by Jarrod Jones. They reach inside themselves and reveal a portion of their souls to the world. A presentation of vulnerability that offers us so much: A glimmer of hope, of beauty, of perspective, of truth, sometimes all at once. They are the poets whose words affect each of us.
Art begets art. An amateur musician puts their own unique spin on The Beach Boys. A child selects Berthe Morisot’s “Summer’s Day” to interpret in a splash of finger paints. Andy Warhol blew up a can of soup, and the label’s graphic design took on a fourth dimension.
Julian Peters loves poetry. The works of Dickinson and cummings and Shelley and Thomas and Angelou, his eyes have run the gamut and his artistic heart keeps a strong olympian beat as a result.
In Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry, Peters has set the work of poets through his own kaleidoscopic prism and has offered a piece of art of his very own. By adapting poems written by some of the craft’s hallowed immortals, Peters presents to us more than his own interpretations of well-known work—he reveals an entry point to poetry for those who have yet to take the plunge. (You can see how this works by viewing a preview of John Philip Johnson’s “There Have Come Soft Rains” below.)
To commemorate National Poetry Month, Julian Peters has drafted an essay titled “Why Poetry Matters (To Me)”, which you can read exclusively on DoomRocket.
Why Poetry Matters (To Me)
In answering that age-old question, “Why does poetry matter?” the temptation can be to try for some kind of grand declaration—ideally one that would read as a bit of poetry in itself, thus demonstrating one’s point in the very act of stating it. I am not a poet, however, only an illustrator or visual interpreter of poetry, and I fear that in attempting some such flowery response I would only be reinforcing the perception among poetry skeptics that the art form is little more than empty rhetoric. I will therefore try my best to express what I want to say as simply and as matter-of-factly as is possible with such an intangible subject.
Another risk that I see in trying to justify why poetry matters is that of egocentrically overvaluing those particular things that one happens to enjoy. Postage stamps matter a great deal to philatelists, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that we are all missing out if we don’t share in this same passion. I could probably formulate some lofty argument as to why poetry is objectively of greater importance to the universal flourishing of the human spirit, etc., but then I would be likely to fall into the above-mentioned flowery pitfall. I will limit myself, then, to attempting to express why poetry matters to me.
To me, poetry matters because it is really pleasurable. Reading a poem—a poem I like—seems to activate for me the same pleasure sensors as does listening to music. I feel I’m still on a pretty objective footing in making this connection, as neurological studies using MRI scans have shown that exposure to poetry lights up the same regions of the brain as does music. I’m almost tempted to say that poetry is for me a kind of music, in some ways the most powerful kind, in that it can exist even independently of sound, taking shape within the mind as one reads it. “Heard melodies are sweet,” says Keats in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “but those unheard are sweeter.” The music of poetry is a fragile and evanescent one, always seemingly on the point of vanishing back into the mere language from which it took shape. Like all music, it is a very mysterious thing, its appeal in many ways inexplicable –what reason could there be, for instance, for me to find myself so moved by the pairing of two words that end in the same sound? It is this underlying mysteriousness of poetry that seems to me to make it so well-suited to expressing the essential mystery of existence.
I don’t for a minute mean to suggest, however, that the beauty of poetry is all in its sound. As T. S. Eliot observed, “the music of poetry is not something which exists apart from meaning. Otherwise, we could have poetry of great musical beauty which made no sense, and I have never come across such poetry.” The sentiments or ideas expressed in a poem, or the means through which they are expressed, such as a striking metaphor, can constitute a large part of their appeal. But a work of creative nonfiction, or a novel, or an epigram, can also make effective use of these techniques, so I don’t know if I can consider them an inherent component of poetry.
More essential to the poet’s craft, I think, is the skillful deployment of the various associations and connotations held within words and clusters of words, the power they have to speak to our most deep-seated feelings. When these are presented at the right moment and in the right order, with the same deft sense of unity and timing as a composer arranging notes (that musical comparison again), the effect can be quite overpowering. I have often felt, upon reading a certain arrangement of words—perhaps something seemingly extremely simple—as though it were plucking a string directly connected to some hidden spot at my innermost core. The reason for this, I suspect, must have something to do with our unconscious memory of how we first learned to name the objects around us and the sensations inside of us, so that these words are intricately bound up with our first experiences of the world and our first awareness of our own emotions.
My love of poetry has inspired me to create visual interpretations of my favourite poems in the form of comics. Visual art too is a kind of a language, and I believe that certain images play on our early experiences in a similar way to what I have just laid out for words. Starting with their first picture books, children are presented with illustrated encapsulations of different aspects of their environment, as well as visual representations of such primal emotions as joy and fear. In bringing together the language of poetry with the language of images, I hope to in some ways jog the memories to which they are both connected. If by these means readers are led to “see” a part of themselves in the original texts, they will have discovered for themselves a reason why this poetry matters to them.
‘Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry’ is available now.
$16.00 | 200 pgs. | HC | AVAILABLE NOW
From Superfan Promotions: Timed to National Poetry Month in April, Plough Publishing Press will release POEMS TO SEE BY: A COMIC ARTIST INTERPRETS GREAT POETRY, an all new anthology by cartoonist Julian Peters. Over the course of 24 classic poems—from Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” to W. B. Yeats’ “When You Are Old”—the Montreal-based artist has created stunning visual interpretations of some of the world’s most beloved poems. Each iconic poem is interpreted for the page using a different and compelling visual style, showcasing both the diversity of the source material and the storytelling possibilities of the comics artform.
“Poetry and comics may seem like an unlikely combination, but the two art forms actually share a number of common elements,” writes Julian Peters in the book’s preface. “In setting out to turn beautiful poetry into comics, I wanted to pay tribute to the way these poems made me feel, to spend time with them, to pull them in as close to me as possible in the way that, as someone who draws comics, felt the most natural.”
POEMS TO SEE BY: A COMIC ARTIST INTERPRETS GREAT POETRY features poems by Maya Angelou, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Tess Gallagher, Thomas Hardy, Robert Hayden, Seamus Heaney, William Ernest Henley, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Langston Hughes, John Philip Johnson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allen Poe, Christina Rossetti, Carl Sandburg, Siegfried Sassoon, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas, William Wordsworth, and W. B. Yeats.
POEMS TO SEE BY is a perfect fit not only for die-hard poetry fans and curious new readers—it’s also a fantastic teaching tool that any educator trying to get their students excited by poetry should pick up for their classroom. “In the years since I began creating such works, I have often been contacted by teachers who tell me they are using them in their poetry classes,” says Peters. “I’m delighted to think that one of my comics may have helped students to better understand a poem, or perhaps clarify their own interpretation of a poem, even if it differs significantly from my own, which is obviously only one of thousands.”
With the surge in popularity of writer Rupi Kaur, poetry is having something of a moment, providing an opening for readers who might otherwise be turned off by their memories of rote scansion and rhyme schemes to discover (and rediscover) just how beautiful, playful, and deeply human poetry can really be. POEMS TO SEE BY harnesses the power of lush visuals, timeless poetry, and the magical alchemy that arises when words and pictures come together to create a reading experience that’s truly unique—one which might even change the way you see poetry for good.
POEMS TO SEE BY: A COMIC ARTIST INTERPRETS GREAT POETRY will be in bookstores on March 31, 2020. It’s a perfect book for poetry lovers, reluctant readers, and everyone in between.
Enjoy this 4-page preview of ‘Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry’: