illustrated poetry (no, not like rupi kaur’s)

Since/because of our last class, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes a poem good, but also fundamentally what it is that makes a poem a poem. In my mind, the visual arts and poetry exist in the same spaces, and are therefore sometimes indistinguishable in my work. In the past, this has manifested primarily as either:

  1. Traditional illustrations wherein the poem and the art exist independently from one another on the page but are, in their content, related.
  2. Small illustrations which take the place of the title of the poem.

In both instances, the poem and the art coexist, but the former always takes up at least the same amount of space as the latter, usually more; in other words, the poem has always been the focus of my work, and the art is complimentary.

Recently, though, my work has been a little more art-heavy. I’ve attached two (low quality) images of my most recent pieces to give you a better idea of what I mean. For me, these are poems. My process in making them is nearly identical to the process I go through when writing a poem of just words, and these are concentrated and concise and imagery-dependent in the same way my poems are.

I’ve been having difficulty finding work like this, work wherein the art and the poem blend together in the extreme. As such, this post is just as much a publication of my information as it is an invitation for you to share yours with me. If you are familiar with any visual artists who incorporate poetry in their work, or any poets who incorporate visual art in their work, I’d love to hear about them. I’d very much appreciate some guidance and inspiration in reconciling these two passions of mine.

memory©

There’s a lot of scary things that happen when you want to become a writer, for example:

People ask “what do you hope to do with your degree?” and you say “write” and they say “okay, but how will you make a living?” and thus you are propelled into a brief existential crisis wherein your heart yells “WRITE!” and your brain momentarily devolves into a static of golden arches and cash register cha-ching noises and Big Macs and concludes “probably McDonald’s.”

After that conversation, you recall that the last McDonald’s you were at had no more than three employees working, as the cashiers had been replaced with big touch-screens, and you wonder if maybe another fast food chain, a Burger King or Wendy’s (or if you’re really desperate, a Taco Bell) will hold off on replacing all human intelligence with robots in time for you to secure a job post-graduation.

But you push all of that to the back of your head, right? And you just keep writing, you keep writing until you have something, something worth sharing. And you take that thing worth sharing and you try to share it, you copy and paste it into a Google Doc and download the Google Doc as a .pdf or .txt file so that it’s in one of the accepted submission file types and you look over the piece one more time when you realize you can’t. It’s about somebody. The poem is about somebody, the type of somebody who will make sure that they see the poem.

Yeah, the looming prospect of unemployment is certainly scary, as is the inevitable take-over of artificial intelligence. The scariest part of writing, though, for me at least, is trying to figure out how to reckon with writing what you want to write about (or, rather, who you want to write about) responsibly. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, perhaps because the poems which I feel most strongly about are the poems which tackle the things that are closest to me, and oftentimes those things are people. I find myself most proud of the poems which are confined to a private existance for one reason or another.

I’ll leave you with a quote that’s been bouncing around my head for a good couple of days now. Moshe Kasher, while reflecting on the time he was sued over a line in his memoir, said on Episode #943 of the Joe Rogan Experience, “You can’t just grab memories thinking that all of your memories belong to you because other people are in them, ya know?”

Sounds of Slam and Song

My relationship with sound in my poems is very much reflective of my relationship with sound in my daily life; in both instances, I rely upon sound to fill up empty spaces. Interestingly, though, the former seems to be done in an act of repression, almost, given I feel the urge to fill spaces of silence as to ensure that I don’t think too much about any one given thing. Silence, for me at least, amplifies whatever is going on in my head and if my thoughts in those moments are, for whatever reason, anxious, the results can be disastrous. In poetry, on the other hand, I fill up space with sound in a distinctive effort to confront and cope with the things that I am anxious or otherwise upset about. Filling up the silence of a blank page is not about running from my problems in the same way that filling up the silence of my daily life is; poetry, as such, becomes an act of offense, not defense.

To touch on the specifics of writing poetry, I think that sound is probably a lot more important to me than I ever realized, as is evidenced simply in that I often read my works-in-progress aloud to myself, and if sharing a completed poem with somebody, I prefer to read it aloud to them rather than letting them read it silently to themselves. Perhaps some of this behavior is rooted in fear; I am afraid that my poem will be misunderstood, and as such I feel the need to control all of the facets of sound which have the capacity to shape meaning; which words do and don’t receive emphasis, volume and tone of voice, etcetera. I also, on occasion, venture into the realm of slam poetry, which exists as performative sound, oftentimes on-stage. For me, the primary difference between writing poetry for the page and poetry to be performed is, when doing the latter, I am much more concerned with the speed with which the poem will be spoken, something which I suppose is more difficult to control when writing traditional poetry.

All in all, though, I think that my relationship with sound is evolving; it’s not an aspect of poetry which I have previously given much thought, and I think that simply by considering it as I am right now, I will be more aware of it in my writing henceforth. Additionally, I have interests in the performative aspects of poetry, both as a slam poet and as a musician (albeit, a pretty bad one).

I, as a written poet, a slam poet, and a musician, will continue to reckon with the relationship between words and sound, perhaps now more consciously, in the creation of my work.