by Tahneer Oksman
Reviews Editor, Graphic Narratives
Comics and poetry have a lot in common.
Both mediums trade in the fragmentary, the elliptical, the paratactic, and both are framed in and through time (configured as the breath, in poetry, and as space, in comics). Pacing drives a poem just as urgently as it drives a graphic narrative, short or long.
Comics and poetry have the potential for mass appeal, but are most often valued by a selective underground, a community of devoted readers who often (in private or public) dip into the forms as creators themselves. Both invite a kind of do-it-yourself investment.
They each have the potential to demand your fullest attention and to invite close readings and re-readings. But both can also be read in snippets and pieces, while waiting for the bus.
Perhaps for these reasons, poetry-comics or comics-poetry feels like an inevitable composition. As Emily Steinberg writes of “architecture” and “story” in an introduction to her graphic poem, “The Modernist Cabin”: “They are independent of each other but dependent nonetheless.”
Steinberg’s intricately cross-hatched illustrations are neither complement nor accessory to the blocks of poetry neatly sketched on alternate sides of each page. Instead, the two forms are mutual, interactive. The modernist cabin is a lonely construction, inviting cool reflection, even as it absorbs the warm inner lives of its’ inhabitants, imposing on them an inviting light, a geometric practice. As readers, we experience, as we read words and pictures together, this “essential living space. / No more, no less / than is needed.”