One of the jolting pleasures of being a publishing poet in the age of the Web is to stumble on a poem that has gone on adventures without my knowledge. The Niches section of my website collects links to poems I’ve come across on, among other places, a Spelunking site and a Wine-tasting site.
But recently I had an experience that topped all these—to find “Two Into Two” at a very special and mysterious website, accompanied by a remarkable choice of illustration that taught me more than I maybe even wanted to know about my own poem. I wrote the poem in an entirely different and luminously innocent context, or so I thought; but this illustration, insightfully it seems to me, brings out other aspects: power and patriarchy and disfigurement.
Oddly, these meanings also seem to have been added onto the text they originally illustrate. The apparent source for the tale, “The Knave of Hearts” by Louise Sargent, is a tale of tarts far, far more innocuous than Parrish’s illustration implies.
As it happens, I’d just been reading Christina Rossetti and Illustration, about the impact of illustration on Rossetti’s literary career, much more considerable than I would expect. Being illustrated weakened her even as it brought her fame, and not only in a literary critical sense. It’s an odd feeling to be “illustrated,” and it changes the feeling of freedom and agency that goes with publishing one’s unillustrated words.
Before this, my main experience with illustrated poems was when I decided to commission some faux-woodcuts from Alix Baer for the first self-published edition of The Encyclopedia of Scotland.
But now, thanks to the illustrating pirate, I understand the feeling better. I have the sense that most illustrated writers must have as a matter of course: not having chosen, let alone commissioned, the nature of the illustration but having it thrust upon one.
It’s a violation— miscomprehending—but also it is oddly satisfying, relaxing in a sort of stunning way, as, speaking of Julie Kane’s research which I discussed a few posts ago, the left brain finds its right and the whole thinking buzz-saw stops circling, or at least slows down.
That’s why I thank the illustrating pirate.