Illustrated Excerpts

Albatross Box

black and white photo of details from the Albatross box - bird skull entwined in thread and wire

I confess that I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages called “Romantic Museum” – I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream (click HERE to see Kick-About #9 and the announcement itself). First, the prompt:

I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls.

On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”

Since finishing the box a few days ago, I have been struck by how different it looks at different times of day. The shadows draw me in and highlight different phrases and words from Coleridge’s poem. Wiring the bird bones together was unexpectedly emotional for me – I know this box isn’t just about the plight of seabirds or found objects – and in that too it finds kinship with “Romantic Museum.”

Dead Center – Atwood

Black ink lettering of Ann Atwood's haiku "dead center"

dead center
in the center of her flowers
Georgia O’Keeffe

Ann Atwood

I was cleaning out a portfolio of old drawings the other day when I stumbled upon the ink lettering I did for a past post on Ann Atwood’s haiku “dead center.” Back then, I wound up using the lettering for an overlay in a digital collage (reposted at the end), but with the perspective of time, I’ve decided I really like the simplicity of the original. So I rescued it from potential recycling and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a “B-side” drawing as well!

Black ink wash and line drawing of woman singing

At the time of my original post, there was almost no information on Ann Atwood online. Her haiku were listed in numerous anthologies and the poems could be found on the internet, but the poet herself was a mystery. This seems to still be the case, as I found a post (click here) from the Haiku Foundation (featuring my collage – which was another pleasant surprise!) talking about the limited information we do know and calling for anyone with more to get in touch. The post also features many more of Ms. Atwood’s beautiful haiku.

Digital collage - purple paper with line drawing of woman and overlay of "dead center" haiku

The original digital collage for “dead center.”

Atomic Courtesy Collaboration – Jacobson

GIF by John Sapiro

Atomic Courtesy

To smash the simple atom
All mankind was intent.
Now any day
The atom may
Return the compliment.

Ethel Jacobson

collage of beige and red particles escaping from a black concentric reactor

John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).

“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”
– Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.

We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.

Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:

Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.”
Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.

Mars Being Red – Bell

red monoprint of nude woman with poem by Marvin Bell

In a red world, imprint

the valentine and blush of romance for the dark.

Marvin Bell (b. 1937)

I went out into the desert to see the NEOWISE comet at the end of July (figured I wouldn’t be around to see it the next time in 5,000 years) and also saw a spectacular show from Jupiter and Saturn. I fell asleep before Mars rose blood red in the sky, but my friend told me about it in the morning. I’ve been thinking about Marvin Bell’s poem and my red monoprint from a couple of years ago ever since. The original post, including a little about Mr. Bell, is here.


I also did some experimentation with my old polaroid camera when I was out in the desert. This is what happens when you try to take a picture of a cactus with only car headlights for illumination:

For reference (and to alleviate the nightmarish quality of the polaroid above!), here is a nearby cactus in the early morning light:

On a side note: I am really terrible at self-promotion, so I have told exactly one other blogger-friend, but I do have an Instagram account! (@merb02 or click here) I admit when I first started on IG, it was basically a repeat of Illustrated Poetry, but from here on out, it will be new and different pieces from what I post here. So if it’s your jam, it would be great to see you on IG too.

Cummings – Politician

A comment about the texture of my drawings in my last post (thank you, Jilanne!), sent me in search of more “textured” ink drawings I’ve done. I found this one in the archive and so it’s back! By the end of his life, E.E. Cummings’ political views had tracked radically rightward. This has always been out of step with his avant-garde image as a poet – even when he was alive – and his political poetry has not had the lasting popular appeal of his love poems. But this two-liner of his is pretty priceless. While I stridently disagree with his politics, I choose to pluck this political poem out of obscurity; it has a universal feel about it and a sentiment most everyone has shared.

When I dug the drawing out to scan it again, I made the discovery of a B-side I had completely forgotten about! It goes with the texture theme of this week so here it is:

I first posted the Cummings-inspired drawing in early 2016: the original post is here. Have a great (and safe) weekend!

