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Understanding Poetry & Comics

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Last Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in probably one of the first and only Poetry & Comics courses, hosted by the Poetry School in Lambeth. The 1 day course was being led by Poetry & Comics aficionado Chrissy Williams. Chrissy has had her own poetry comics published, showcasing not only her own poetry, but her collaboration with other visual artists. Her published works include Flying into the Bear, The Jam Trap, and more recently with ANGELAChrissy was asked to lead a 1 day Poetry & Comics course after a successful 2 week course she led for The Poetry School earlier in the year. She was asked back due to the creative potential Poetry Comics held over poetry alone. Chrissy mentioned that tumblr as a useful resource to find good examples of Poetry Comics, as it is a small niche area just starting to find its audience.

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from Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud, 1993, Tundra Publishing

One of the main themes of the course was that collaboration is key to the concept of Poetry & Comics, as by definition it is a union of both literature and visual imagery. The class exercises began with a word and picture association task. Each class member was given a different Dix It picture card, and had to guess which of the cards matched the scene Chrissy would describe; this led to her explanation of applying narrative to images. She then began to explain the teachings of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to give the class some background information on the basics of comics and sequential storytelling.

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from a reworked photograph taken by the tutor

The next few exercises involved taking an existing comic book strips and rewriting the dialogue based on scenarios given by Chrissy. She went on to explain the idea of abstracting text and applying different meanings to images. We were essentially exploring the different ways to extract meanings from images and understand how imagery can influence story. Most of the exercises we took part in where group exercises where we worked on one aspect of an exercise, before shuffling our work over to a partner on our left to add the next stage of the process. This mirrored the actual comic process which often involved multiple people working on different parts of the comic (script, pencils, inks, colours). Positive feedback from class was that they would never had thought of working collaboratively on a project prior to the course, but opened them up the possibilities and  benefits of feeding off of another’s ideas to enhance your own. The first half of the course for the most part were collaborative and practical tasks helping the class to get the grips of attempting to create their own poetry comics. The second half of the course, beginning with a small lecture and sideshow, aimed to show the class what the practical experimentation could potential lead to. We went through some examples from existing poets and comic makers, and had discussions about the techniques, process, and the different approaches to creating poetry comics.

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reworked during the class using panels from 22 Panels that always work, Wally Wood, 1980

During the course she used slides, handouts, and reference  books to give a history and background into how poetry comics started out and how they are approached today. Her personal favourite in the area is the young American poet Bianca Stone, who is the author of several poetry chapbooks and runs the small press MONK BOOKS. She also spoke about American poet, Kenneth Koch, and the work featured in his book The Art of the Possible. Koch’s book featured many traditionally panel structured sequential comics, but used solely text in each panel, without images to accompany them. This was used as brief lesson into sequential storytelling through poetry and words alone, but approached like a comic. Koch’s work was a good example what you can achieve without traditional art skills when attempting to visually represent poetry mainly through text.

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from The Art of the Possible, Kenneth Koch, 2004, Soft Skull Press

The 1 day course was an in-depth, hands on introduction to Poetry & Comics, which left the class motivated and inspired to learn more. Hopefully Chrissy and the Poetry School will continue to spread the word about Poetry Comics and the creative possibilities they hold. You can sign up to The Poetry School for yourself to be informed of their upcoming courses. You can also visit Chrissy’s website, blog, and twitter to know what she’s up to next or to contact her yourself.

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