The Broadsides of Summer
Sarah Arvio’s latest collection night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis is full of vivid, unnerving imagery. These are sonnets whose language shivers and leaps off the page. It was really hard committing to one poem when I liked so many of them and knew that any one would be suited to the medium of letterpress. In the end, I was drawn to “white hat” because of its use of color. Phrases like “splashed with blood,” “brightpink blood,” and “blood is prettypink” suggested a broadside that would incorporate a color we’ve been wanting to experiment with here at the Literary House Press. Pink pink pink!
Sarah’s use of the verb “splashed” shaped my idea of the design. In the end, I created black splatters of paint. And while these splatters were letterpress-printed with a photopolymer plate, which is an extremely controlled process, the effect was one of spontaneity and chaos.
After reading poet Elana Bell’s first collection of poetry Eyes, Stones, I was struck by more than one poem that would be ripe for translation into a letterpress broadside. The poem I eventually chose—“How I Got My Name (Jabotinsky)”—evoked such strong, solid images that I knew it was the one. As crucial as strong images are to any piece of writing, poetry or prose, they are even more essential to one memorialized in broadside form. I was held by phrases in the poem like:
“under the moon’s bulging/ eye,”
“one hand/ on her belly,”
“dragging its catch by the rump,”
“the wolves/ gazing with their sleepy, yellowed eyes”
These lines together suggest a fertile sort of roundness echoed in the moon, the belly, the rump, the eyes; but it is a jaundiced sort of fertility. There is danger in this poem and solitude. After a close-reading of the poem, I knew certain things about the broadside design. The image accompanying the poem text had to be a moon, large and looming and printed in metallic gold ink. It should be a photographic representation of the moon, like a satellite image, so we see the lonely, dry craters of its surface. After deciding on the image and ink color, it was also clear that the paper needed to be the dark indigo of an early night sky, when the moon would appear at its largest.
Making the Broadsides:
So, after the brainwork of design, comes the fun of the studio. The biggest challenge with Sarah Arvio’s broadside turned out to be the first step: cutting the paper with our huge guillotine papercutter. We had chosen a thick, delicious, mouldmade paper from Arches, which takes the ink beautifully and allows for a deep impression of the plates. But the paper proved to be so thick that, by the end, we were practically cutting each sheet individually! We also took care to preserve as many of the deckled edges as possible. The rest of the process went rather smoothly. We especially enjoyed mixing the pink ink with the help of the Pantone Matching System: a few dollops of Warm Red, a generous helping of Rhodamine Red, with a side of Opaque White. We printed the broadside in two passes: one for the pink text, one for the black splatters. It was interesting to see, in the last leg of printing, the black splatters occasionally overlap the “prettypink” text, as if by accident.
We were anxious about printing Elana’s broadside because of the challenge associated with printing metallic inks and with printing lighter inks over darker papers. But as it turns out, all of our worrying was for nothing! We had expected to need to make at least three passes on the Vandercook: first, a layer of Transparent or Opaque White for the moon image as a base for the metallic ink; followed by the gold; then, because of the difficulty of getting the registration of two layers of ink exact, we were planning to print the slender text in an entirely different color, one that would require only one pass on the press. One of the pleasures (and pains) of working in letterpress printing is that you never know exactly what will or will not pan out until you get your hands dirty in the studio. So, on a whim, we decided to test the effect of just one layer of ink, printing the gold directly on the paper. And it worked! We got the correct amount of ink distribution and metallic shine in just one go: image and text together. It was a serendipitous turn of events.
A number of people assisted in the production of these broadsides, including Lindsay Lusby, Jehanne Dubrow, Literary House Summer Intern Aileen Gray ’14, and Master Printer Mike Kaylor. We will debut these new broadsides at next week’s final Summer Poetry Salon. The broadsides will sell for $20 each. They will be available for sale at the Salon and on the Literary House Press website.
And don’t forget to check out the new Literary House Press Facebook page! We post lots of behind-the-scenes photos there that you won’t get to see anywhere else.