Qin Guan and Moon as Bright​ as Water

Guest Post from James Dissette at Chester River Press

I first saw the Qin Guan manuscript in 1986 shortly after I printed my first book, David Young’s remarkable translation of Pablo Neruda’s masterpiece, The Heights of Macchu Picchu. At that time, David had been working with William McNaughton to translate the Chinese poet, and our plan was to publish a limited edition through my first press, Songs Before Zero. I loved the seventeen poems, their condensation, their sharp emotional centers, their sense of exile and lost love, and saw the book clearly in my mind as beautiful and a significant addition to the canon of Chinese literature.

I don’t recall the literary ambiance of the small press resurgence in the late 80s. Everyone was off on their own path, as it should be. Exciting titles were coming out of Copper Canyon, and Greywolf and valuable trade book translations of European poets were arriving from Oberlin’s Field translation series under David’s editorship. Somewhere in the background, Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese wove in and out of my life, Gary Snyder’s enriching forays into Chinese translation, and Pound of course, but I had no firm intention to set out on a course of publishing poetry in translation. Instead, I was writing to W.S. Merwin who graciously offered the possibility of a limited edition of The Miner’s Pale Children, and at the same time trying to snag Greg Corso during one of his sojourns through Bandon, Oregon.

Then Qin Guan (Chin Kuan) came along as a complete surprise (and it still is 30-some years later), so I cleared my desk, talked with Harold Berliner about monotype fonts (I’d used his Lutetia for The Heights of Macchu Picchu) and Twin Rocker about paper.

But life does not orchestrate around one’s desires. Back to back family tragedies, a divorce and loss of my press forced me into commercial graphic design as the smell of ink on the press grew faint in my memory, but not my longing for it.

Sixteen years later I moved back east to Chestertown, Maryland where I’d gone to Washington College, and which had over the years developed an active letterpress shop under the expertise and care of Mike Kaylor who has dedicated much of his life to teaching students the magic of the printing arts. I was invited as a “guest printer” to print John Barth’s  monograph Browsing and was swept entirely back into the craft I’d missed for so long. But…I was up against a strict deadline—I was moving to Michigan and needed to finish the book. Unfortunately, the Vandercook I was using broke and required work I could not accomplish in time for me to finish. Thinking I might complete the last few pages somewhere near me in Michigan, either through begging or payment, I discovered Chad Pastotnik and Deep Wood Press. Chad, in his always gracious style, saved my ass and invited me to complete the book at his press. More importantly, he and I became fast friends and established a partnership that produced the Chesapeake Voyages of Capt. John Smith (sold out in 3 months), and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which gleaned the Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design. While the press imprint reads Chester River Press, CRP exists as our collaborative effort separate from his own inimitable and gorgeous book production.  More than that, we have fun and work intuitively together on the projects. If you’ve ever worked with another in a small press-room you quickly adjust to a kind of slow dance  to stay out of each other’s way but within arm’s length of any needed assistance. Either it works, or becomes awkward and counter-productive. Designing a book together requires a similar flow of creative movement. It only takes the raising of an eyebrow, a pause in the phone conversation, a smirk, to read the signals from each other.

I showed Chad the Guan mss. sometime around 2007. I’d been haunted by it for 20 years and still hoped that somewhere along the line the project could be revisited. But surely in all this time it had been printed? Additionally, I was a bit ashamed for not having  been in touch with David Young for so long. I bit the bullet and contacted David regarding getting in touch with Franz Wright who had ben a student of his at Oberlin and he told me that although William McNaughton had since passed away the manuscript remained unpublished. So began round two of publishing Moon As Bright As Water and another deep dive into the art of translation, and the wonders this significant manuscript offers.

Next: About Qin

Moon as Bright as Water by Qin Guan


, , , , , ,

The Hunter Gracchus is currently undergoing a major redesign. I was unhappy with the format and size of the book so have undertaken a new approach which includes a larger folio size, heavier paper stock to better accommodate the intaglio prints and new layout for the text.

So in the interim:



I am pleased to announce the impending publication of Moon As Bright As Water: Seventeen Poems by Qin Guan under the imprint Chester River Press that I share with my partner James Dissette.

