At the end of graduate school I returned to reading and writing poetry after a decade-long absence. It was the relief of coming home. So I went looking among my friends for someone to give a first pass “read-through” and render an opinion for my fledgling poetry. But my otherwise supportive cohort politely and sheepishly declined my requests. When I queried further, I discovered that the last time these esteemed people had willingly read or considered poetry fell into four categories:
A) High School English class
B) College English class
D) The last time “Dead Poets Society” was on the television.
I was genuinely surprised. High school and college English classes can be tortuous, but poetry had transcended those rites of passage for me. Poetry connected all of other arts together in a great big network. When I read poetry, I see pictures, scenes, and stories in my head – it conjures songs and memories and even scientific facts. The converse is true as well, art or nature or even a dynamic street scene glimpsed from a train will bring up a poignant stanza read long ago. But this always made sense to me because poetry is already an interdisciplinary and multi-sensory art – it is auditory, kinetic, and visual. Poetry was meant to be recited aloud or performed. The arrangement and shape of the words of a poem on the page is an art form all on its own.
I started Illustrated Poetry to make poetry friendly, accessible, and fun. I try to pair original art with poems as a regular practice in hopes of inspiring others and bringing a diversity of readers and art appreciators into the poetry fold. I hope to rescue poetry from the deadly clamshell of the high school or college textbook, at least in a small way. If one person reconsiders a poem because of seeing it in a fresh way when paired with art, I consider my blog a success.
Luckily, I have plenty of help in my endeavor and numerous very talented artists are working to put original art and vision with poems. The Internet is very good at facilitating mixed media work and it is a joy to discover so many fantastic examples of illuminated poetry. I will name a couple of personal favorites for illustrative purposes:
Popshots Magazine – illustrated magazine of new writing
Hoot Literary Magazine – illustrated literary postcards
IIWII project – daily pairings of drawings and poems from artist Aaron Morgan and poet John Boucher
There are also numerous bloggers who beautifully incorporate imagery, video, music, and spoken word into their poetry posts.
In the end, my message is that poetry comes in all shapes, sizes, and sentiments and choices A-D above shouldn’t be able to contain it. Where poetry intersects the other arts and the sciences is a place we can find inspiration, comfort, joy, and add our voices. Free poetry from whatever trap high school or college snagged it in and illustrate it. Free the poetry.