Beautiful Books: Talking to the Diaspora

November 2, 2015

Lee Maracle's second collection of poetry,  Talking to the Diaspora (ARP Books), is both a personal recollection and profound reflection on her life and surroundings. The book itself is stunning, too: a tall, slim volume with interspersed pages of black with white text. We chatted with the book's designer, Sébastien Aubin, about the (good! so good!) design decisions made for this fantastic work.

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1. How is designing a book of poetry different from other books? 

I usually design artist catalogues, so I always try to give an overall sense of the artist’s ideas. But for a poetry book there are often no images. Words paint an image in your head and that is what I try to reflect as much as possible: the words and the sentiment the poet wanted to send out. 



2. Were there any other contending cover ideas for this book? How did this design win out? 

There was one other idea that stood out to me from the get-go, but did not get selected since it was not reflective enough of Lee Maracle’s Nation and where she came from. Lee did not ’’get’’ my initial concept but after having a chat with her to discuss what she thought would be better or more concise and intuitive I went back to the drawing board. The selected cover is what captured everybody’s attention immediately. It was a success for all involved. Lee told me that she thinks it’s gorgeous. Gorgeous is what we wanted to do all along so I guess we covered that aspect of the design.


3. How did the text inform your design?

The text heavily informed my design. I work in a very collaborative way. I try to help the discourse of creation by entertaining the idea that we are joining forces to create something that inspires.  Lee came with ideas of how to lay out the book that heavily referenced the work of 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s way of typesetting his poems. 

For example, in the poem “Breath Slips,” when you read the word "breath" the spacing of the words is typeset as: “B    R   E   A    T   H.”  The spacing is to show the breath one would take between each letter.



Were there any particular passages or poems that struck you?

There were a few that struck me but the one that I liked the most is "just say no."

I was there in Oka on the day of reconciliation. I will always remember that day and I will always remember that we can just say no and that “no” can be a positive thing.


4. In the book, there are wide variations in text size and movement around the page – did you collaborate with Lee Maracle to decide on the appearance?

Yes she came to me with visual variations for each poem that I made more intuitive.

And she had a minor instruction: “make it gorgeous.”


5. Please let us know more about the decision to work strictly in black and white.

It’s for readability and to bring consistency to the images used. Using one colour can be a challenge, but using simple black ink gives it a sense of sophistication and nostalgia. In this case, I wanted to make a book that was like black and white cinema in that it’s not colour that makes things beautiful but the message conveyed. The colour is actually Pantone black 6U that has a blue hue to it.



6. There are a lot of interesting, beautiful elements to this design: the oblong trim size, the french flaps, the endpapers, the diecut pattern on the cover, and the all-black pages within. How did you work to keep these elements harmonious?

The oblong trim size of the book is to show stature and convey a feeling of respect as soon as you grab the book and to allow the reader to feel like he is going to embark on an adventure of sorts. The French flaps were used to make the cover thicker to add depth and solidity and to avoid a feeling of it looking like a magazine. As much as possible I try to use French flaps, I find it adds a sense of class without it being pretentious. The die cut pattern is reflective of patterns from the Sto: Loh nation. The choice of the die cut was also to allow some of the image of the inner flaps to show on the cover. The pages with white type and a flood of black are to help pace the book, a subtle way of sectioning the poems, as if every poem is a new entity.

To keep it harmonious, rather than just using black ink and the same type, I tried to never stray from the one idea that kept it together, and that was to make it gorgeous.


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Thanks so much to Sébastien Aubin for sharing the motivations and story of this book's beautiful design.  Talking to the Diaspora is available now.



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