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Johnston’s ellipsis

Alastair Johnston, printer & publisher in Berkeley CA, but of UK origins, has collected more than twenty years’ worth of his occasional writings. The central theme of the pieces is the small press poetry scene on the West Coast and in the UK since the 1960s, with a sprinkling of articles on typography and publishing elsewhere, including a few that come from another of Johnston’s spheres: serious printing history.

Alastair Johnston, [ELLIPSIS] (…) (Berkeley CA: Poltroon Press, 2008, 124 pages, $19.95). The cover image is a wood-engraving showing police breaking into the printing office of the Nihilist journal La Volonté Nationale, St Petersburg, 30 January 1880.

Anyone who has wanted to know a bit more about figures such as Philip Whalen or Asa Benveniste needs to get hold of this book. Johnston can write from first-hand experience, and with a clarity and candour that is unusual. Maybe just to infuriate bibliographers, his book carries the title of [ELLIPSIS] (…). In the colophon the printer is given as www.lulu.com, the self-publishing company. But it exists not as a .pdf file on Lulu’s website, but as a reassuringly physical thing, available from Poltroon Press (and while you are there, have a look at the ‘Book Arts in Film’ page).


After this note was posted, Alastair Johnston wrote to say that the book was in fact ‘printed on demand’. So this is clear evidence that POD can match offset litho in quality of text, and quality of image too. Only the thickly glued binding lets this book down. Alastair also writes that he is now working with BookMobile, which he says seems to offer more choice of paper and a friendlier service than Lulu.