Here I submit a design archaeology. I propose an excavation for a few images that have recently entered the ecology of images, the internet, and the ecology of poetry, too. The dear things we loose on the world: nods., by Carrie Lorig. (If you command-click on the images, I think they’ll open in a new tab in a larger size—on my Mac, this is the case.)
In December, Carrie kindly asked me to illustrate two poems for her. (Tumblr instigated the exchange, and also our friend Mike Rowe—whom, I later learned, via email, recommended me to Lorig in some way for considerations regarding my syntax.) Carrie sent me the poems. And while my dad and my brothers and nephews, my boyfriend, and the ladies of the family all swirled around me, I sat at the kitchen table with the poems in one tab and Photoshop open in another, my computer’s fan sighing. I ate a considerable number of cinnamon rolls while reading and thinking. I stomped outside in the snow and took pictures of fields, too, for the cold headspace of it.
The second poem I illustrated, “s c a t t e r s t a t e,” the one that would eventually become the cover art for the chapbook, has a consuming structural breadth. It is not a slim poem, it is a dense field of animal power and sad passions, and the poem’s incantatory language undulates and peaks algorythmically. (I am not a natural poetry reader, so my comments will necessarily be clunky or diffuse, and my interpretation entirely personal. I was overcome—just now—with an urgency to confess this.) But I want to say that what struck me so much about this poem was the insistence on scale: hurricanes (Earth’s most extraordinary storm systems) are mated with whorls of hair (our fondest, simplest coats); in another line, a mountain resides in close proximity to a potato dropped in a palm; the pain cattle (a scourge: the poem’s mutating cite of agony, elation, discipline, destruction) are elevated from their field to the moon’s surface, the sky, into the bedroom, a shelf, they are capsized and roll over, burrowing back into their own blood.
This fluctuation in scale, its insistence on rhyming physically and materially disparate forces, of objects, of states, cores out an ordinary-seeming enough romance of dissapointment and confusion, of miscommunication, into an aria of lacerative twangs, an epic of geologic rumbles.
my mouth pickles the hurricanes until they are my hair. my mouth pickles the hurricanes until they are never your hair. it is not a mane, it is straps to bite down on. i’m sorry it hurts to know your parts are heard of. i heard you get up in the middle of the night and put the land there. i heard the skin on the bed move. i heard the space grow between your hand. the animal noise of it creaked and it gave me a mark like this.
Vulnerability; eros; sex; shitting; lolling animal spinal satisfaction. A mini-portrait of lover’s in the night, the beastly ways they abuse silence—the way burndened lovers must. The you and I in “s c a t t e r s t a t e” are sifted through the daunting drops, their bodies take on the rough rotten skin of the angelic pain cattle. The lovers are hobbled, exhorted, imbricated by the sensual implosions and explosions, the mouth-feel of “we moo cry the moon deserts larger, brighter. the body of the moon hurts and makes an earth noise. the pickled glitter of it.” Imagine the grit of sand in a snout—a cow’s wet conch-nostrils, black, bright; consider the animal’s incipient death; account for the child’s play on “a cow jumped over the moon” and the joy of that premise. Imagine being finger-fucked by a hand brought out of garden soil. Take these childish delights, this adult knowledge, the ailments of love and wonder, make them rattle and bark; the sonic texture’s of “s c a t t e r s t a t e” begin to ignite a map. A cloth map big enough to guide and protect, a map you can prop on two stakes and sleep under in harsh climes, rain-slicked but burning.
Maybe it’s boring to log the particulars—to work 1:1 in the ways text and image relate. But, I’m often comforted by the math of representation, and also artist’s intentions. When I began to respond graphically to Carrie’s poem, I knew I wanted to cordone off my own visceral reaction to what I saw in it, my schmaltz, that is. In this way, I literalized the mythic conflation in the poem—I wanted to elevate the presence of animals to their legedary counterparts, the animals of the ancients, with their half-human might, their feral psychologies, their scaliness, their allure. Using the somewhat much reproduced (for good reason—the images are extraordinary throughout) Kinderbuch of J.F. Bertuch, 18th C. German publisher and patron of the arts, I clipped out the hippocampus, the griffin, and the Echidna. (He has other incredible pages: here is one of gigantical stags; here is another of bugs; here, some cray birds with a lady’s tent on one of the big cray birds.) I gridded them down, and layered them up. They got their little pens to stay put inside, and the griffin, especially, got some Alfons Mucha stained glass over-lay, a kind of digital gold-leafing or jewel-crusting. As the poem’s herald, I wanted the griffin to be part mineral-distilate (mosaic!), and part Nouveau, and very dance-party oriented. Here is the original collation, I think from 1806, where you might note the seriousness or dread in the faces of the figures:
The Echidna, the “mother of monsters,” reminded me of Melusine, Albion royalty, whom Mantel reminds us: “faked her life as an ordinary princess, a mortal, but one day her husband saw her naked and glimpsed her serpent’s tail”; and, that “you may see [her] in old parchments, winding her coils about the Tree of Knowledge and presiding over the union of the moon and sun.” (My brother and I were much taken with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies during Christmas—”An Occult History of Britain, especially, seeped into my design and also my reading of “s c a t t e r s t a t e”.) Echidna is much different than Melusine—but it was in her eyes, her open mouth, as Bertuch rendered her, that I detected not monstrousness or blood thirst, but a kind of fear or awe at the creatures she had birthed, a resentment and fury that was as tragic as it was royal. And with her paws—you see she is slashing at the air, at enemies, or rushing toward something—perhaps an embankment, a ledge for safety. The same extremity appears in the hippocampus’s eye—maybe a face formed by more sadness, more urgency. I know on the chapbook the animal may be confused for a horse and rightfully, as a hippocampus is a kind of “seahorse.” What may not be noted outright is the luxuriant mane, the serpent’s tail, the flippery, lizardy arms. Echidna may be confused for a maiden: but she is not. She is her own dark Eden, she is a queen, her distress is bigger than those of mere mortals.
(The helix/grid structure separating griffin from Echidna, the white lines on the blue field—that’s um, that’s like an English major’s attempts at saying “math! math! math!” without relying on an equation, or something.)
Carrie is very much an internet poet. I don’t know how to mean this in any other way, than to say her poems are disseminated electronically, through virtual communities, as virtual communiques, with all the immediacy and accessibility the internet affords, all the connectivity, too. Poems as circuits. Poems as gifs. Poems as interface. Poems as emails, I think—having been blessed in personal address by so many of her lines. I am aware of the ambivalence of sliding between paper and electronic mediums; the ways we negotiate “legitimacy”—I think, in fact, MFA graduates are hamstrung on exactly this division, because tenure is still tethered to a 15th C. revolution. When Carrie asked me to illustrate, I was sensible of the images taking place on the internet and also on the page. I made the illustrations 8” x 11”, to accommodate them on a thesis page, were it printed out for readers; I made the illustrations in “Web Only Colors” were they to appear online at some point. The pallet itself is hyper-consciously gradated on a CMYK scale, with a kind of tri-tone tester going down the right gutter.
The final product was compiled and improved by Mike Young, the whiz behind Magic Helicopter Press. As the original illustration was not intended for text overlay, I ceded the .psd file to him, and he re-aligned elements to afford space for the title of the chapbook, the author’s name, and that glowing blurb from Abe Smith. I like the mane-cut-off, that diagonal. He mollified that toxic-ooze-green I had going across the horse-face, which tells me he like color harmony—and also didn’t want to compete with the white of NODS there, over the eye.
I’m over-joyed with the results. I’m super proud of Carrie. And I hope you all check out her poems.