The Poem as Comic Strip #2

Another graphic novelist let loose in our archive.

As a way to help readers discover (or rediscover) our archive, has invited some of today’s most vital graphic novelists to interpret a poem of their choice from the more than 4,500 poems in our archive, reaching from Beowulf to the present. This time around, Gabrielle Bell lends her talents to a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Heightened language—one possible or partial definition of poetry—isn’t the first thing one associates with comics. Yet comic book artists take into account the way words appear on the page to a degree poets will find familiar. How many lines should accompany each image? How high should the dialogue balloon float? The ratio of printed words to blank space plays a role in whether a poem or strip succeeds.

The best of the daily humor strips (think Peanuts) have produced thousands of word-and-picture episodes that occupy about the same thought-space as a good short poem; the terseness can resemble haiku. Then there is Krazy Kat, George Herriman’s polyphonic masterpiece that appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s papers from 1913 to 1944 —a comic feature so blessedly idiosyncratic in its dialects that the only way to start making sense of what’s said is by reading it aloud, like a poem.

As a way to help readers discover (or rediscover) our archive, has invited some of today’s most vital graphic novelists to interpret a poem of their choice from the more than 4,500 poems in our archive, reaching from Beowulf to the present.

With a sense of quiet drama and an eye for the potent detail, Gabrielle Bell chronicles her attempts to keep body and soul together in Lucky (Drawn & Quarterly), a pungent and charming slice of la vie bohème (or should that be brooklyn?). She invests her quotidian tales—the endless hunt for an affordable apartment, the joys of a little pocket money—with affection and honesty. For anyone who’s tried to make a life out of art, or simply to make ends meet, it’s like reading the perfect diary that you forgot to keep.

The last story in Lucky, in which a gaping hole in the bathroom wall takes on a life of its own, is a shift from the book's mastery of the mundane to something like a cover version of Poe—and it makes for a good transition to Bell’s stark, chilling take on Emily Dickinson’s “It was not death, for I stood up.” The poem’s Gothic allows Bell to give her fantastical streak free rein. Or perhaps she was simply attracted to two haunting lines that could serve as a motto—or warning—for the guild of autobiographical comic-book artists, of which Bell is in the first rank: “As if my life were shaven / And fitted to a frame.”

--Ed Park
Series Editor

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Originally Published: March 19th, 2007
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  1. March 21, 2007

    Is there a "Poem as Comic Strip #1" as well? A link from this page or the features page would be helpful. Thank you!

  2. March 22, 2007
     emily white

    Look to the right under Read More and it will take you to our first poem as comic strip. Thanks!

    Emily White

    Associate Editor

  3. March 25, 2007
     Bonnie B Smith

    Dear Mr. Barr

    After reading "American Poetry In the New Century", I thought...

    Should I send Mr. Barr some of the letters I've sent to Poetry Magazine, all of which went unpublished?

    Should I send the 13 page poem "Kissing My Ancestors" which was the inspiration and source for a Canadian potter/sculptor's work who lives in Southern France? The poem played a feature role in an amazing gallery exhibit of her work that occured in Nice last summer. Portions of the poem were inscribed on paper clay and the pottery as "evidence" that ancient poets such as Gilgemish wrote verses on pots, just recently "dug up"? The poem is a delightful and fanciful little romp into classical and preclassical antiquity and poses the question: When did humans first begin to kiss?

    And did making art, and creating earthenware pots appear at the same time as people began to enjoy the delights of "making love"?

    Gallery-goers wanted to buy copies (the poem was translated into French for those who didn't read English)....But unfortunately the poem hasn't even been published here.

    Why not? Is this due to its length?... Or is it not technically post-modern enough?

    One fan has even urged me to contact animators, to make the poem into an animation...and guess what? One animator has done an animation on the subject of kissing....but kissing in the modern world, not the ancient.

    Or what about Bus Mantra #2, another lengthy work from a group of poems titled "Poems Noir, Because I Drive at Night" read to numbers of audiences who've enjoyed hearing it. It's poetry told first hand in the daily saga of a Bus Driver who drives at night, and was written around the time of the serial killings outside Washington DC which included a Bus Driver among the victims.

