Let’s See That Printed: Washington Poetic Routes, Poems of Place

We are thrilled to share with you photographs of a beautiful collaboration between the Washington Poetic Routes project and a small group of Washington-based artisanal printers. The project itself is a digital poetry-mapping program that explores Washington state’s bountiful geographical terrain and that of the human relationships within.

The enterprise has joined together Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, countless wonderful poets across the state, and eight letterpress artists to create the beautiful letterpress broadsides. At Boxcar Press, we are privileged to showcase and highlight this magnum opus of creativity. Below are photos of the process, as well as few shots of the incredibly crafted pieces. Enjoy!

Jenny Wilkson

Claudia Castro Luna, the creator of the Washington Poetic Routes website and SVC’s Designer in Residence from 2018–2019, has this to say:

I think of the poems on this map as heartbeats. Red beats full of candor and intimacy the way only a poem can transmit. My hope is that when reading them one after the other the dots shape in the reader’s mind a new set of travel routes, a complement and an alternative to the to the road routes drawn in on the map. The green routes take us physically from Point A to Point B. Depending on how the reader clicks on them, the dots will create a new constellation of routes: emotional, spiritual routes that tap into memory, into history, into joy, into our desires and frustrations, into land, trees, fish and bird song.

My hope is that together, through our own poems of place we will have a new, different way of engaging with each other as citizens. Together we create a living map of what is like to live in this wonderful place we share called Washington State.

The portfolio includes a diverse representation of poems from across the state. I chose “The Rhody Garden” because not only is the rhododendron our state flower and I happen to have a whole forest of them in my backyard, but I loved the poet’s whimsical description of their bloom cycle.

This broadside was printed in 3 passes. The text and line art were printed in black with a Boxcar photopolymer plate. Then, I overprinted the black pass with a linocut, first in bright pink, then cutting away from the same linoleum block and printing it again in darker magenta—a very straightforward reduction cut!

Though I am usually so careful, somehow I managed to impale the palm of my hand with my carving tool while working on this. A quick trip to urgent care and some super glue fixed me right up, and now I have a scar to scare my students with.

Carl Youngmann of The North Press

This project involved teamwork at several levels. Arts agencies, our state’s poet laureate, Seattle’s fantastic School of Visual Concepts, and eight letterpress artists. I was one of them. And, oh—my wife and printing partner. She dove in as facilitator of the whole shebang (lots of emails, a little guidance). Everyone’s team spirit resulted in eight poetry broadsides, all collected into a stunning folio constructed by Windowpane Press.

My wife and I operate The North Press in Port Townsend, Washington. Poetry broadsides are about ninety percent of what we print. I selected Sandra Meade’s “Blackbird Sings at Night”; for its shape: tall and narrow—and because it’s a terrific Poem.

Our experience is that it’s best to start the design process with the body of the poem, to look at how it will occupy the page—what type, what size, what placement—and then the poem title and the author’s name, followed by subtitle, attributions, etc. I try to keep in mind that I’m working with someone else’s creative work, so there’s no messing with the poem’s alignment or indents. My job is to elevate the poem and not overshadow it with graphic whizbangs. That said, I’m comfortable with some sort of illustration secondary to the poem, and Ms. Meade gave me plenty to work with.

We teach a workshop called “Pixels to Print”. It’s about converting digital photographs to high-contrast art (what we used to call “camera ready”). The grass beneath the rural mailbox is an example of making a polymer plate from a continuous tone, full color photograph. With the right sequence of steps, many images—even blurry snapshots like the one we took on a road trip in South Dakota—can be converted to high-contrast and printed from polymer. For this composite illustration, I began with the grass. Then the mailbox. Then the cancellation and, finally, the bird. We had Pablo Neruda’s signature from a previous Project.

I ran black, gray, and red inks on the press. In that order. The red was the smallest plate I’ve ever printed, but there was no question that the blackbird’s wing would get its own impression. I love the poem’s reference to the mailman’s/blackbird’s “official shoulder patches”.

As I said, my broadside was only part of this project. Credit should go to Ellie Mathews for facilitating and to the other printers involved: Amy Redmond, Annabelle Larner, Heidi Hespelt, Chris Copley, Marie Kuch-Stanofsky, Jenny Wilkson, and Sukhie Patel. Midway through the process, we managed to gather for a critique session in which everyone shared their design considerations. Working in concert with these artists was both inspiring and humbling. I think I can speak for the group of us to say that we are grateful to Boxcar Press for sponsoring the project, and to Neenah Paper for contributing enough Neenah Cotton in Pearl White for the eight, 8×10 inch broadsides plus the cover sheet explaining the project. Teamwork!

Annabelle Larner

I was honored to be part of the Washington Poetic Routes: Poems of Place project. I was immediately drawn to Luther Allen’s poem, dropping down the west side of the cascades. I love the way he transitions from the mountains of Steven’s Pass (about 80 miles east of Seattle) to the ocean, and how he depicts change in the environment. And he really captured the mossy green wetness of our area. Here’s the poem: 

By Luther Allen, at Steven’s Pass
this is it. the smell of green
of damp rot, of slugs and ferns
and staggering grand trees
the smell of festering tidal flats
the burst of orcas through
a rain-matted sea.
the smell of gulls and sea lions
salmon and cedar longhouses
of pulp mills and seattle traffic
shrouded in mysterious islands
and miles and miles and miles
of raw ocean.

I always want to try new things when a project presents itself to me (sometimes frustrating myself for experimenting under a deadline!), so I thought of printing on wood because it felt right for the poem. I found a beautiful piece with whorls and knots, which looked both watery and woodsy.

For the background I mixed a mossy greenish color that had enough transparent in it to also feel layered like water. For the first pass on the wood I used a pressure print to create a mountain silhouette. This was a challenge, and took a lot of tests in order to not lose the whorls and details of the wood while pressure printing, so I ended double-inking each one.

The poem was hand-set set in the slab-serif, Stymie, which I felt befitted his words and I liked the way the type looked with the wood. I played with various layouts for the poem and was happy to stagger the title a bit, to reflect the dropping down words. 

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