Translated by William McNaughton, former chair at Hong Kong University, and poet David Young at Oberlin College, these poems showcase Qin Guan, a relatively unknown 11th -century master of Chinese verse whose company could include the likes of the esteemed Li Po (Li Bai) and Du Fu. Praised by the illustrious Wang An-shih, Guan was a disciple of Su Shih (Su Dongpo) one of China’s masters of multiple literary forms, and who strived to loosen the poetic conventions of the day.

As an acolyte would, Qin Guan blew out the conventional even more by writing about his encounters with courtesans, a subject considered to be a major indiscretion by Chinese society in Keifing. He wrote is a style called t’zu, a lyrical form that McNaughton likens to “cabaret songs” or “words to music” often chosen by the courtesans to sing during their professional entertainments.

Quong lived a tumultuous life during the Northern Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960-1127) Political clashes led to a string of banishments and exiles, his poetry was shunned for its sensuality, and he suffered from the vicissitudes of love—all of which moved him to write these brief, incandescent poems of departure and “long goodbyes.”

A streak of his poetic melancholy and gift for imagery appears in the poem “Eight Six”:

the pleasures of love run off

with the flowing streams…

the sound of the white silk string breaks off

and the stick of incense — kingfisher green —

burns up

This limited edition of Qin Guan’s poetry eschews the temptation to use ornament. Instead, Dissette and Pastotnik serve Guan’s voice by offering it an open, breathing page without distraction with the feeling that the poet’s imagery is enough to engage us.

The text is set in Dante and printed in two colors on Hahnemühle Biblio paper, 8×10.5 inch page format. Cover treatments are still being worked out but the edition is set at 100 books with 10 deluxe copies and 5 sets of folios reserved for hand binders. Printed by Chad Pastotnik at Deep Wood Press and hand bound in his studio.

The book is designed by James Dissette and Chad Pastotnik, whose collaboration in the past included John Barth’s Browsing, The Chesapeake Voyages of Capt. John Smith and are Hertzog Award recipients for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

William McNaughton (1933-2008) studied with Ezra Pound 1953-1956 and established the Chinese language programs at Oberlin College, Wabash College, Antioch College Denison University and Bowling Green State University. He was the founding Program Director of the University of Hong Kong’s BA Translation and Interpretation program where he worked until his retirement in 1998. He has written ten books on Chinese language, Asian literature and Russian literature.

David Young has been Longman Professor of English at Oberlin College since 1986 and an editor of FIELD magazine since 1969.  He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Field of Light and Shadow (Knopf, 2010); Black Lab (2006); At the White Window (2000); Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan (1994), which won the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry; The Planet on the Desk: Selected and New Poems 1960-1990 (1991); Foraging (1986); Earthshine (1988); The Names of a Hare in English (1979); Work Lights: Thirty-Two Prose Poems(1977); and Boxcars (1972). His translations include Out on the Autumn River: Selected Poems by Du Mu (2006) and Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu Xuanji(1998), both with Jiann I. Lin; Selected Poems by Eugenio Montale(2004), with Charles Wright and Jonathan Galassi); The Poetry of Petrarch (2004); The Book of Fresh Beginnings: Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1994), Miroslav Holub’s Vanishing Lung Syndrome and The Dimension of the Present Moment (both 1990),Five T’ang Poets (1990), Pablo Neruda‘s The Heights of Macchu Picchu (1987), and Rilke’s Duino Elegies (1980).

Moon As Bright As Water was edited by Richard Kent, Professor of East Asian Art History at Franklin Marshall College. He received his B.A. in English from Oberlin College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Chinese art and archaeology from Princeton University.


Gracchus Musings & Interpretations


, ,

As I’ve been working on The Hunter Gracchus this past year or more I’ve read probably to much about Kafka from the terrible recounts of friend Max Brod to David Zane Mairowitz’s and R. Crumb’s musings on his life.