    You won't find it-- or its author--listed as a published poet. I'm not an MFA. Nor an MFA candidate. I didn't spend $60,000 to have the faculty at Goddard or Sarah Lawrence write jacket blurbs on my book (as yet unpublished).

    And unfortunately, in one section of the poem, it seems to be just a little bit critical of academics....(specifically one academic).

    Think of it! The MFA students! Like great Suzuki violinists, at 4 years of age they play with awesome technical ability, but not much soul....

    The problem is everywhere in our society, but it's what makes for smaller and smaller paradigms, and safe havens living in boxes.

    The other day I happened to make a phone call to a Real Estate Foreclosure Listing as I'm interested in perhaps purchasing another piece of land. The young man on the other end of the line began talking in such a bored unenthusiastic drawl using the "hip real estate insider's" lingo, repeating his pitch for the umpteenth time, at first presuming I could understand him, and then when he guessed that I couldn't, his tone grew much more contemptuous...why should he waste his valuable time...

    But back to poetry. "Poetry 's next era will come from an evolution of the sensability based on lived experience". I think I can qualify under your quote.

    I can only say thank you! thank you! for your essay. Hope you read "Poetry" January &March 07 issues--the Durs Grunbein essay was the most incredible delight yet in that magazine,and look at the one (published in March) response--Negative. I tested the Grunbein idea out on my daughter, a new PhD teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art, and could sense the electricity on the air when I did; I'd stepped on her toes. She's a teacher, I'm a poet...

    Just recently I wrote Poetry a short letter critical of the negative response, but I bet it won't appear because poets are not championing other poets .They are championing the teachers.

    All this and more is what your essay invoked in me, so I want to thank you personally for speaking out. The truth is, your voice is for all of us who are out here, who, however qualified we may be, don't have access to the mic.

    Presently, I am busy writing two dramas and doing on going research on another fine naturalist poet (19th century) who almost no one knows anything about...not even the academics. I'd heard about him in 1974...He's a contemporary of Emily Dickinson, and the two recluses may have known of each other.... a

    movie producer has expressed interest...

    But in closing, if you by any chance are interested in reading "Kissing My Ancestors" (It's been called a "masterpiece" by some) or Bus Mantra #2" just email me back ( and I'll send you a copy snail mail. There is no obligation on your part whatsoever. I believe in poets reading poets.


    BB Smith

  4. March 29, 2007


    I'm a frensh illustrator, How can I join the party ? I don't know if I'm part of the "most vital graphic novelists", but I'm alive and I draw... there is only this "most" which is a little embarassing...

    Anyway, I started a work about Emily Dickinson with comics and I'd like to have advices on it. If you want to have a look, I let the address.


    Julien Lemière


  5. April 4, 2007
     Pati Taylor

    Being familiar with most of the Scandinavian langues plus German & Old & Middle English I can get the sense of Beowolf as given even with all the extranious symbles. Which brings me to my point. Could you also include a version in modern English without the distractions? For those who do not have the time or inclanation to study all these subjects just for one poem. I would also like to be able judge the accouracy of the many movie versions. I like historical accuracy in both my books & movies. I am addicted to the many forms of costume drama both historical & fantastical. In a fantasty I value consistancy as equvalent to historical accuracy.YMMV.Thank you!

  6. April 11, 2007
     Donald Smith

    How do you submit poems? I must have missed the procedure. Do I have to join or buy your magazine?


  7. April 18, 2007

    hey i like your pomes they are really good can u send me some on my email plz thanks

  8. April 19, 2007
     corin henshaw

    this is good but not what i am looking for

  9. April 25, 2007

    i liked it

  10. June 5, 2007

    I really liked Gabrielle's interpretation of the Dickinson poem. She dragged the solemn theme through her fantastical imagination and made the subject of death more bearable using a light and somewhat humorous touch.

  11. October 8, 2007

    I enjoyed your pomes they are amazing can u send me some on my email please thanks you so much.

  12. January 19, 2008

    I think you are great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. February 6, 2008

    That is sad yet sweet.tears to you from me.

  14. February 11, 2008

    je recherche des poems francais si c'est possible est ce ke je pourais l'avoir