In honor of National Poetry Month, here is an appreciation of a few recent books that fuse verse and image.
1. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958-2010, by Yasmil Raymond and Philippe Vergne. This book, which accompanied an exhibition at Dia:Beacon last year, includes a wonderful array of Carl Andre’s sculpture, including the floor and corner pieces for which he is perhaps best known. The volume also published for the first time numerous concrete poems by Andre. His manipulation of letters, words, and lines of poetry to create shapes on a page offers new insight into his work as a sculptor.
2. The Shahnama of Shah Tamasp: The Persian Book of Kings, by Sheila R. Canby. Looking a bit farther back in history, the Shahnama is an epic poem from the 10th century that chronicles Iran’s mythical history before the founding of Islam. The poem has been immortalized in numerous illustrated copies. This publication from The Metropolitan Museum of Art reproduces the pages of the 16th-century Shahnama of Shah Tamasp alongside brief descriptions of the stories and an illustrated “Who’s who” of major characters.
3. The Funk and Wag from A to Z by Mel Chin. In the words of Joseph Newland, director of publishing at the Menil Collection, “Mel Chin’s creative recovery of a childhood never-never land of Encyclopedia World took form in The Funk & Wag from A to Z. The 2012 installation of gigantic panels—one for each of the 25 volumes comprising those of the 524 collages that recast visual narratives from all, yes all, the linecuts from that individual volume—has just been shown in New Orleans and Houston in the traveling retrospective Mel Chin: Rematch.
For his artist book published with the Menil Collection (2014), Chin rearranged the collages for an oversized page (16 1/2 x 11 in.) and worked with the writer Nick Flynn to commission 25 poets to respond to one volume each, however they wanted. Jan Bervin wrote a single sentence, Haun Saussy parsed his poem to form an X shape, and John Yau penned this, for volume XVII, with entries spanning Negroes – Pan and including New Jersey, among other things.”