Red Butte Press, “Problems of Description in the Language of Discovery”


The book’s wire-o binding and sturdy, sanded Mylar® cover allude to field researchers’ weatherproof notebooks.


Vertically oriented text on the title page suggests ice core samples as well as the large percentage of icebergs lying below the waterline.


Mary Toscano’s brilliantly subtle art is showcased on one of the book’s central “spreads,” expanding across one of the book’s single-panel flyouts.


Art derived from field researchers’ formulas, equations, and graphs unfolds across one of the book’s double-panel flyouts.


The accordion-style text block unfolds vertically. When viewed this way the pages become the undulating Southern Ocean, or the sharp peaks of Antarctic icebergs.


Artist: Red Butte Press (Salt Lake City, UT)

Title: Problems of Description in the Language of Discovery (2012)

Medium/technique(s): letterpress, sanded Mylar®, wire-o binding

Edition size: 275

Number of pages: 34

Dimensions, open: 61 x 4.125″

Dimensions, closed: 6.875 x 4.125 x 0.5625″


Artist statement:

Red Butte Press honors and extends the traditions of fine press printing, producing handcrafted, limited editions. The Press is committed to contemporary dialogue and publishes essays focused on the western United States as well as the best in modern fiction and poetry.

Problems of Description in the Language of Discovery is the second imprint of the Book Arts Program, a division of Special Collections at the J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. The edition is limited to 275 copies for sale, 26 hors de commerce. Katharine Coles – Guggenheim Fellow, University of Utah literature and creative writing professor, and former Utah Poet Laureate – wrote Problems of Description during a research trip to Antarctica, where, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, she worked and lived alongside scientists and engineers. Among these were a group of researchers from the University of Utah, including mathematician Ken Golden. Golden’s rule of fives examines intersections between the temperature, salinity, and permeability of sea ice, and has been used to discern key data relevant to climate change. Coles’s text engages with the rule of fives, and explores the language and apparent magic inherent to scientific discovery. A gloss, extracted from the researchers’ handwritten Antarctic field notebooks, interlaces the primary text of the poem. The gloss’s composition mirrors the process of percolation and embodies the concept of dialogue between disciplines and their respective dictions. The book’s wire-o binding and sturdy Mylar® cover allude to field researchers’ weatherproof notebooks. Fully extended, the vertically oriented accordion resembles an ice core, and translucent flyouts and overlays reveal content as through layers of ice.

Problems of Description was produced in its entirety by Book Arts Program staff and University of Utah colleagues: Creative Director David Wolske designed the book in tandem with artwork by Mary Toscano, who drew from the same scientific field notes as the poet. Claire Taylor acted as lead printer, assisted by John Thorp, Chris Dunsmore, and Becky Williams Thomas, mfa candidates in creative writing and book arts, along with studio assistant Emiline Twitchell. Text – set in Univers 47 and Chaparral – and art were printed from polymer plates on Zerkall Frankfurt, Minogami, and Arturo. The cover was laminated using Don Glaister’s sanded Mylar® technique. Emily Tipps oversaw binding of the edition, completed by assistant printers and Book Arts Program staff, with help from students in the fall 2012 bookbinding course. Marnie Powers-Torrey directed production and lent a hand or eye as needed.