A Letter at a Time: Adastra Press

Behind the scenes at Adastra Press, where Gary Metras has steadfastly produced hand-sewn, letterpress-printed poetry chapbooks for nearly three decades.

Gary Metras founded Adastra Press in 1979 in Easthampton, Massachusetts. So far he has published eighty-one titles by fifty-three different poets.

Adastra Press poets at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2002. From left: Michael Casey, store owner Luisa Solano, David Raffeld, Stephen Philbrick, Gary Metras, Susan Edwards Richmond, and Greg Joly.

In 1990, Gary Metras purchased a 1930s-era Chandler & Price press able to handle an eight-by-twelve-inch sheet; it is hand-fed, but has a motor in addition to its foot treadle. “I like letterpress for poetry because this is a machine that you control,” says Metras. “Too much modern technology has made us just ‘operators,’ and then you’re no longer a craftsman.”


A colophon, set and locked in the chase, for Adastra poet Mary Jane White's translation of New Year's: An Elegy for Rilke by Marina Tsvetaeva (2007).

Adastra Press founder Gary Metras sets type on a composing stick. "I am the son of a bricklayer," Metras says. "Working with my hands is my heritage."

Gertrude Halstead, poet laureate of Worcester, Massachusetts, printing a page of her first book, memories like burrs (2006).
Adastra poet Michael Miller working on his book Each Day (2005).

Gary Metras locks two pages of type in a chase. "We don't know how so much in this world actually works," he says," so I chose letterpress in part because we can all gather around this machine and understand it."