What follows is my conversation with Kriti Khare on her website, Armed with a Book. In this round of “The Creator’s Roulette,” we discuss, among other things, the nature of beauty, poetry appreciation, India, and my upcoming collection of poetry comics:
I read Julian Peters’ Poems to see by in January and I was fascinated by his work. The book is a collection of poems, with illustrations: they are poetry as comics! Did you know that poetry and writing a comic are very similar? I had never thought of this before and Julian’s preface to the collection got me thinking more about how different art forms are related to one another. I reached out to Julian and it is an honor to host him as part of The Creator’s Roulette. I hope you enjoy this conversation about art and like the works by Julian that I have shared here.
On Beauty in Poems
Welcome to The Creator’s Roulette, Julian! You mentioned in your book that you created these comic strip accompaniments for these poems because you love beauty. What does a “beautiful poem” look like?
Thanks so much for having me!
Well, I think everyone loves beauty in one form or another. I guess by definition what is beautiful to us is what we love looking at (or reading, in the case of poetry). A beautiful poem for me is one that gives me a little shiver of pleasure in more or less the same place in the brain as does a beautiful piece of music, and makes me want to repeat the lines over and over to myself, in the same way that a good song gets us singing it.
What kind of poems do you find beautiful?
I am finding that as I read, I try to imagine or feel the emotions of it. Any poem that I can relate to and believe it portrays the emotions with words in a manner different than what I have known before, will stay with me.
On Illustrating Poetry as Comics
Does it ever happen that people tell you they would have imagined the poem differently from how you drew it? Have you ever remade a poem’s illustration?
Occasionally, but it’s pretty rare. I much more often hear the comment that a particular adaptation bares a striking resemblance to how the person had always seen it in their heads. The only such remarks that come to mind are that the fog in Prufrock should be more menacing-looking and that the narrator of “Annabel Lee” should actually be sleeping next to his deceased love within her sepulchre, not alongside of it.
How did you come to realize the similarities between poetry and comic making?
I think I only began to become consciously aware of it long after I had started combining the two forms. Subconsciously though it must have been that certain comics were triggering some of the same kind of pleasure sensors as poems would do. I did find that there were certain specific panels from comic books which would really stick in my mind, not because of the drawing or the words alone, but because of the combination between the two. The power of that combination is probably what drew me to the idea of adapting comics and poetry.
Since the age of cameras in mobile phones, I find people are obsessed with taking pictures. Is looking through a lens at something offer the same experience as savouring it through our eyes in your opinion?
I think in many instances taking photos of things becomes a stand-in for actually looking at them. It’s as I mention in my preface: When we see a beautiful landscape, our immediate instinct is to take a photograph of it, as though we then have captured that beauty, and can move on to the next thing. The actual experience of contemplating that beauty is deferred to a later date, which often never comes, that time in which we tell ourselves we will look over our photos. I think the reason for this is partly that in our fast-paced and digitally fragmented modern lives it is hard to slow our minds down to the point that we can actually deeply appreciate beautiful things. And then there is the fact that there is always something a little frustrating about beauty, in that it always seems to be calling on us to possess it in some way, but in most cases we don’t even know how we could do so. How can you satisfactorily possess a landscape at sunset, for example?
What is your first memory of writing and drawing?
One of the first things I can actually remember drawing was actually a comic, when I was about 5. It was before I knew how to write, at any rate, because I had to dictate the dialogue to my dad, who would write them in with his fountain pen in the dialogue balloons that I had left blank for him. These first comics were about a dinosaur, a struthiomimus named Speeder.
Where did the idea of creating comic for poems come from? Do you remember the first poem for which you did that?
I recently rediscovered a poetry comic that I did when I was ten years old. It’s a parody of Robbie Burns’ 1793 poem “Scots Wha Hae,” in which the original text is accompanied by ironic and irreverent commentaries from Yerp the crocodile, the protagonist of all my comics from that time.
The first poem I adapted as an adult was “Sensations” by Arthur Rimbaud. The one-page adaptation was part of an ambitious, never completed project for a graphic-novel biography of the French poet. I found that that adaptation was the part that worked best out of the section of the graphic novel that I completed, and that planted the seed for my idea a few years later to begin creating comics adaptations of poems for their own sake.
I am curious about the publication process for a poetry collection. With novels I imagine there is more scope to improve the storyline of characters but since poetry and art are more personal, with fewer words, what kind of changes can happen between the original manuscript to the published product?
