The Making of “Between the Mountain and the Moon”

I promised to tell you about my magick4Terri Metamorphosis auction, which was won by Izzy (Hani) Jamaluddin. .  So I wrote a longish thing about my family, the never-ending quest for perfection, and folk art – but today I’m thinking it doesn’t really matter; so let me just tell you about my process.

First, the poem. When I offered the auction, I felt like writing a series of poems about metamorphosis to continue some of the work I’ve done with metamorphosis over the years. Izzy’s keywords were ‘black panther, and fire’. The poem, “Between the Mountain and the Moon,” emerged as one epic sequence, a true myth about the shape-changing moon, a black panther she turns into a human girl, and a dormant volcano (also a shape-changer), who becomes the girl’s suitor. It all came from a place of magic over the course of a week, accompanied by a not insignificant amount of angst.

Listen, girl-woman,
shining woman, still woman,
skinwild woman, dreaming-fast woman –
I will go in, where they keep fire captive
in the deceitful embrace of glazed brick.
I will gift
garnet and oystershell to your kinswomen
and ask for their unmarrigeable daughter.

At just under 1400 words, it is one of my two longest pieces; the other one would be the Cycle. Like the Cycle, “Between the Mountain and the Moon” is a queer epic poem.

Encouraged by my beta readers, I embarked upon the art portion of the project in early January.

I hit two snags, both of which I had dimly foreseen. First, the linoleum blocks I ordered were great, but… I rediscovered one of the reasons I abandoned block printing after my son’s birth. I cannot painlessly carve linoleum due to tendonitis / carpal in my right hand and arm. So after much gnashing of teeth, I reverted to soft blocks, which I have effectively used before. The look of soft block prints is virtually the same as that of linoleum prints, but soft blocks are harder to print from accurately, and they also tend to crumble with time. Nevertheless, soft blocks were a great solution. I thought the carving portion of the project went rather well.

the eight soft block prints for Izzy's book, with printing tools (baren, ink, brayer, spoon for ink, tape)

The second challenge was printing text and art on the same paper. Since there was a lot of text, and a lot of art, the paper should in principle be able to go through an inkjet printer, and at the same time take ink well; and I wanted the look and feel of artist’s paper. I discovered that some half-rag art papers would in principle go through the printer, and thanks to Jenn received a beautiful Canson Johannot, which I felt was a tad too thin for printmaking. I then purchased a lovely 150lb rag, which I felt would be better suited for the images… I cut that up, and the Johannot, which took forever. And then I started printing.

Gals and guys, don’t try this at home.

Countless paper jams, two printer malfunctions, and one empty cartridge later, I was no closer to producing a two-sided booklet print of “Between the Mountain and the Moon” on artist’s paper. And I was also out of paper. *

* The attempts to print the text at home lasted for two weeks (though I was sick for one of these weeks). I did not mention that Word would collapse every time I tried to print a double-sided manual feed booklet; my husband’s computer would collapse after printing once, so we were both constantly restarting things. I also attempted to do a transfer, with transfer paper, which kind of worked, but produced a lot of smudges. Both the ink printer and the transfer paper would work fine on a smaller project, but this was so large something always went wrong.

In despair, I went to Kinko’s, where people looked at me as if I had horns. Eventually I found a small local print shop that had nice paper choices, among them an ivory-colored 80lb bristol that was lighter than cardstock, but thick enough for double-sided printing and imagery, and within fifteen minutes my booklet pages were ready. Sometimes it pays off to be less stubborn.

Setting up the pages for block printing:

preparing the pages for printing

Pages with freshly printed images:

drying pages with block printed images

I printed a few more pages than I needed for the final product,  to make sure I could choose the best images. In a project this complex (and double sided!), quite a few things were bound to print wrong, and did. But after some work, all the pages were printed from both sides.  After the pages were thoroughly dry, I folded them into four signatures – two that I thought were excellent (one for Izzy and one  for Terri), one signature with some flaws, and one that I consider to be ‘artist’s proof’, since one image was printed backwards.

Next step: the cover. Here, too, I hit some snags, until I decided that enough was enough, and proceeded with my original plan of making leather covers. A morning trip to the Shack  of Odd Leathery Goodness resulted in a large piece of soft, dark maroon leather, which I backed with swirly marbled paper:

gluing the marbled paper onto the leather

Finally, I sewed the signatures and the cover together. Et voila: book!

title page!

One of the inner pages:

inner pages


And another inner page:

The Panther girl and her Mountain suitor from the Duet


I also added an image to the cover:


And here are Izzy’s and Terri’s copies side by side: the leather pieces differ a bit in shape. Note the mountain shape at the tie of the books!

I am really happy with how this came out.

But this is not all! I want to tell you about Jenn, in case this experience will be useful for someone. The capping image of the book was supposed to be two panthers (black and spotted) making the moon together. When I made the block print, it looked like this:

The first version of the panther moon

I sent this to Jenn, and she gave me a thorough critique of the piece, with details what needs to move where. I asked, “Do you think I need to recarve this?” She said, ” I’m sorry, but, as the final piece, I think you need to recarve it, and even on the interior I’d probably vote in favor of [keeping it].”

It was not the message I wanted to hear.

Nevertheless, I did it. I think you will agree that this is better:

The final version of the panther moon

I have sent “Between the Mountain and the Moon” out, and there’s still some leftover inspiration. Leftover inspiration from epic poems is a familiar thing by now (I had written “Held Close in Syllables of Light” on inspiration leftover from the Cycle). After the Panther poem I wrote two small poems already: a snakey poem for Shweta (“After the Mistress of the Copper Mountain,” forthcoming at Fantastique Unfettered), and a badger poem for Jenn (“Badgerwoman of the Raspberry Ridge,” on submission). But there is yet more. So here is my deal for you: if you’ve bid on my auction but did not win, and want to play, please leave me a comment with your animal and element. I make no promises, but if the inspiration/magic works out, it might result in a poem. Please note that 1) these poems are likely to be short, and 2) it might not work out, so no hard feelings, ok? and 3) the work may come out queer, so please be ready for that.