One of the most intriguing and humbling interpretations I’ve found is this short independent piece by Canadian film maker Glenn Stillar:

GracchusLink to view Glenn’s adaptation (20 minutes)

Perhaps it is the north woods sensibility that draws me to this adaptation – the dialogue is paraphrased and, out of necessity of place and time, the setting is altered but in a wonderful fashion. Filmed in three days and starring Stillar’s relatives it nonetheless captures an essence of Kafka’s story and — the burgomaster is a treasure.

A Long Absence


, , ,

It has been over a year since my last post, my apologies. A few things on the home front have complicated life in the studio tremendously since last spring.

But – I’m back. And there’s a few things I’d like to catch you up on.

First up, I will once again be in New York next month for the FPBA Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair on April 9th. It will be held at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer across the way from the New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory. With luck, the new Kafka book, The Hunter Gracchus, will be completed and ready for viewing. All of the text is composed, corrected and ready to go in galleys, the paper is here, cover materials and presentation pretty well set. Just something funny about being an artist sometimes and the work doesn’t flow – I am not yet content with my intaglio prints that illustrate Gracchus and I won’t release the book until I am. That’s about it unfortunately.

I have a few small treasures to bring along regardless, a very small book by Robert Frost, Christmas Trees, which is a 100th anniversary printing of the title and a few small broadsides with artwork.


A couple of the galleys of type ready to go for Kafka

An exciting forthcoming project is a new collaboration with my old partner James Dissette which will come out under our Chester River Press imprint. Moon as Bright as Water is a newly translated body of poems by Qin Guan dating from the 11th century Chinese Northern Song dynasty. Never before published, this translation is by William McNaughton and David Young with a foreword by William McNaughton. Jim and I first started talking about this project over 1o years ago and sometimes things just take a little longer to perk their way into existence. Look for it this summer as we are now doing page layouts with the final text editing completed now. Here is an early prototype of the title page for your amusement:


I’ve also been busy here close to home, a collaboration with Blackbird Arts in Traverse City to create a new book arts center in Northern Michigan – Blackbird Book Arts & Press. Work began last fall with planning and moving presses into the space and I am pleased that our initial offerings have been a huge success. The space includes facilities for letterpress, intaglio, silk screen and workspace for bindery activities. Things will ramp up this summer with a variety of workshops and classes given by myself and other talented practitioners of the “black arts” from across the country.

I have been honored with being given one of the 2016 Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Awards. The grant is administered by Michigan State University Museum’s Michigan Traditional Arts Program. It was established with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and is sustained through a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. This years current apprentice is Daniel Schneider who started working with me last September. Some of you may have met him at the last couple Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgooses where he has presented his research on worker skill and industrial wood type production.


Daniel doing the Vandercook shuffle

More to come soon. Would love to “wow” you with something new in the next month.

Preview ~ Franz Kafka, The Hunter Gracchus


, , , , , , ,

Here is a small preview of my newest book project that will be available to view at Codex later this week. The latest working prototype for The Hunter Gracchus by Franz Kafka which is a short story I fell in love with decades ago and now, finally, I get to have my way with it.

I’ve already gone over most of the details of having a new English language version made in an earlier post but late last week I received the final working draft from my translator, Jamie Lee Searle. Now I can finally commit to some of the intaglio prints I’ve been working on for the book. Only one of them is ready to show and it is still just a proof but I think I’ve narrowed it down to 4 or 5 others that will be used in the book. They are all mostly moody and tonal created with mezzotint, roulette and stipple with a little bit of burin work. I will be using 14pt Weiss for body type and currently the page size is about 7 ¾ x 9 inches. I’ve been liking the results so far using 175gsm Somerset Book paper for the intaglio printing, the velvet surface and moderate sizing content is wonderful for tonal print work and text is beautiful with the dampened sheet.

All of this is subject to change of course, the margins, and title page particularly, will vary as I experiment some more but here are pictures for proof of concept. The fragility and delicacy of the intaglio prints will definitely make this a short edition of no more than 60 books if I’m lucky.

Fine Bindings for Codex & Events in Seattle


, , , , , , , ,

In less than a week I will be in Berkeley California for the Codex International Book Fair & Symposium. Preparations have been going full force here at Deep Wood Press creating new presentation bindings of some of the most recent books and I now have the final draft of my new Kafka translation for The Hunter Gracchus that will preview at the Fair.

