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Poem as Comic Strip
February 18, 2008 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Poetry's turn to go graphic. The Poetry Foundation has invited a few graphic novelists to illustrate poems from its archive. Via.
posted by Miko (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
The interface makes it pretty hard to find and read all six from one page, unless I'm missing an index. Sorry about that.
posted by Miko at 7:18 PM on February 18, 2008


Hm, here- latest one contains links to all previous.
posted by Miko at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2008


Gah, "graphic novelist" somehow manages to sound even more pretentious than "graphic novel" -- no mean feat, that. They're comics, yo. But this is kinda neat. The Emily Dickinson piece seemed a little too obvious and literal to me, and something in me balked at the very idea of the slideshow so I dunno about that one, but I like the others a lot. I have a feeling a lot of people won't like this, not because of any snobbery over comics, but for the same reason there was so much resistance to music videos way back when -- you sort of want to read a poem and get your own thing out of it, not someone else's visual interpretation. Or anyway, you might if you actually read poetry, which most people never do (full disclosure: I waited until the last semester of my English degree to take Poetry 101, if that tells you anything). This could, in some tiny way, expand its audience, and I hope any potential detractors take that into consideration.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:34 PM on February 18, 2008


Poetry has been graphic for quite some time
posted by Rubbstone at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2008


"graphic novelists" - so that's fancy cartoonist then?
posted by Artw at 8:02 PM on February 18, 2008


Poetry has been graphic for quite some time

And for some time before that, as well.

Thanks, Miko!
posted by Iridic at 8:13 PM on February 18, 2008


This is good, with the exception of the Emily Dickinson one I enjoyed all the ones I read. I usually can't stand this side of the poetic tradition. I really like poetry more as a oral tradition and often when pieces are written for the page it can be difficult to catch the rhythm (excl. concrete styles). Too often when I hear these style of poems read it is far to breathy and with a softness I abjure. Somehow these worked out in my head just right and I think that the images really helped in terms of structure helping me to really hear and place the words.
posted by Rubbstone at 8:16 PM on February 18, 2008


Although I can't cite any references off the top of my head, I do remember having read renditions of poetry by some graphicke novellartistes, he said, trying to inject as much snobbery into the art form. Like, I could have sworn Tony Millionaire did someone else's poetry before...

So I do like the idea of forming a something around comic cover versions of poems; it just illustrates (no pun intended) further to the public how versatile the medium of comics is.
posted by not_on_display at 8:29 PM on February 18, 2008


Street Poet Ray did it first.
posted by martinrebas at 8:34 PM on February 18, 2008


Gary Sullivan wrote a series of posts about Joe Brainard's poem comics, which he did with such New York School luminaries as Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, John Ashberry and others. Introduction, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and epilogue.
posted by Kattullus at 8:36 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


In between your old and new times, palindromist Dave Morice produced the zine-era Poetry Comics (and then more), which I found pretty wonderful.
posted by msalt at 8:41 PM on February 18, 2008


Thanks for bringing up Blake, Irdic. Now may I bring up bullshit?

The appraisal of Krazy Kat in the introduction by Ed Park is just that: "a comic feature so blessedly idiosyncratic in its dialects that the only way to start making sense of what’s said is by reading it aloud, like a poem." So, yes, Krazy Kat is written in dialect, but its pretty simple to make sense of: Ignatz wants to hit Krazy with a brick, and Krazy wants to be hit with the brick because Krazy interprets it as a sign of love. Officer Pupp completes the triangle and wants to bust Ignatz for throwing the brick.

The argot of their speech may need to be vocalized now and then, but that doesn't mean that the only way to make sense of it is to read it aloud. As if claiming that Krazy Kat, a beautifully and strangely rendered comic, only has meaning when it's appreciated for its words. This argument demeans the visual, and is better positioned to insist upon the removal of images from comics than it is to advocate for the addition of visuals to poetry.

Oh, and can someone illustrate Berryman's Dream Songs? Every one of them.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:41 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


So people are going to read poetry because of the allure of indie cartoonists? What bizarro world did I just fall into?

To throw in a few more instances off the top of my head...

-David Lasky did a quaint yet stunning segment of Ulysses for Expo 2001.
-Mike Mignola has pulled out some ancient poems from time to time in Hellboy, most noticeably in the first half of The Island.
-Craig Thompson rendered a number of Biblical poetics in the Bible Doodles mini.
-I've seen Thirteen Ways of Seeing a Blackbird on the mini-comics rack of the area comics shop (and i've tackled that same poem a few times myself).

I'm certain there are many, many, many more.

All of that ignores the original poetry being done by cartoonists as well... Kevin Huizenga's stuff, for instance, is rhythm incarnate.

So, in these regards the copy for the project is fairly insulting. It's painted as this elite vault that the cartoonists have been allowed to peruse and select just one to play with. That attitude really bugs me. The project is neat, but I can't imagine it being worded any worse.

(On preview: well spoken, kingfisher)
posted by pokermonk at 9:10 PM on February 18, 2008


Yeah, definitely check out the Brainard stuff. I linked to it on Metafilter awhile ago. I'd link to the post, but Kattullus pretty much covered it. The world right now is longing for a collected Brainard comics to come out.

