be beautifully designed, hand-crafted, and letterpress-printed using hand-set type in a limited-edition run.”

The second-place winner will receive 12 copies of one poem from his or her “manuscript printed as a limited-edition letterpress broadside, which will be printed using hand-set type.”

The judge for the competition offers impressive credentials. Butler is excited that poet and author Ron Rash agreed to serve as the final judge. Rash has been awarded the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, was a finalist for the PEN//Faulkner Award and was twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize.

Poets have until midnight on April 4 to enter their manuscripts of 15 to 25 pages. Learn more about the entry guidelines at wildleekpress.com.

“We’re going to make them really beautiful works. I hope people do submit,” Butler said. She observed that chapbooks can serve as steppingstones to larger works. She recently submitted a full-length book of poetry, My Mother’s Kitchen, for a publisher’s consideration.

Butler is devoted to Smyth County and Southwest Virginia. She helped set up the letterpress shop at The Henderson in downtown Marion and is a volunteer with The Art League of Marion, helping organize the annual Hungry Mother Festival.

She is also a ‘Round the Mountain artisan. She describes the region as “a very talented area” in music and writing.

The name “Wild Leek Press” celebrates, she said, “what’s naturally here.”

Through the press, Butler is grateful for the opportunity to preserve the 1892 press – a piece of regional history – and the art of the letterpress. As she ran her hand along the old press’ wheel, she wondered how many church bulletins, wedding invitations and the like it has printed over the years. She’s ready to take orders to continue that work today, printing posters, wedding announcements and business cards alongside literary works.

In fact, Butler realized her next project needed to be printing herself business cards as the founder and owner of Wild Leak Press – another piece of evidence of her love of the written word.

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