I don’t have any experience with publishing my own poetry, but in the very specific case of publishing adaptations of poems into comics, there is some back and forth with the editors before the final publication. I begin by creating a pencil version which I send to the editor for feedback. Normally I’m given the go-ahead to ink the comic without any modifications, but this step gives me a little pause in which to think things over and consider the ways in which the adaptation could be made stronger. Finally, I can make further changes to the scanned images through digital means. Sometimes there will be a panel that I’m really dissatisfied with or that I strongly feel could be improved in some way, and then I might draw it again on a separate sheet of paper and digitally insert it into the page.
On Learning to Appreciate Poetry
Have you always liked poetry, or do you remember a moment in which you began to enjoy it? I’m just curious about how the way poetry is presented to us at school or in an anthology or through other media can lead us to develop an appreciation for it (which so many people never do).
I don’t think it was my education that truly made me appreciate poetry. I have always felt an emotional connection to myself which flows into words. I wrote my first poem in Grade 8 and all the way until the first year of my Masters I was still writing consistently. My first poem was about a little brother (I did not know at that time that I actually had one :)). I also remember a poem inspired by one of the episodes of Pokemon, and another one about the ending of a book series that I really enjoyed.
Poetry was the way for me to bring out my teenage sadness, friendships and feelings. Sometimes, I just sat and wrote. I also remember that I used to count how many I had written until one friend told me that I was over 500 and I should stop counting now. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen them so if you would like to, let me know. I would be happy to share some!
How awesome that your poems apparently have the power to summon things into being! Certainly I’d love to read some of your poems. Send them over!
Do you write poetry or do you just enjoying doing illustrations? How did you start to appreciate poetry?
I have occasionally written poems, but only maybe once every couple of years. The last time was over two years ago, I think. Once in a blue moon a phrase will pop into my head that I like enough that I will try to sit down and place it into some kind of coherent context, and then a poem might grow from there.
As for when I started appreciating poetry, again I have to compare it to music, in that my appreciation seems to have emerged quite suddenly, in late adolescence. It’s almost like it was a hormonal thing. I was made to read a lot of poetry in high school, and it had no real effect on me, and then around age 17 or 18, it’s as if a switch was flipped, and it suddenly connected with me. Interestingly enough, though, I was initially attracted mostly to classic French poetry: Baudelaire, Verlaine, and especially Rimbaud. I didn’t study literature in college which is probably in part what helped me conserve my passion for it.
When I was a university undergrad studying Art History I had a very pleasant weekend job that just involved sitting in a room by myself for eight hours in a row, answering the phone once every three hours or so. The previous employee in that position was a literature student, and she had left behind a 2000+-page Norton Anthology of English Literature. Those long hours of reading laid the real foundations of my literary education.
Julian’s Curiosity about Me
Where are you based?
I am based in Canada though I am originally from India. I moved to Canada in 2014 for my Master’s degree in computing science.
Oh! India has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the country twice, though I’ve only seen a very small portion of it (Kolkata and Assam). I twice took part in the ANUVAD arts festival in Silchar, Assam and gave some talks on poetry comics, mostly to college students.
One of the things that struck me was how passionate so many of the young people were about poetry, how they often wrote their own poetry and saw it as a defining element of their identity. I think that’s a lot rarer in the West, although that may be changing with the growing popularity of “instapoetry.” It may be in part that my impressions are somewhat distorted by
the selective nature of my interactions, but I do think it’s significant, for example, that one of India’s (or at least Bengal’s) most beloved and iconic figures is a poet, Rabindranath Tagore. And what a poet (and visual artist) he was!
What is your master’s thesis about?
My Master’s thesis was in hierarchical clustering, a type of unsupervised learning where the algorithms tries to learn the structure of data without training on any prior information. I am sorry if that sounds like a lot of jargon. 🙂 One of the ways to think about it is to think about the universe – it is composed of lots of galaxies and the galaxies have stars and planets. If there was a huge dataset with the distance between each of the bodies in the universe, a clustering algorithm might find the galaxies, while the hierarchical clustering algorithm will try to find galaxies, solar systems, moons around a planet and more. Hope that helps.
So the hierarchical clustering algorithm goes deeper into the details of the relationships between elements?
That’s right. 🙂
This may be a stretch, but I do perhaps see some parallel with poetry in its desire to go beyond the surface levels of things, and map out the mysterious inner workings and interconnected feelings of the human heart.
Your example makes me think of a stanza from a Christina Rossetti poem which I illustrated for my upcoming collection:
“Somewhere or other, may be near or far;
Past land and sea, clean out of sight;
Beyond the wandering moon, beyond the star
That tracks her night by night.”