A couple of updates from the last post: Exquisite Editions – An International Exhibition of Finely Printed Books now has a web page, so if you happen to be in Dublin, Ireland March 4th – April 18th stop into the National Print Museum for what looks to be a beautiful show of contemporary letterpress book editions.

The lectures and workshop I’m giving for the Seattle Book Arts Guild now has web pages up for the events here. Lectures are Feb. 12th at 7pm at the University of Washington Library, Feb. 13th at Pacific Lutheran University at 4pm and the workshop is Feb 14th & 15th at Pacific Lutheran from 9am-5pm.

With luck I may be able to get one last post up before I leave this week of some pics of the Gracchus prototype but time is running short. I’ll leave you for now with some pictures of some of the presentation bindings I’ll be bringing with me to Codex. Hopefully I will see some of you there!

Kafka, Dublin, Berkeley, Seattle and leather bits….


, , , , , , , , ,

I wish I had some beautiful pictures of new work to add to this post but alas, sometimes running a business and being an artist has nothing to do with actually making art! Fear not, the pictures are coming soon.


The Hunter Gracchus

The most newsworthy part of “not actually making art” is probably the long negotiating process I recently concluded with a literary translator from the UK who I have retained to create a new rendition of Franz Kafka’s The Hunter Gracchus. Gracchus is a project I’ve been waiting on for at least a decade and after yet another round earlier this summerFranz Kafka trying to secure rights to reprint from Schocken/Random House was a bust. I needed permission to reprint the original translated version by the husband and wife team of Edwin and Willa Muir in the 1940’s. I decided to look further into Kafka’s estate and was happy to discover that his works are now considered out of copyright in both the EU and USA – in the German anyway.

Here’s where Jamie Lee Searle comes into the picture. There are more translators available for hire in the the EU for reasonable rates than the US, go figure, and most based in the US are busy academics so I had some research and inquiries to make before I could even approach someone I felt competent for the project. While I can’t read German I admired the breadth and selection of titles that Jamie has done and she is quite well regarded by her peers so I sent her an inquiry last October about the project. I am happy to say I will be getting the first drafts in the next few days and hope to have at least some prototype pages to show at Codex next month. I’ve recently acquired the matrices for casting the typeface Weiss in 4 sizes and with luck the Linotype will cooperate and give me 50 good lines as it is bitterly cold outside right now at 6º (-14 C) and it is difficult to convince any of these old cast iron and steel behemoths to perform well in these temps.


I’ve also been working on a presentation binding for the last of the deluxe editions of The Heart of Darkness. This binding is for an exhibit at The National Print Museum in Dublin, Ireland which I am happy to be part of along with 24 other invited fine press printers from around the world. There are just a couple copies of this book left in the regular edition and this is the last of the deluxe copies for sale. A good run for a book that was finished 4 years ago and was probably the most fun project that I did in partnership with Chester River Press.

Berkeley − codex

I’ve been working on more presentation bindings/deluxe editions of my most recent books in preparation for the CODEX Book Fair and Symposium coming up in February 8th – 11th where I will be at my table full of Deep Wood Press books. There will definitely be pictures of unique bindings and books gracing this blog in the very near future as these projects near photo worthy stages so please stay tuned.

” Over 200 of the world’s most distinguished book artists and artisans, private presses, and fine art publishers will be exhibiting their work at the upcoming biennial CODEX International Book Fair. This is the largest book fair of its kind in the world today!

  There is no better place to find and collect the world’s greatest contemporary artist books, fine press books, and fine art editions than at CODEX. Now in it’s 10th year, CODEX has been acknowledged as the leading International Fine Press and Artist book fair. Exhibitors are coming from Germany, UK, Italy, France, South America, The Netherlands, Mexico, Israel, China, Austria, Poland, Australia, Russia, and Japan. The event also attracts special collections librarians, curators, and private collectors from all over the world. “This is THE place to see the latest work from ‘the best of the best’ “ states Peter Rutledge Koch, Founder of the CODEX Foundation.

