Things right now are kind of uncertain and scary. You may find yourself wanting [read: needing] to take a break from…well, everything. While many of us are struggling, creators — artists, musicians, actors — are stepping up to the plate to help alleviate some of our worries. Sir Patrick Stewart, for example, is reading a sonnet every day on his social media and I am HERE FOR IT. What could be better than that, right?
Okay, so sonnets may not be for everyone, but poetry can be, especially when paired with powerful, beautiful artwork stylized like a comic book! Yes, you read that right. Illustrator and comic book artist Julian Peters specializes in creating graphic stories to pair with classical poems. His new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry just hit shelves and is the perfect mix of comic book stylization, art, and poetry and is a sweet escape from the chaos happening outside our doors.
Bringing literature to life
Poems to See By is a collection of twenty-four poems chosen for various themes, such as nature, time, art, death, etc. In each category, you’ll find four great classics from the likes of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe, William Wordsworth, and many more. There is only one poem per author, except for Emily Dickinson who is featured in both opening (“Hope” Is the Thing with Feathers) and closing of the book (Because I Could Not Stop for Death).
Each poem is illustrated in panels that function the same as comic books and graphic novels. This format helps explain or re-tell details of a poem visually, and often offer up Peters unique or personal take to the meaning of the words. Every set of poem and illustration bring something new to the table; sometimes it’s a new meter, rhythm, or rhyming pattern, other times it’s a new artistic medium. After the illustration of the words, the poem is reprinted in words only, which gives the reader a chance to re-read it in its entirety.
From pencil sketches and manga to pastel work and watercolors, there is something for all artistic audiences. Peters’ various illustrations aren’t just for show; they’re beautifully crafted and well-paired to their poem. For example, e. e. cummings’ poem may my heart always be open is whimsical, colorful and cartoonish, to show a man who commits to the mindset of growing old but not growing up. In contrast, John Philip Johnson’s There Have Come Soft Rains is illustrated in grayscale with a vintage style that goes nicely with the overall mood and heavy topics of aging and war.
Bringing life to literature
While Peters does well to capture the overall feel of each poem, sometimes we have different interpretations of poetry, and that’s okay. There will probably be a few interpretations that you may disagree with, but there will be others where the illustrations help deepen the meaning of them. Perhaps there will be some that lead you down an entire different train of thought. Sometimes, especially for younger readers, it can be difficult to imagine the state of the world in time period some of these poems were written, and Peters really helps bring that out when necessary.
Then again, sometimes that is completely unnecessary and makes no matter at all. In fact, the thing I love the most about this book is how Peters provides a modern twist to some of the oldest of poems. The best example of this is a poem by William Wordsworth published in 1807 called The World Is Too Much With Us. It was originally written as a response to the First Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) as people began to distance themselves from nature and act more on acquiring materialistic desires. Peters likens this to our current relationship we have with our phones and social media, and it works beautifully.
Is it good?
Poems to See By is a not just a good read of classic poems, it’s a collection of art straight from the heart. Some pieces that are so lovely they could stand alone without the poetry behind it. The pairing of the poem with the illustrations are done very well and offer a wide variety of styles, from watercolor to manga, surely something to keep everyone intrigued. Though probably best for a high school or college level student, anyone who loves art or poetry will find joy within the cover. It’s an especially great place to begin for those that are reluctant readers or struggle to embrace poetry.
Peters is truly breathing life into these classics, especially those he paints through a modern-day lens. It makes a connection, a relevant touch, that can sometimes be tough to find in the lyrical strings of dusty words. If you find yourself looking for a bit of peace during these trying times, Julian Peters’ Poems to See By will help you find your way. Stay safe, stay healthy, and take time to step back and de-stress. We’re in this together.
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