Poetry by Design: Dipika Mukherjee takes a Broadside Workshop

On a rainy day in Chicago, five poets gathered in Wicker Park to create art from poetry. In short, we were there to make broadsides.

What are Broadsides, you ask? They are poetry rendered as gorgeous posters. Words to be displayed as wall art. The best gifts for wordsmiths and bibliophiles. 

I have always been in love with broadsides. My home is dotted with examples of poems as visual art and I have signed copies from the Copper Canyon Press  as well as illustrated examples from the Poetry Center

So when I saw that the Wasted Pages Writing Program was offering a Poetry by Design workshop on July 14 in Chicago, I immediately signed up.

So there we were, five poets, juxtaposing our words with pictures for maximum impact. Our fingers became inky from hauling huge drums of ink, and we found new inspiration from the work of the group.

Our Risograph machine had three ink options (black, brown, blue) and we had an array of colorful paper at our disposal. The poems had to be shorter than 30 lines (shorter is better; too many words on the page look as dazzling as a legal document!). 

CHIPRC Literary Coordinator, Liz, patiently walked us through the process (Photos from Wasted PagesWriter’s Workshop post on facebook show the works in progress).

Risographs are not intuitive in the way modern printing machines are; they are like a mimeograph and combine the techniques of screen printing, photocopying, and offset printing. Images are produced by a master copy wrapped around a cylinder coated in ink (referred to as a drum) and it is this drum that creates the impression on the paper fed into the machine, one at a time. The drums are heavy and correspond with a single color of ink, and every new color means a new master, with the multiple impressions finally layered on the printed stock.

A modern office printer is able to create colorful prints with much less effort and drama. But what you lose is the artisanal quality of the end-product, the light smudginess and tracks of ink, all of which make a broadside more remarkable.

I chose only two colors, black and blue for my poem. I had to print the ship first, then do the words by feeding in the paper already embossed with the ship. The paper was a wonderful cream/gold which shone, but a non-matte finish meant that the ink easily smeared if I became impatient.  

Here is the final result. This poem appears in the 2016 edition of Rhino poetry and you can read the original and listen to the audio version here.

Some literary presses will publish broadsides for poems they deem worthy, and you can check out Thrush Press and Littoral Press for that, among others. 

But if you want to experience the joy of framing your own words, placing the image just so, and getting your fingers inky in the process of some artisanal poetry, the next workshop by Chicago Publishers Resource Center (CHIPRC) will run on Saturday, August 25. They will be closing their doors after five years in business, which is a great pity. If you are in Chicago, show them some love by trying out a broadside workshop and leaving with something beautiful. 

Dipika Mukherjee is an author and sociolinguist. Her work focuses on the politics of modern Asian societies and diaspora. In the past year, she has given a keynote at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference (Bali, 2017), juried at the Neustadt International Literary Festival (USA, 2018), spoken at the Hearth Festival (Wales, 2018) and the Singapore Writers Festival (Singapore, 2017); she has also given public talks at the University of Stockholm (Sweden, 2018) and the International Institute of Asian Studies (Netherlands, 2017). She lives in Chicago. More about her here.


Susan Price said…
Never heard of this -- what a wonderful idea! And Dipika, what a great poem.
Umberto Tosi said…
These are stunning. Love Broadsides and love these. Bravo, Dipika!

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

The Year of Just Being There: Dipika Mukherjee looks back at 2016

A Week of Three Libraries -- Julia Jones

Close Reading | Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose | Karen Kao

Rules is Rules, discovers Griselda Heppel, Even When They're Not.