Mackie Garrett, founder of Iowa City’s 508 Press, started taking classes on the letterpress after receiving an invitation to an event at Public Space One by a colleague.
“I was at a point with professional changes where I felt a little adrift in Iowa City and I started going to poetry readings,” Garrett said. He had long been interested in the letterpress and took his first class in hopes of slowing down and getting to know a new creative medium. “I found it was an accessible art form as someone who isn’t trained as an artist.”
The environment at Public Space One’s Iowa City Press Co-Op, where he took his first three classes in letterpress, led him to take more classes with the Paper and Book Intensive and, eventually, share his new passion with others through 508 Press.
508 Press is an independent press out of Iowa City that specializes in small runs of often event-specific poetry. Garrett created a reading series where he prints selections of the poems and stories shared for the evening’s attendees. Every print is one-of-a-kind and functions as a souvenir.
“I want a little roughness to it. I like print work that looks handmade and might have imperfections,” Garrett said. He started his reading series with broadsides in mind, saying he felt lucky that other poets were also “willing to take these opportunities to take poetry out of its traditional spaces.” The reading series usually includes visual and musical art as well.
“The overall goal is to bring different — or thought of as different or separate — art forms together,” he said. The long-term goal is to return to the recording studio (the 508 Press house band, Antifahorn, has recorded with poets at Flat Black Studio) and pay artists for their contribution at the events.
Everything about Garrett’s work at 508 is personal and based on the community in which he lives. His press is named for his grandmother’s address, where, he said, “I daydreamed of one day putting books in the world.” While he sells 508 Press publications at book and art fairs and social media, what’s most important to him is that the work is in the hands of someone who appreciates it. At many events, the printings are free or available on a sliding scale, and he loves to send work through the mail.
“There’s something to doing a limited edition print of a single poem, something special to the archival quality,” Garrett said of preparing for a reading. “I write and I want to publish and print poetry that is accessible to people who might not be interested in it or have maybe had a bad experience with it in the past.”
Garrett said he had been taught that one must either self-publish or be published on a large scale. “I wanted to put that aside and subscribe to both camps,” he said, “and I hope that in some way 508 can bring those two together. Those two different camps influence each other. I think you can have both.”
This article was originally published in Little Village’s November 2022 issues.