A History of Poetry Comics #01

Words and drawing have gone together for centuries.

My first encounter with the idea that drawings can provide context for words and that words can provide meaning for drawings came through the illuminated poetry of William Blake (1757-1827).

I must have been hungover when they taught the English master in Lit class (anyway I was more into the Beats than the Romantics). Instead I was led to Blake through punk music and specifically Patti Smith (who still stops to read Blake’s poetry at her concerts). In 1977 I was struck by the power words and punk music had to transcend the mundane and deliver an immediacy. I experienced the same power, this time between words and drawing when I encountered Blake’s illuminated poetry.

Blake’s drawings for his poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience are testaments to words/drawings leading to deeper meaning/context. The illumination for his poem “The Tyger” (published in 1794!) for example shows an intertwining of words and drawing. The tree branches become stanza breaks. A stalk of grass stretches the entire left side of the print becoming the first letter of the title. The written tiger’s “fearful symmetry” is belied by the drawn tiger’s domesticated expression. “…what art / Could twist the sinews of thy heart?” Indeed.

William Blake, “The Tyger” (The Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org)

Poetry and drawing together is a matter of providing the reader/viewer with context to build a shared, deeper meaning with the poet/artist. That’s why Blake’s *illuminated* is a great descriptor. For me, the best poetry comics illuminate — words and drawing together that create something new.

Timeline: Prehistory

Warning: This incomplete history maps my journey as a poet learning about comics and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s