We are now in the full porch-swing of summer, which means Summer Poetry Salons at my beloved Lit House. In celebration of the second salon of the summer on June 24 (tomorrow!), I was given the unbelievably fun task of designing and printing a letterpress broadside for Jamaal May's poem "There Are Birds Here," a love song for Detroit.
As much I loved this poem on my first reading (and second and third), it was a particularly difficult design challenge. Don't get me wrong—there are so many ways to illustrate this poem because it is so packed with images. But to illustrate it in a way that actually adds to the text, that builds on the complex foundation set down by the poet—that is the challenge to be met. That is the challenge we always aim to meet at the Literary House Press.
So that means no birds and no buildings. For me, those are the two most obvious, but least important images in this poem. Those details are just the shell around the actual poem. But after playing around with various ideas for a solid hour, the right one finally surfaced: a sidewalk hopscotch game using the poem title for its tiles. The repetition of certain letters made this idea work, the coincidental book-ending of the title with the words "there" and "here." Yellow sidewalk chalk on stone-flecked concrete. It wasn't an image that was explicitly in the poem, but the poem certainly led me to it. And I think it gets at the poem's heart, pulls back the ribs and reveals it a bit more (at least I hope that it does).