The concept for my book grew out of marrying a dos-a-dos book form to a design of Li Po’s 8th century poem, Chang-gan Xing, printed in one half, and its 20th century translation, The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter by Ezra Pound, printed in the other. I feel that the concept is creative and original in the way that the two poems maintain their identity, and each has equal weight and importance, yet there is a physical connection between the two.
My concept challenged me creatively because I was dealing with a language I do not know, and I wanted to remain true to the ethos of the original poem. Structurally, my concept challenged me in that everything is literally double the work in a dos-a-dos book form, and that brings me to the level of craftsmanship that I brought to the book. I wanted it to have the pure, intricate elegance that I associate with Chinese works of art and culture, and so I was trying each step of the way to be as ordered and precise as possible – and yet not rigid. This was particularly evident when I was setting the Li Po poem into vertical lines to suggest the format of Chinese characters, and I needed to make adjustments for the ascenders and descenders of the typeface.
I feel that I was able to stretch the dos-a-dos book form with the addition of the outer covers. These end covers finish the book in a way that simply using the threefold cover would not have done. A distressing development was that some of the covers developed green streaks as they dried. (I had used a glue stick, rather than PVA glue, for the mock up so I didn’t encounter this problem then.) It’s not the end of the world, and in a way adds an aged look to the covers, but still, it’s not the perfect finish I had envisioned. Also, I had a really hard time trying to stop the covers from curling up as the glue dried. My biggest failure was in miscalculating the size of the outer covers. Having spent 2½ hours printing, cutting and gluing the 20 covers I needed, I realized that I had made them the size of the inner pages instead of the size of the threefold cover, so I had to re-do them all from scratch. Book making seems to be a series of problem-solving exercises, and probably my biggest one for this project was trying to work out how to print a booklet with sequential pagination that was printed on both sides. Otherwise, I was successful in the construction of the book for the most part.
Throughout the whole process, I was constantly thinking about how the form of the book was linked to the content of the book. As I’ve said, the dos-a-dos form is perfectly suited to a piece of original writing in one half, and its translation in the other. Also, in the texture of the antique laid paper, and in the emphasis on vertical design to suggest Chinese written form, I was making choices that were linked to the content of the book.
This informed my graphic and typographic choices as well. I decided to use the Western alphabet for Li Po’s poem, but I wanted to suggest the original Chinese characters, so I took the first word at the beginning of each page, and used the Chinese character for that word as a graphic on the facing page. I found some of Li Po’s original calligraphy online, and Photoshopped that to use as the decorative paper for the end covers. For the typefaces, I began with the Li Po poem, and Papyrus suggested to me the delicate fluidity of Chinese script. Optima, with its simple, clear lines, seemed a good complement to that for Pound’s translation. I felt the typefaces for the two poems needed to be different from each other, but complementary.
I didn’t think that an overall title for the book was necessary; the two titles, in their different languages, said everything that needed to be said.
If I were to make this book over again, I would spend still more time trying to get to the bottom of an effective way to print a booklet on both sides of the page, and I would investigate different methods of gluing so that I didn’t run into problems with discoloration and page buckling. Overall, though, I am content with the way my book has turned out. I like the small, intimate delicacy of it – I think it suggests the protagonist of the poem.