Jenny Joseph and Pythia Ashton-Jewell (illustrator), Warning : When I am an old woman I shall wear purple (poem © 1962, this edition Souvenir Press 1997)
I was mooching a book from someone in England, and they wanted me to take more than one book to make it worth their while. They had this illustrated Warning on their inventory. It’s a poem I’ve seen on feminist fridges for more than 30 years, so I added it to my list. I had it in mind to give to someone as a gift, but by the time it arrived – by surface mail – yesterday I’d forgotten who. So I gave it to the self-described poetry loather I live with.
She read it, said it had more in it than she remembered, and read it to me. Helped by the layout – one or occasionally two lines a page – she read it beautifully, slowly, thoughtfully. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Jenny Joseph has said she wishes she’d never written the bl*dy thing. Certainly she’s famous for issuing take-down notices when her many fans put it up on their sites without thinking to ask. But it’s a good poem.
There’s a lot to be said for publishing poems with illustration. This is something I had used to agonise over when publishing a children’s magazine. By presenting poems with illustration were we straitening the readers’ responses, telling them how to read the poem rather than giving the words free play? It made the page more inviting, but at what expense?
I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that make me think there should be much more of it.
When Carol Ann Duffy was recently appointed Poet Laureate, I came across an animation of one of her poems, and though I found the animation not at all to my taste, or a fair reflection of the poem, it slowed my reading down, and let the poem sink in – it’s a good poem. I’ve just found it on YouTube.
A couple of years ago, I was very taken with the Poetry Foundation’s sadly brief series Poem as Comic Strip, which similarly slowed the brain down to receptive speed. I particularly liked the Emily Dickinson–Gabrielle Bell page (this link is to a 580k PDF). See what you think.