January 09, 2014

No Small Measure: A collaboration between poet Ezekiel Black and designer/printer Friedrich Kerksieck

No Small Measure is a collaborative portfolio of letterpress printed broadsides, which was organized by artist Margot Ecke, curator Beth Sale and poet Ezekiel Black. Fifteen poets have been paired with fifteen artists and each group was asked to create a letterpress printed broadside. The project was made possible with funding from the University of North Georgia Art Galleries with a generous grant from the Forsyth County Arts Alliance. Over the next several weeks, each collaborative team will be interviewed and asked about their experience working on the project.

Our fifth interview features poet Ezekiel Black and designer/ printer Friedrich Kerksieck.

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A conversation with poet Ezekiel Black:
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Tell us a bit about your poem. Where did the imagery come from? “Security Force” is from a manuscript titled Letters from the Junta, which, as you might imagine, has several political and military themes. In “Security Force,” I tried to imagine my own national symbols, similar to the American eagle, Russian bear, or British bulldog, and using a marching rhythm, I tried to covey the mobilization before war. To give you some context, I study Modernism’s connection to WWI, and sometimes that area of interest influences my poetry. That being said, by the end of the poem, that rhythm decays as we, no longer marching enthusiastically, “come to accept” the severity of the conflict.
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You have some unusual line breaks (specifically the comma placement at the beginning of several lines). What informs your construction of a poem? Is your construction process altered when you know it will be printed on a larger scale in a broadside format? “Security Force” does have unusual typography, such as single-word stanzas, a line break in the middle of a word, and commas at the beginning of a line, but these are a product of the manuscript’s process: All of the poems in Letters from the Junta are erasure poems. Basically, I cut articles from an issue of the New York Times, and then redacted words to craft each poem. When I typed the poems, I retained the placement of each word and punctuation mark. I hope the large format of the broadside will emphasize the typography because, for me, this process is reminiscent of how the letters of WWI soldiers were censored if they betrayed the severity of the conflict.
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As the poetry curator for the No Small Measure project, you had the distinct advantage of selecting the 15 participating poets. What parameters informed your selection? When you asked this question, I thought of the television show This Is Your Life because all of the poets share some relationship with me, be it an undergraduate classmate, undergraduate professor, graduate classmates, or coworkers, among others. From the outside, the world of contemporary poetry seems large, but when one becomes a citizen of that world, he or she learns that it is quite small. Moreover, although one might not personally know another poet, he or she can nonetheless get to know that poet through poetry. This camaraderie is something that I cherish. Overall, I wanted to the broadsides to be an entrée into the poetry world.
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The final broadside is so vibrant and distinct. How do you feel about Friedrich's visual response to your work? I love Friedrich’s design and Cherie Weaver’s illustration. “Security Force” is a slender column of a poem, and the placement of the title and illustration elongate it even more. The design draws the reader down the broadside to the colophon. Also, the reader must trace the magenta, cyan, and yellow lines of the illustration before he or she sees the totem pole of hawk, cobra, and bee. I thought their work was exemplary, and I hope our paths will cross again.
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A conversation with Friedrich Kerksieck:
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You are an experienced collaborator with many broadsides under your belt. Tell us a bit about your experience with this particular kind of collaboration (a broadside versus a chapbook versus an artist book, for instance)? My chapbooks and artist books kind of blend together in terms of how they're handled - a balance of reserve with the text so that it's nice and readable and exploration in the binding & imagery so that they add dimension to the text. With a broadside reserve isn't as important since you're only representing one piece & the reader can focus more attention on the details without getting distracted. I usually handle my collaborations the same way - I read the text and either get an idea for the imagery or decide that it might be better off in the hands of someone else. In the case of this broadside I decided my most frequent illustrating compatriot Cherie Weaver should take a crack at it & she sent me two really amazing three color illustrations to choose from. For my books I don't generally decide on the format until I have both the artwork and the text - that way I can figure out the best way to maximize space and form. For broadsides there's generally a fixed size so it's just a matter of balancing everything so that no part is louder then another part - it's a pretty fine line & I might have crossed it with this one a little.
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You are such a muli-talented fellow. As a poet, publisher, artist and printer, does this format feel satisfying because it brings all of your communities together under the umbrella of a single project? How do you see the format of the broadside developing in the next decade?
If I could make a living printing just broadsides I would be pretty darn happy - I think that there's really no limit to what you can do creatively with them since the only real limitation is that you have to do something you can reproduce the same way for the run of the edition. I don't know if we'll see too much development in the next few years, but I hope we'll see a lot more growth in the industry with a lot more cross-pollination with other crafters. One of these days I hope I get my hands on a cheap 3D printer so I can start building out broadsides a bit more - if anything I think we'll see more and more of that technology getting combined with hand methods in exciting ways. 
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This project was unique in that it granted each collaborative team a hearty stipend that could be spent on materials or alternative techniques (or even the hiring of a printer or other collaborator). How did this additional funding inform your design process? Tell us a bit about Cherie Weaver.
I was able to go big with the paper coverage and print a lot of runs since I didn't have to worry about covering the plate costs myself. The printers were also encouraged to try something new so I finally had an excuse to get some neon inks I've been wanting for a really really long time - bright brights and metallic inks have always been my favorite to print. After that there wasn't too much left over so I made the paper myself so there would be some money left over to split with the illustrator. 

Cherie Weaver has been a friend of mine for a long time - we're both Iowans who met in Texas when we were both living in Austin. She worked with me on the first book I ever did, "Some Bridges Migrate" and the process was very illuminating for both of us! Her style is so adaptable to letterpress printing - as well as being versatile, playful, & whip-smart - it's hard not to ask her to illustrate everything I do! You should visit her website - it's right here: http://cherieweaversellsout.com/
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It's a bold move to sign your prints with a hot pink pen. What made you think of this cheeky choice? All the other colors were hot it just made sense. What other color would even work?
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For more information about Friedrich, please visit his website: http://www.smallfirespress.com
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