You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
Monthly Archives: March 2015
The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
This is the second digital collage created to illuminate Eliot’s “Preludes.” You can see the first one here. This is new territory for me and I would welcome honest critique.
I am a huge fan of Matt Kish and I just discovered a fantastic tumblr project he’s involved with, Seeing Calvino.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is a fictitious dialogue between Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Kahn about the fantastic and impossible cities Polo has purportedly seen in his travels. It has influenced countless architects and artists with its alternative approach to thinking about what cities are and how they function.
“Seeing Calvino is an attempt by the artists Leighton Connor, Matt Kish, and Joe Kuth, to “see,” through the creation of illustrations responding to and exploring the ideas in the texts, the work of writer Italo Calvino. The tumblr began in April 2014 with illustrations of Calvino’s Invisible Cities. A new illustration will be posted every Wednesday.”
“If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. ‘What meaning does your construction have?’ he asks. ‘What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?’
“‘We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,’ they answer.
“Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. ‘There is the blueprint,’ they say.”
“Summoned to lay down the rules for the foundation of Perinthia, the astronomers established the place and the day according to the position of the stars…Perinthia – they guaranteed – would reflect the harmony of the firmament, nature’s reason and the gods’ benevolence would shape the inhabitants’ destinies.
In Perinthia’s streets and square today you encounter cripples, dwarfs, hunchbacks, obese men, bearded women. But the worse cannot be seen; guttural howls are heard from cellars and lofts…
Perinthia’s astronomers are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must admit that all their calculations were wrong and their figures are unable to describe the heavens, or else they must reveal that the order of the gods is reflected exactly in the city of monsters.”
“This belief is handed down in Beersheba: that, suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba … They also believe, these inhabitants, that another Beersheba exists underground.”
There’s a great interview with the artists here. Be sure to check out this blog and follow it if you’re a tumblr user.
IThe winter evening settles downWith smell of steaks in passageways.Six o’clock.The burnt-out ends of smoky days.And now a gusty shower wrapsThe grimy scrapsOf withered leaves about your feetAnd newspapers from vacant lots;The showers beatOn broken blinds and chimney-pots,And at the corner of the streetA lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.And then the lighting of the lamps.
That fact that we have come to venerate key works of art as pinnacles of human achievement creates the impression that every art object is an object of supreme historical and anthropological significance. Most famous works of art were just one in a series of experiments or commissions. The notice of them as special came later. Don’t try to make “masterpieces,” just make, and make, and make some more!
Drawing is using any number of systems as a mark-making code. Those systems can be learned on one’s own or taught by an instructor. Mark-making codes can range from the logical rules of perspective to the personal realization that moving a pen this way or that creates a certain effect that simulates or suggests something other than it is. The only hierarchy among these systems is determined by whether or not they are based on seeing or encouraging sight.
For example there are many techniques for making pretty looking trees that are based on repetitive effects that suggest trees. This would be a “lower” form of drawing in the same way that plunking out sound effects on a digital keyboard would be lower than performing a piece by Chopin. I am not saying that these technique-based drawings are not worth doing, are not enjoyable, or do not have a place, just that they are not the same as a masterly drawing by someone who is really looking.
That being said, the purpose a drawing is made for does not necessarily place it lower or higher in this hierarchy. For example, the assumption might be that drawings found in a comic book are of a lesser kind than those found in an art gallery. While that might often be the case, it has nothing to do with the fact that they are found in a comic book. There are several comic book artists who would have been masters of “traditional” drawing had they been born in a different time or place and their drawings are just as much based on sight as the plein air painter who shows his work in a gallery.
In the tradition of Matt Kish, another great illuminated classic has been created by Allen Crawford. Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass, with Song of Myself as a centerpiece, is a keystone of American poetry, and Crawford uses drawings and hand-lettering to deepen the reader’s experience of the poem.
Each page is a hand-drawn spread created mostly through a process of improvisation rather than of careful planning, a method of which Whitman no doubt would have approved. Some pages are nothing but elaborate compositions of text, while others are images floating in empty space with a few lines of verse. Most are a pleasing combination of both.
Several reviews I’ve read say that this copy is not the best introduction to Whitman since some of the pages are difficult to read. I have only skimmed the original, but I would have to disagree. Whitman wanted to break free of the traditional bonds of form in poetry. He wrote sprawling verses that are hard to follow even in traditionally printed books, since artificial line breaks must be added to make Whitman’s free verse fit into the standard paperback format. Crawford makes Whitman’s dream of breaking free from poetry’s form a reality. While it is almost impossible to read the page above in the exact order Whitman wrote it, it is just as impossible to miss the experience of the verse when seen in this way. The drawing, the floating text that forces you to turn the book around in your hands as you read, surely get at the heart of Whitman’s cosmic scale and intimate verse. I believe Whitman was seeking after the experience created by the reading of his poetry rather than the dogmatic adherence to his choices in form, line length, and word order.
Some pages are harder to decipher than others, though I wonder how much that has to do with some obscurity in Whitman’s poetic language and how much it is a failing on Crawford’s part to create a flow through the text. No doubt repeated readings would make such pages more clear (and re-reading is a necessary reality of reading any kind of poetry). Crawford does have a lyrical sense of how to arrange words so that at first glance the page seems illegible, but once the reader dives in he is carried through with a sense of excitement and engagement rather than confusion or frustration.
This illuminated manuscript does what all beautifully bound and illustrated books should, it forces the reader to understand that he is not superior to the book. This is a book to be experienced, not marked up and analyzed. To read this copy of Song of Myself is to more fully enter Whitman’s world, to more holistically experience the scope and intimacy of his poem.
You can find Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself illustrated by Allen Crawford on Amazon or at your local bookstore.