Also: I haven't read Poetry the journal for a couple years, but the website sure has gotten cool in the last 6 months or so. Their Harriet has arguably become the best poetry blog out there, despite its bizarre lack of an RSS feed.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:43 PM on February 18, 2008


Oh yeah! That's where I came across the Brainard stuff. Thanks roll truck roll... I'd been trying to remember where the heck I'd seen it. I was almost certain Eddie Campbell had linked to it. The worst part was that I couldn't remember Brainard's name to save my life.
posted by Kattullus at 9:56 PM on February 18, 2008


The points raised by pokermonk and kingfisher are valid, but at the same time, it's refreshing to see a project like this come from the Poetry Foundation, which is a fairly conservative institution. I'm holding out hope that they'll select a few funny or experimental poems for the series, ones that might offer wider possibilities for out-of-the-box interpretations.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:57 PM on February 18, 2008


Oh, and here's roll truck roll's Brainard poem comics post.
posted by Kattullus at 9:59 PM on February 18, 2008


That reminds me, Powerful Religious Baby - you're a dab hand at the poetry illustration yourself.
posted by Iridic at 10:02 PM on February 18, 2008


I'll second roll truck roll's Harriet recommendation, as well. It has a diverse stable of writers--Christian Bök on one side of the spectrum, A.E. Stallings on the other--and posts are frequent and stimulating. Discussion has been particularly spirited in the past few weeks. And I think Harriet does have an RSS feed now.

On preview: thanks, Iridic! Somebody's got to bring the lewd.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 10:12 PM on February 18, 2008


Oh, and can someone illustrate Berryman's Dream Songs? Every one of them.

I always imagined Henry with red hair. This comic sucks!
posted by invitapriore at 11:17 PM on February 18, 2008


I see things like this and I'm sincerely glad Poetry is using their (relatively)new endowment well.

The illustrations of poems are better than the presentation/copy, true. But I felt a little sad for "Gabrielle Bell" who gets beat up by Emily Dickinson. The Russel Edson/ Jefferey Brown one though, I thought brought something new to the poem that I really dug.

And the links here above are great as well.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:18 AM on February 19, 2008


I always imagined Henry with red hair. This comic sucks!

I always imagined
with no hair...
posted by newmoistness at 7:57 AM on February 19, 2008


Imagine Henry, that is...
posted by newmoistness at 7:58 AM on February 19, 2008


"Gah, 'poet' somehow manages to sound even more pretentious than 'poetry' -- no mean feat, that. They're words, yo."

Do you also go to bookstores and put all the books in one huge section? Because what could be more pretentious than "genres"? It even sounds pretentious.

The term "graphic novel" exists to distinguish a particular type or format of comic book. There are pretentious graphic novelists, for sure, but also as many or more pretentious authors of books without pictures. The term may have no use for you, but for those who are looking for a particular type of read (I find they're the perfect bite-size for the morning train ride) it is very useful for them to have their own section in the comic book store where I can browse for them.
posted by Eideteker at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2008


I'm kind of curious as to what books fall into this graphic novel section of yours and how they are distinguished from mere comics.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2008


Oh come on, must you people take over every discussion?

On topic: Yes, Shepherd's "post-avant" article sure did cause ripples throughout the poet blogs. I'd kind of quit checking my RSS reader for a few weeks, so I came across it all at once.

I really don't understand the vehemence with which some people need to claim their place as being in opposition to the poetry world at large, when the poetry world at large is so small, even compared to other arts.

Powerful Religious Baby, your blog is freakin' cool.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:43 AM on February 19, 2008


The term "graphic novel" exists to distinguish a particular type or format of comic book.

Actually, it doesn't. A "graphic novel" may be Ghost World or Watchmen or Acme Novelty Library, or it may be some piece of shit Spider-Man story or whatever. It's not a term that references quality. It just means "big-ass comic book with square binding."
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2008


You missed the word "format" in that sentence.
posted by Eideteker at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2008


"We are using our own skins for wallpaper and we cannot win."

I'd like to see someone try to illustrate that.

(My oblique way of seconding the request for "Dream Songs" illustrations. Cool post!)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:01 PM on February 19, 2008


I really don't understand the vehemence with which some people need to claim their place as being in opposition to the poetry world at large, when the poetry world at large is so small, even compared to other arts.

Maybe because the poetry world is so small, people feel they have to fight harder for a livably large piece of turf. It may also have something to do with the fact that poets as a people seem to be afflicted equally with swellheadedness and low self-esteem, egotism and inferiority complexes; sweaty swaggering hybrids of Ray and Roast Beef loosed horribly upon the face of the earth.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 3:57 PM on February 19, 2008


Surely I can't be the only one who has always thought Henry looks like this?

Also, while I don't endorse it, there was a comic / graphic novel / whatever version of The Waste Land that came out in the eighties, which was kind of a mashup parody of Eliot and (weirdly) Raymond Chandler. And Russell Edson was himself namechecked in Ghost World, so it's kind of cool to see him included in the list.

Personally I really like the idea of doing this sort of thing, but I can't say I love any of the actual works on display. I think I liked the Johnson / Stallings one the best, but most of them got too literal for my taste, and with the exception of the last two, I didn't think that the tone of the artwork matched up very well with the diction of the poem, if that makes any sense. Still, it's a neat idea and I'm glad it's being attempted.
posted by whir at 4:29 PM on February 19, 2008


Scott McCloud's version of Porphyria's Lover was my first experience with poems illustrated in this way, though it doesn't look much like a normal comic/graphic novel format. It meanders.
posted by mismatched at 8:14 PM on February 19, 2008


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