Sometimes you need a change of context to continue evolving: different scenery, ideas, tools, or language, or all of the above. I got a big dose of all that printing at the Grafikwerkstatt in Dresden, Germany. The result was two print projects unlike any I had ever undertaken before. The Grafikwerkstatt lithographer Peter Stefan got to the crux of one key change when he noticed that I was printing the chaotic marks of a cutting board.
“These are marks from life,” he said. “Not about life, but made from life.”
That captured not only a critical aspect of this collection of poems, Elementary Science, but also a moment of printmaking evolution for me: This is not a children’s book. The fine lines of my Exacto knife weren’t descriptive of anything, weren’t an illustration or any kind of picture, but graphic material made in the process of life: the lines of a cutting board, printed as the pale green background for a book about living and dying.
It took two presses to make this book: a Karl Krause relief press for the wood blocks, and a small hand press for the movable type.
I wrote the poems in Elementary Science years ago, in 2007–a memorial to a dear friend who died too soon. David Cornicelli passed away in 1999, 15 years ago this December. He remains a formative person in my life, and the lives of several friends.
The poems are built upon the classical elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water– and deal with things that mattered to us. Anyone who knew David, and especially anyone who knew the two of us together, likely knows we spent a lot of time contemplating fires. Our friends also know that we once helped to recycle a stone barn and used the rocks to build a passive solar heated extension to a centuries-old manor house, Caer Llan, in Wales. Relevant to that, we shared an appreciation for labor, and the life of cities. Our closest friends knew that I learned to play music with him, and the best of times for us involved loud and shameless improvisation, mostly in basements and attics. And finally, that we shared an understanding of natural life cycles, especially watersheds. Riding on those ideas, these poems are about they way life consumes itself on the way to death: Fire, earth, air, water: fate and inevitability, the most glorious and saddest of truths.
David would have appreciated that this was printed during a residency in Germany. He would have appreciated many of the same things about the city of Dresden as me—its age, its history through the twentieth century, from the World Wars to the fall of Communism, to the resurgence and the confluence of cultures going on there now.
He’d also appreciate this: I made just 20 copies of this book, most of which I will give to our friends. One, though, I will metaphorically deliver to him in the same way his body returned to dust. One day when the time is right and the right friends are gathered, I’m going to pass this on to him by throwing one of the twenty copies into a fire. To David. Delivered by fire. Somewhere in Ohio.