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?

Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….

There will be few of those reading this blog unaware that tonight is Hallowe’en.If it isn’t pouring with rain thousands of children will be knocking on doors demanding sweets with menaces, and tomorrow tons of delicious pumpkin will be lying on the compost heap. It is all very commercialised and not terribly scary anymore, so I thought I would look at what really scares  me; that proper spine-chilling fear that makes even the darkness at the top of the stairs terrifying.

I must admit this post has taken a long time to write, with so many drafts and re-writes I almost gave up. I understood eventually that this isn’t about some in-depth analysis. It is subjective, visceral and unique to every one of us.

There are some universal fears of course. That cold horror that comes over you as a child when you lose sight of a parent, or as a parent when a child wanders off (or hides in the skirts in M&S  – Evie, you know who I am talking about…). The fear of serious illness, the death of someone close. However on Halloween we think about those things that frighten us, but from which we can escape. We put ourselves in the way of the spooky and macabre; we ‘enjoy’ being frightened and appreciate a return to the comfort and warmth of reality.

Anyway, enough of the analysis. What frightens me?

It is the ‘Victorian Gothic’ – the curses, tombs, hauntings and madness feared in reality and expressed in fiction and poetry and to some extent in architecture. Hideous gargoyles, huge iron gates, murky Whitechapel streets, all the trappings of a black and white horror film. Fog thick enough to lose your bearings in, misty marshes hiding treacherous quicksand. I am not one that likes blood and guts in movies. It may make viewers hide behind a cushion but I want to end up scared, not vomiting. Give me The Others or The Haunting (the 1963 version) rather than Saw or Chopping Mall (yes really, that is the title..).

Continue reading “Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….”