Sung Po-jen’s illustrated book of poetry, Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom, was published in 1238 in China, making it the very earliest example of an art book. This masterpiece would have been lost entirely if not for a single copy of the 1261 edition that survived the Mongol conquests. This copy spent the next 600 years passed and sold privately from artist to scholar to collector until its importance was finally recognized in the late 1800’s. Drawing (ink on paper) and composition by me, translation by Red Pine.
Henry Treece was a published poet before World War II, so it is fitting he documented his experience as an intelligence officer in the Royal Air Force (from 1941 – 1946) in poetry as well. He wrote In The Third Year Of War from the center of a conflagration for which he could see no end. We have the benefit of history to know that in ~ 1944 the end of the war was indeed coming, but it does not lessen the despair we feel coming from his poem. After the war Mr. Treece focused on fiction and is primarily remembered today for his historical fiction novels for children. Mixed media collage and composition by me. To read the entire poem, click the “read more” button or scroll down.
The painter and sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) wrote this quatrain on his own sculpture Night, which is one of several masterpieces of his decorating the Medici Tomb in Florence. With most of the popular emphasis on Michelangelo’s sculpture and painting, I often forget that he was also a prolific poet, writing hundreds of sonnets and epigrams. But this short poem particularly struck me because of its self-reflective ekphrastic theme. For a photograph of Night, a different translation of this poem, and an interesting discussion about an attribute of the statue that has, shall we say, attracted attention through the centuries, click here.
I’m continuing my no-erase policy and experimenting with some textured cardboard and paint. This time it meant I wound up with two illustrations! To see the other one scroll down or click the “Read More” button. Poem by Michelangelo Buonarroti, translated by William Wordsworth, painting and composition by me. Have a wonderful weekend!
It is strange for me to think of William Carlos Williams as being undiscovered or overshadowed: his poetry certainly keeps up with all of the other titans of poetry in every anthology I come across. And yet, during his lifetime, his work was consistently overpowered by his contemporary T.S. Eliot. It would be the Beat poets who would “discover” and elevate him and his work – although the appreciation was apparently not mutual (my thanks to Matt over at Beat.Company for that lead!). I have been strongly drawn to working in collage for WCW poems these last few weeks – collage and composition by me.
Robert Hayden probably knew a thing or two about cold winter mornings, having grown up in Detroit in the early part of last century. He published his first poetry book at 27 and later went on to become the first African-American appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States. You can read the full text of the poem here. Photograph (of Aristide Maillol’s statue Mountain), lettering, and composition by me. Have a good week!
Chances are that a counting-out rhyme is one of the first poems you ever learned by heart – “eeny, meeny, miny, mo…” is the version most common in American English, but there is one in almost every language. It has been hypothesized that this series of nonsense sounds and syllables are the remains of an ancient traditional counting system, mentioned often in connection with shepherds keeping track of sheep, although the hard evidence for this is a bit thin. One of the properties of counting-out rhymes is that they are constantly changing and evolving as a childhood game of selection and chance, so writing them down and fixing them is almost an exercise in futility. The version above is listed as being of Scottish origin, recorded as early as 1891 – although counting-out rhymes as a category are much older than that, perhaps by hundreds of years. For an interesting article on this in The Paris Review, click here. Photograph and composition by me. Have a great weekend!
Another poem found in the forest of the scraps box! You can see last week’s found treasure here. This time it was just a scrap of paper with no illustration – so I created one. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) published just a single massive volume of poetry (1,402 poems!) in his lifetime and achieved little recognition. He was rediscovered in the 20th century and is best known today for the poem that most of us read in school at some point – “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” But he wrote many even shorter gems as well – this one likely references a superstition surrounding the tending of Christmas fires or yule logs, but the microbiologist in me approves of the hand washing theme! Collage and composition by me.
Featuring Langston Hughes’ lovely epigram “Prayer” this weekend (paired with a series of fantastic drawings by Ms. Czarnecka of D is for Doodle) reminded me of the other Langston Hughes poem I have illustrated. The first line of “Harlem” is so famous, it easily stands in for the rest of the poem. When he published it in 1951, I wonder if Mr. Hughes could have predicted the amazing and ongoing life this poem would have – “Dream Deferred” continues to be a powerful reference used in connection with current events, such as those in Ferguson, Mo. Read the whole short and incredibly powerful poem here. Drawing (ink on paper) and composition by me.
I had just seen the movie The Imitation Game when I came across this poem about Alan Turing by m lewis redford; I was immediately captivated by it and wanted to do an illustration. The illustration wound up featuring the entire poem – so it’s technically not a excerpt (but I think that’s okay) – and incorporated a painting of mine rearranged with a discarded print of Frida Kahlo’s painting Diego and I. The format was loosely inspired by the surrealist technique of cubomania, where an image is cut up into squares and rearranged randomly. M lewis redford has a fantastic blog where you can read more of his poetry and observe all of the connections and themes he explores (which he calls “wormholes”) – check it out!
Often credited as the “first fully realized haiku in English” (to quote Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years by Kacian, Rowland, and Burns), “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound celebrated its 100-year publication anniversary last year (2013). It was not the first haiku written originally in English (that title goes to a haiku written in 1902 by Noguchi Yonejirô,1875-1947) and it broke a number of the “rules” of haiku, generating some debate about what could constitute a haiku in English. But it captures a moment in time that rings true and works as a haiku or an epigram still today, 100 years later. Have a great weekend!