Walter Hamady, born in 1940, attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan as an undergraduate and founded his own press - The Perishable Press Limited - in 1964. Two years later he established the Shadwell Papermill and began exploring the creation and usage of handmade paper. Since its inauguration, The Perishable Press name is credited with designing and publishing over 131 titles by numerous authors and visual artists(1). I will be discussing one of Hamady’s personal works, the Interminable Gabberjabbs series.
I had the opportunity this past week to visit ASU’s Special Collections and take notes on Hamady’s fifth book in the series, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five. (Due to the signing of an honor agreement, I cannot post the pictures I took. These images were found online.) Hamady is an accomplished poet, creating a sense of flow and unusual softness through his use of syntax and embellishment to even the simple prose that follows along the actual poems in the book. What struck me the most about the Gabberjabb series is how Hamady ignores the traditional rules we as readers have come to expect from codex-form books, particularly in his use of structure and language. Hamady’s Gabberjabbs have been described as a game of “Hunt the Footnote”(2), and upon viewing Gabberjabb Number Five(3) I found this to be more true than I could have anticipated. Housed in the second to last page of the book is a library card folder with a small pamphlet-stitched booklet boasting the title “👣NOTES”(4) that serves as an accompanying reading guide.
Gabberjab Five(6) contains 43 unique footnotes (numbered from “97²” to “140”, which is followed by a letterpressed STOP sign on the backside of the booklet) sprinkled throughout its text that truly embellish the reading experience. In one hand I held the booklet while with the other I flipped the pages of the book itself. Normally when I read text with footnotes - often academic papers of some kind - I read the whole page first and then view the footnotes second, but this book genuinely might have changed the way I read from now on. Hamady’s wild treasure map of a book structure forces the reader to remember that “[p]leasurable mystery of pre-literacy,”(7) that childhood-like experience of trying to make sense of the mess of symbols in front of us. It was refreshing, and having to think through every page that I read made me appreciate the content and Hamady’s artistic vision all the more.
The other aspect of Hamady’s Gabberjabbs that had me enamored from the beginning was the fact that, in these texts, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization follow the rules of prose at their own leisure. When Hamady mentions meeting the “General Sturgeon,” or over the course of ten footnotes makes the slow change from “Ibid.” to “tit bite,” there’s a sense of playfulness that just makes you smile as you’re reading. His dismissal of textual conventions isn’t solely for humor, though; in an odd way, it emphasizes the very specific emotions that his works manage to convey. Capitalizing several Words in a Phrase makes you take just a moment longer to savor each of them, and ov coarse 2 spell a word rong in th 1st place is a very purposeful statement that affects how you pronounce it in your mind as you read. ‘Incorrect’ text is just as important as ‘correct’ text is when it comes to conveying emotions, personal thoughts, and broad concepts, and Hamady’s Gaggerblab Five truly calls to attention how textual forms can affect the content they choose to portray. I had already been inspired by the few images of Hamady’s works that I could find online and the articles in journals praising his unique bookforms, but after seeing it in person, I’m more awed than ever by how he works and by how successful it really is.
(1) “Walter Hamady.” Wikipedia, 30 July 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Hamady. Accessed 8 Nov. 2018.
(2) Lyndon, Mary. “The Trojan Horse of Art: Walter Hamady, The Perishable Press Limited and ‘Gabberjabbs 1-6’.” Visible Language, vol. 25, iss. 2, 1991, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/docview/1297966346?accountid=4485&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo. Accessed 7 Nov. 2018.
(3) A shortened form of the full title previously stated, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five, for purposes of readability and, to be quite honest, as an excuse from the author to continue to use the word “Gabberjab” in an academic report.
(4) Approximated; in the real book, the ftNode(5) booklet is inscribed with a letterpressed symbol of Hermes’ winged sandal, followed by the word NOTES.
(6) Apologies; another shortened title. For intents of this report, For the Hundredth Time Gabberjabb Number Five will hereafter be referred to by varying versions of its title, including but not limited to Gabberjab Number Five; Gabberjab Five; Walter Hamady’s fifth Gabberjab; Gabberblab Five the Fifth One, etc. At the reader’s discretion, to what I am referring should be instinctive.
(7) Lyndon, Mary.