  Coinciding with the Book Fair is a two-day CODEX Symposium that takes place at the Anna Head Alumnae Hall in the mornings before the Book Fair on February 9 & 10. “

– see you in Berkeley at CODEX, come join the madness!

Seattle − workshop & lecture

I’ll also be teaching a workshop and giving a couple talks in Washington state  immediately following Codex on February 12th – 16th. I am teaching a workshop for the Seattle Book Arts Guild on the 14th & 15th from 9:00am-5:00pm Reduction and Multi-block Color Printing with Linoleum Blocks for Letterpress at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, see here for contact information. I’ll be giving a talk which will be an overview of the evolution of Deep Wood Press over the past 23 years for the Guild on the 12th and also at the University of Puget Sound on the 13th.


A Broadside for Terrance Hayes ~ process


, , , , , ,

I’ve admired the poetry of Terrance Hayes since a friend recommended him a couple of years ago so when I got word he was coming to my part of the world I took note, and made a few inquiries. I had done a broadside for Robert Hass when he came to Interlochen Center for the Arts in 2006 so had already set a precedence for the project to happen and they were very receptive. Then the game of working with an author and their publisher on a short schedule for selection and proper clearance began!

I was sent the piece Bower which is excerpted from the poem Arbor for Butch in the book Lighthead. I was familiar with the poem as a whole and struggled with what sort of art or ornamentation this fragment of a poem should/could have accompany it. In the end I decided to let these four lines of text stand on their own and this was probably influenced by the fact that I had a linocut I’d done but hadn’t used for anything “bookish” yet which fit well with the poem especially after hacking a bit off the top of the block. Also, time was short, I had to work with materials and paper I had on hand, no time to order anything in.


So here it is as it turned out. Three colors on mould-made German Zerkall Frankfurt cream paper, 15 x 8.5 inches, hand set in Garamond in 24 and 72pt type and printed on my Vandercook 219OS with an additional bit of text on the back commemorating the evening and credits. The paper was not ideal, it is a beautiful sheet but the pronounced laid lines from the mould made printing the solids on the linoleum block quite difficult solved by being diligent with ink, a soft packing and running the sheet through the press twice. The Frankfurt paper was the only nice stock I had in enough quantity to do 100 broadsides so the dimensions of the broadside were more or less dictated by how the sheets could be divided and since it had such a lovely deckle edge from the mould, 100 is a small enough quantity to tear down by hand.

From the beginning I planned on the text running into the linocut so had made paper cut outs of the proofed text and moved it around with prints pulled from the linocut to plan my composition. I printed the lino first but now, to my eye, I feel the text crowds the image and would have benefitted from being moved a bit further away but stubbornly decided to keep my left margin equal − these are the hazards of only having a couple of days to devote to something. I prefer to have various proofs just hanging around the studio for a few days or a few weeks to look at. It’s fast enough to put some ink on the slab bust out a brayer and tweak the print or play with word spacing in the type, add leading, move elements around and “play”.


My approach on book and typographic composition comes from my fine art background first where typically a painting or print evolves over a period of time. Blocks of text are tones of color or shades of grey, how they work with whatever other non-typographic elements might be present and the space of the page spread and the overall book design. My early books were far more “experimental” with type I think but not always in a good way, so much forever to learn. I have an advantage, I think, in my book production because I do every part of the process here – I envision the whole of the book from the beginning from material selection to what the cover will look like. Knowledge of paper and bookbinding informs much information on creating the page layout and selection of stock for accompanying art, doing the artwork for the project gives me flexibility in design, and there is no reason why anything can’t change as the project progresses.

this is analog design.   this is letterpress.


For those who don’t know, (taken from Wikipedia) Terrance Hayes first book of poetry, Muscular Music (1999), won both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His second collection, Hip Logic (2002), won the National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He won the National Book Award for Lighthead.

Hayes poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New YorkerThe American Poetry ReviewPloughsharesFenceThe Kenyon ReviewJubilat Harvard ReviewWest Branch, and Poetry.

In September 2014, he was honored as one of the twenty-one  2014 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – one of the most prestigious prizes that is awarded for artists, scholars and professionals.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 501 other followers