Live, Die: A Ghazal – Muske-Dukes

About two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away of natural causes (not Covid-related) at 102 years old. Her funeral was held last week amongst continuing coronavirus restrictions and the pastor noted that she was born during one pandemic (the 1918 Spanish Flu) and died during another – but that this isn’t what defines her, or anyone’s life.

Since she died, I keep coming back to this poem by Carol Muske-Dukes – maybe because my grandmother lingered in a semi-conscious state for almost a week before she died, maybe because it describes so accurately how we didn’t know how to let her go. I had done this drawing as a response to the poem 4 years ago – and when I went back and looked at it last week, it felt unfinished. Now that I had a face to go with the poem, I added the details and shadows it needed. I also added the final words of the poem onto the drawing directly, to fix them there permanently.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, which was part of a series of art-poem collaborations at The New York Times Style Magazine, you can go here.

My original post is here.

The Sound of Waves – Williams

ASoundofWaves_WCW

Since Monday’s post had a science themed collage for Phil’s Kick-About Number #4, I visited the archive to see about another science themed collage. I came across this one, for a William Carlos William’s poem. I laughed because I got the background image for this one – you can see the “heat” and “cold” peaking out from the lady’s shoulder – from the same source as the center image in “Mirror Neurons.” It was a science textbook from the early 60’s I got for free out of the discard pile at the library. The science in it was outdated and often overtly sexist and racist – so I cut out the best of the illustrations and art and consigned the rest to the dustbin of history.

The entirety of the poem is posted after the read more tag, along with the text of the original post and a link (which is still good, I checked) to an online archive of Williams reading his own poems.

(more…)

Science – Jeffers

Science_JeffersIIAfter Tuesday’s polaroid eye doodle post, I went back into the archives to find another eye to go with it for today – and I found this collage I did for the poem “Science” by Robinson Jeffers. This is actually a revision of one of my very first posts, and I still like this revised collage better (if you’d like to compare, the original collage is below the read more tag). This one is more focused and captures the mystery I was going for better.

A little bit more about Mr. Jeffers, from the original text of my post:

“I had several science related writing deadlines this last weekend and during a bout of procrastination, I decided to revisit my illustration for the excellent and mysterious poem “Science” by Robinson Jeffers.  I found I was still happy with my collage (which is not always a given when revisiting an illustration!), but decided to change the field of view in order to cast a more ethereal mood. If you’d like to see the original post with the full collage, head right over here. Mr. Jeffers led a very colorful and extremely successful poetic life – he is one of the few poets to have been on the cover of Time magazine and his face was featured posthumously on a postage stamp. The sharp decline of his popular legacy is often tied to his staunch open opposition to WWII and other viewpoints considered unpatriotic at the time. Mr. Jeffers spent most of his life in Carmel, California, and built his home and a four story tower by hand out of stone. Read the full text of “Science” here.”

(more…)

Popcorn-can Cover – Niedecker

Popcorncancover

I was going through all my old posts (over 450 of them – yikes!) in order to organize and archive them and found this gem from 5 and half years ago – I clearly like making collages with polaroid film! I fully admit that some old posts did not age well, but this one struck me the same as it did when I first put it up. Although it is boiling hot where I live right now, I reason that this poem doesn’t have a season: the mouse is always trying to find shelter from the elements be they hot or cold.

Text of the original post, with information about Lorine Niedecker below.

(more…)

Throwback Thursday – Proverbs for Today

Proverbsfortoday

I posted this originally in August 2015 and that definitely feels like more than 5 years ago! Continuing on the theme of surreal this week, these surrealist proverbs were published in 1925. Both men survived the horrors of WW1 – Paul Éluard worked at a military hospital for much of the war, where he was assigned to write letters to dead soldier’s families. He wrote up to 150 per day.

The text of my original post is below. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!

(more…)