March 27, 2014

No Small Measure: A collaboration between poet Andrew Zawacki and artist/printer Eileen Wallace

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 seventh interview features poet Andrew Zawacki and artist/printer Eileen Wallace.

A conversation with poet Andrew Zawacki:

This is a lovely poem. What is it about? The sonnet is an address to my daughter Ella, who was barely one when I wrote it so couldn’t quite speak back. It’s interested in borders: what they fence off and keep out, as well as what they hold in. The phrases “Apart” and “A part,” for example, though differing only by a space, are oppositional: the former indicates separation or solitude, while the latter evokes togetherness, belonging. Yet ironically, the letters stay literally gathered in “apart,” whereas they split in “a part.” All this is a way of trying to think compactly about the degree to which a child is at once singular, unique, irreplaceable, and involved in human being, as one among billions of others. The end of the poem proposes that a child is always in process and that her identity starts outside her, is given to her. We have all of us received ourselves.

Each word in this poem is essential and well placed. Can we swallow each word more slowly and deliberately when the poem is presented in the broadside format? Almost definitely. To begin with, the poem finds itself alone, uncrowded: removed from the other poems that surround it in a series or book, say, it gets your undivided attention. To the extent that a broadside is intended for display, it will be looked at—like a painting or photo, visual art on a wall—as opposed to being merely read, for meaning or information. I remember Eileen telling me that her philosophy of letterpress printing is that while the type and design, ink and paper, all need to be beautiful, even perfect, they shouldn’t distract from the words on the page—that restraint is a crucial element. But I would add: with Eileen’s broadside, the discretion should not go unnoticed.

When each word is like a jewel, as is the case for this particular poem, does the typeface become even more important? When you write, do you think about how the poem will look compositionally on the page or are you purely content driven? For better or worse, I’m almost never driven by content. If anything, I’m excited by formal possibilities, experiments with tentative structures—and content gradually surfaces along the way, to fill the frame. In fact, I trust that the frame is a kind of content, that it’s got an intuitive logic of its own that allows a latent subject to emerge. So I think a lot about how a poem will occupy a field; in the early stages of writing, I often dwell on nothing but. Typeface is certainly one of the considerations on that score. There’ve been points over the years—when writing my book Petals of Zero Petals of One, for example—when the decision to use a particular font came down to how its comma slanted, like a shard of heavy rain, instead of curving.

Eileen’s response to your poem is so poised. How do you feel about the final product? That’s exactly the word. It’s not trying too hard, has nothing to prove. I love the paper’s texture, with its hints of a sinusoidal graph, or maybe nautical mapping: the pale blue, almost gray crisscrossing lines are a little wavy, as if a strong wind—or whiskey—might have unsteadied the cartographer’s hand. By contrast, the type is unflappable, the edges torn in a polished way. Distance from the top to title, from last line to author name: Eileen’s sense of spacing is impeccable. And why would you want an image or design, when the poem is about a blooming into being out of nothing? Through Eileen’s choreography, the whole thing sounds like Arvo Pärt’s Alina.

A conversation with artist/printer Eileen Wallace:

This poem is small yet dense, with each stanza offering a very different opportunity for a visual response. Can you talk a bit about your initial impressions of the poem and why you responded in the way that you did? Yes! There is a lot to respond to but I did not want to attempt to illustrate the poem and also I did not want to single out any particular moment to highlight through illustration. There was a moment when a single line of poppy red was going to be used and another moment when the background was going to evoke the feeling of a frosted window. These just did not seem to ring true to the poem once they were proofed on the press. Ultimately, the simple irregular grid evoked the mood of the poem in a way that it referenced a screened-in porch and diffused light and I went with imagery that supported the poem but did not attempt to illustrate it or compete with the delicacy of the Centaur typeface or the content of the poem.

Paper is such an intimate and powerful element when it comes to how a broadside is perceived. You are an experienced papermaker, what are the qualities that you consider when it comes to paper choice? There are many considerations when making decisions about which paper to use for any given project. A few obvious considerations are texture, color and weight of the paper. I am usually making work that will be handled – either as a book or a broadside – so I also consider the rattle or sound of the paper. For this project, I wanted a paper that had a soft fuzziness that would evoke the feeling of diffused light. This paper is quiet and doesn’t compete with the poetry.

How did you technically achieve the grid pattern in the background of this broadside? The subtle pattern was achieved through a process called pressure printing. A solid piece of plexiglass is mounted onto a wood base to make it type high. This is inked up and a textured paper matrix is placed underneath the printing paper – when this passes over the inked plexiglass surface the pattern from the textured matrix is picked up on the printing paper.

You teach letterpress at the University of Georgia. Does the broadside have a special place in your letterpress curriculum? Yes. We make a lot of broadsides in the letterpress class. We discuss the history of the broadside as a proclamation, an advertisement or a public notice and we also look at the tradition of broadside ballads. Students are required to post one of their broadsides around Athens in honor of the tradition of posting them in public spaces.

For more information about Eileen, please visit her website: http://milewidepress.com/home.html

For more information about Andrew, please visit his website: http://www.andrewzawacki.com/

 

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