Category Archives: Poetry
T. S. Eliot had a theory about poetry, which he explained in an essay called Tradition and the Individual Talent. “Most of us,” Eliot wrote, “think of poets as people who express their feelings in verse.” He thought poetry was stranger than that. As Eliot saw it, poets were less like people and more like laboratories. “The poet has, not a ‘personality’ to express,” he wrote, “but a particular medium . . . in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.” Within this medium, ordinary emotions are compressed together until they produce an “art emotion”—an emotion that doesn’t exist in ordinary life, and is available only through the poem. That’s the whole point of poetry: while we’re under its spell, we’re not ourselves, or anyone; we feel things no ordinary person feels. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality,” he concluded.
The above is quoted from a New Yorker article.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
This is the sixth and final digital collage created to illuminate Eliot’s “Preludes.” You can see the others here. The overall design differs from the previous five and I reused elements from the preceding images to create the suggestion of revolutions and vacancy. This is new territory for me and I would welcome honest critique.
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
This is the fifth digital collage created to illuminate Eliot’s “Preludes.” You can see the others here. This is new territory for me and I would welcome honest critique.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters,
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
This is the fourth digital collage created to illuminate Eliot’s “Preludes.” You can see the others here. This is new territory for me and I would welcome honest critique.
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.
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.
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.
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.