Monday, February 2, 2015

Week 5: Flood Gates

   Antique maps are intricately beautiful works of art. Seeing a landscape pared down to lines and grids has a way of making it more intimate while also expanding it's scale beyond the realistically visible. With some imagination, these maps tell a story. This week's book, Flood Gates, is an altered form of a previous book-of-the-week, Week 25, 2014, Flood Gates ( The current Flood Gates is set in a specific place, the Mississippi River... after the Great Flood of 1927. The poem is a letterpress-printed broadside over a copy of the historic 1927 map of the flooded areas and relief operations.
the entire broadside, 18 x 7 inches
    Below, is an image of the original map of the Flood and Recovery Field Operations drawn by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey for the Red Cross and the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. A closer view can be seen on the link: 1927 Mississippi River Flood.
original map, Records of the Coast and Geodetic Survey
   The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected 7 states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas) and was the most destructive flood in the history of the United States. John M. Barry describes the flood and its destruction in his book,  Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. Over 250 people died, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and over 27,000 acres were flooded after the river rose and over 145 levees broke. 

   An unusually wet summer in 1926 led to a swollen Mississippi river and tributaries in Iowa and Kansas overflowing by September. On Christmas Day, 1926, the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee was at 56 ft, still the highest point ever. On April 15, 1927, Good Friday, rains began falling over Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. In New Orleans, they were recorded to have lasted for 18 hours. All along the river, people worked to build up the levees. On April 21 the first levee broke at Mounds Landing, Mississippi. Waters rushed through the three quarter-mile crevass at the same force as the waters of Niagra Falls. Flooding extended 60 miles east and 90 miles south. Over 185,000 people were displaced from this area alone. A PBS documentary describes the flooding and human conditions in Greenville, MS near Mounds Landing (PBS Documentary). In addition to the property destruction was the tragedy of human condition and reaction towards the African American population during the flooding and recovery period. A large exodus of the African American population out of Mississippi and into the Northern cities followed... National Geographic describes the flood and some of the outrageous choices in its article,  Man vs Nature.
Mounds Landing levee breech, 1927
   Though all floods are catastrophic, this particular flood map seemed most appropriate to cover all of the untold stories behind the words of the poem, Flood Gates. The map was inkjet printed onto Rives BFK paper with an Epson printer. The typeface used for printing the poem was 14-point Bembo and the poem was printed on a Vandercook letterpress at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina. Ink color was selected from the Pantone Color Guide to match the river on the original map.
choosing an ink color from the Pantone color guide...
Ink was mixed on a glass plate and then applied to the cylinder rollers of the press for even printing.

mixing the ink
Once the ink was ready, the type was locked into the press bed. To repeat imagery of the two banks of the river, the stanzas were set in two columns. The lines of the poem were set with uneven margins to repeat the convoluted shape of the river. The uneven margin typesetting process was quite fun for this book artist.. and is highly recommended as a letterpress exercise!
lines of type in the pressbed
Printing was begun just below the title and legend of the original map.
titles, map and poem
The poem begins with the title and first stanza on the left...
the first stanza..
the lines of the poem move like the river...

meandering lines of type.. like the river
and the river is soon bordered by two lines of type...

the poem.. on two banks
and converge at the bottom part of the poem.
moving along the river way...

This is the poem.
 Flood Gates

Who knew when it started
it would be such a day?
The clouds came in
      filling the sky
         the air cooled
              the shadows,
         filled the space

In the distance thunder
  moved through the air
as if the gods were whispering
 their heavenly

 The first drops 
 big and sloppy
playfully splattering,
     plopping and pinging
         the sidewalks and lawns,
      forests, highways,
   and farms

    Meanwhile the thunder
  grew louder,
its growl more insistent
        with snap cracks
                of lightening
      that startled the nerves
  frightened the little babies
...and the old folks too.

The wind blew the rain
    sent hats a-flying
and umbrellas turned
      like tea cups scared stiff

     Then the rain came in
  sure and drenching...
pouring sheets and sheaths
             that were flapping and waving
                like clothes on the line...
          washing away the refuse,
 the dust and the grime

           So the drivers slowed down
             it was that hard to see
 and the walkers took shelter
on porches, and in doorways,
    under bridges, and trees
          looking for cover
             as quick as could be.

  Still the water
 kept coming
             the rain never ceased...
         the torrents above
      and the deluge below

     It was a world washed
in wetness
 ...the sky gods were weeping
         and everything not sheltered
was soaked, sodden, or
            and the mud just
          kept rising
the flood gates
        had opened.

 Who knew
     when it started
    it would be such
      a day?
Lake Village, Arkansas, 1927

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