Friday, January 15, 2010

Onsmith

Folio Club cover artist Onsmith has a penchant for head games. I don’t mean that he’s a manipulative person—on the contrary, he’s forthright, conscientious, and likable. It’s just that he does alarming things to the subjects of his drawings: their heads tend to explode, evaporate, shatter, or split; or their facial features melt, mutate, fall off, or simply consist of things that, um, don’t belong on a face. At least this is the vision to be found in the Onsmith drawings contained in the first issue of The Folio Club. One can’t help but conclude that to be trapped inside them would be rather… disconcerting. For those of us lucky enough to be on the outside looking in, however, this artist’s cheerful grotesqueries can be oddly exhilarating.

Above, a drawing by Onsmith; below, wraparound cover of Onsmith’s limited edition Claptrap No. 2. The cover is a two-color screenprint with rubber stamps printed on the inside.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Elizabeth Bishop

For the past year or so I’ve been gradually reading, or perhaps I should say imbibing, the Library of America’s edition of Elizabeth Bishop’s Poems, Prose, and Letters. Already firmly established among the top handful of American poets, Bishop still has profound pleasures in store for anyone who has yet to encounter this volume: the great revelation here is her prose, particularly the sixteen stories and sixteen personal essays, only half of which had been collected prior to this. Her gift for prose asserts itself even in the miscellaneous literary statements, reviews, and occasional tidbits that are conveniently grouped into a separate section, as a kind of supplemental archive within the book.

One of my favorite discoveries is a brief, four-paragraph piece entitled “In Appreciation of Shelley’s Poems” which begins:
This summer I spent on Cape Cod surrounded by picturesque, shadow-haunted groves of scrub pine, desolate, sun-brilliant dunes, and bays whose intense blueness numbs the senses to anything but color. Such things are extremely conducive to the reading of poetry and, at first, I feasted upon all sorts of morsels from various anthologies, but finally ended up by devoting all of my reading time to Shelley.
Having set the scene with such a precisely lyrical narrative frame, she proceeds to discuss Shelley’s poetry in a series of eloquent turns, as when she praises his drama Prometheus Unbound for its “intricate pattern of spirits, storms, song, and clouds, all moved by his sweeping ideas.”

Her concluding paragraph returns to the narrative structure with which she began, and tells the tale of “sailing late one evening this summer to an island far out in the bay” to camp overnight:
During all the long sail out we read Shelley from a water-stained, paper-bound copy. It was a cold, star-sharp night and I slept with the music of his lines echoing through my brain. Early in the morning we sat up to watch the sun rise. It began with faint, rosy fingers reaching up the east, and at last flamed a burning gold that glimmered across the water and stained the dunes and flying gulls with gilt. It seemed to me then that Shelley was a spirit of the sunrise—one of his own creatures of whom he says:

See where the child of Heaven with winged feet,
Runs down the slanted sunlight of the dawn.
Apart from the obvious pleasures of its evocative, beautifully felt and beautifully crafted sentences, its intelligence, and its tone (which captures an ideal reader’s embrace of Shelley’s sensibility), “In Appreciation of Shelley’s Poems” has another remarkable feature, perhaps its most remarkable of all: it dates, amazingly, from 1927, when its sixteen-year-old author published it in her school magazine.