The Atlantic just posted an article comparing comics and poetry, due to both mediums' dependence on precise spatial arrangement on the page.

The article sites Hillary Chute's Poetry magazine feature, "Secret Labor," which examines the congruency argument's merits:

The most fruitful analogy to comics might be poetry. Alison Bechdel ... puts it this way. Comics, she says, is "like concrete poetry -- it has to look like what it is." ... Comics is a site-specific medium; it can't be re-flowed, re-jiggered on the page; hence, it is spatially located on the page the way that poetry often must be. The rich relationships between word and image in which spatial arrangement is significant, and which characterizes contemporary comics, had precursors in all sorts of poetic experiments.

While also acknowledging the argument's flaws:

It's an ingenious argument—and not less so because it's fairly easy to nitpick it to death. There are plenty of poems written in prose. ("It is even in prose, I am a real poet," as Frank O'Hara said.) And there are plenty of comics that don't rely on spatial relationship on the page. I've seen Peanuts strips arranged horizontally, vertically, or even two panels staggered per page in some book collections. It doesn't change the meaning any more than narrowing the margins alters the reading experience of Moby Dick (which is to say, it alters it somewhat, but not in any substantive way.)

The article also makes interesting points about poetry's highbrow reputation in comparison to the comic book's overall lowbrow reputation, both limiting and curiously earned:

Personally, I'd be happy to see the disappearance of many of the pulp comics that Chute ignores. Mainstream superhero comics at the moment are almost unbelievably awful; if Marvel and DC went out of business tomorrow, I wouldn't shed any tears. But still, I think comics might want to take a moment or two to think before it embraces poetry as the alternative to either pow or bang. Contemporary poetry, after all, has its own problems—not least among them being the fact that virtually no one reads it. Poetry does have a populist wing, and what might be called pop poetry—song lyrics, rap lyrics, children's book doggerel—continues to have a large audience. But poetry has been so successful at defining itself as only high art that the lines of communication with lowbrow forms have been severed. As a result, poetry has turned itself into an ivory tower phenomena of painful and infuriating insularity. Mainstream venues, including The Atlantic, tend to ignore it as a critical or cultural phenomena, except for occasional generalized pieces arguing about the precise parameters of the form's descent into insignificance.

Read the full article here.

Originally Published: August 7th, 2013