Comic-book Keats – a new way to prevent the ‘end of poetry’?

labelledame11I may be coming late to the work of Julian Peters. It is possible his illustrative work has been bringing young people to poetry for some time without me realising it. However, there may be some others out there, like myself, who have not yet come across an artist who, in my opinion, has found a way to ‘re-package’ the poetry of the 19th and 20th century in a way that might just convince  the cynical that there is life in poetry yet.

Julian Peters is based in Montreal and has translated a number of familiar poems into comic-book recreations so striking that they have been widely exhibited. However, even though I am a member of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, I missed Peters’ inclusion in the 2012 exhibition ‘Illustrating Keats’ at the House in Rome. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is wonderful, with a young man  (looking, purposely I am sure, rather Keatsian) recounting his seduction by the beautiful woman – ‘La belle dame’ – who casts her chilling spell over him, as she has done many another ‘pale knight’. See the whole piece here on Peters’ website.

couverture1On that site you will also find his other work, which includes Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe,  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot and a terrific manga-style presentation of  When You Are Old by W B Yeats.

I read an article recently in The Skinny, in which Bruce Sterling & Jon Lebkowsky discussed the apparent ‘death of poetry’.  Bruce Sterling said:

“If you’d asked John Keats if there was any ‘truth’ in the journalism of his day, Keats would have said no, that all the newspapers were organs of party faction, and that the ‘truth,’ and also the beauty, was in poetry. Our own society doesn’t have ‘Poetry.’ Poetry is already gone. We don’t miss it any more than those un-novelled societies miss novels.”

That statement feels like a punch in the stomach to me. I disagree so forcefully that I could shake Sterling (although in the article he is really expressing his views on the future of the mass-media and there is at least some recognition that poetry is older, and more ‘needed’ than journalism as it is practised at the moment). There is much to be enjoyed and gained from reading poetry, even if poets are no longer the Byronic celebrity super-heroes of the 19th century.

I really enjoyed browsing Julian Peters’ website and seeing some of my favourite poems in a new light. The comic strip versions are utterly different from the Pre-Raphaelite representations of Keats’ work but they are striking nonetheless. What do you think?

8 Replies to “Comic-book Keats – a new way to prevent the ‘end of poetry’?”

  1. That might just go on my birthday wishlist!
    I disagree too. Poetry is all around us; I know a great number of poets, some so-so and some incredibly talented. But poetry has never been ubiquitous in its appeal and apart from during the era of the romantic poets, it’s never been a big seller.
    My dad got me Pam Ayre’s latest for Christmas; I quite like her, so a good choice, but Dad would never have gone and browsed in a bookshop to see what else might be out there.
    I’m resolved to get my own poems out in book form this year. Maybe one day something will illustrate them!

    1. You must get your poems out there – I wish I could draw!Funnily enough Pam Ayres’ latest arrived for me today! I heard her poem about her son going off to Uni on the radio and it made me cry it was so true. She is much underrated but does popularise poetry with humour and pathos which is great 9mind she everything rhymes which rather reinforces what some think poetry should be :-()

  2. A lovely way of reintroducing poetry to a new audience. And I agree with you and Viv. There’s no such thing as ‘not liking or not understanding poetry’ – you just haven’t found the right poem yet. It speaks about something so profound in human nature, it’s just a different way of viewing the world, and one that has become more – not less – necessary.

    1. Like you I am a great believer that there is a poem out there for everyone, one that will distil their emotional and physical life into a few lines and will just strike them as true.

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