Saturday, January 14, 2017


I’m from Missouri, and Pleiades Press is from Missouri, and in keeping with our state motto, I guess they had to “Show Me” how terrific a hybrid collection of poetry could be.

They did exactly that by releasing Poetry Comics From the Book of Hours by Bianca Stone in 2016.

Stone is both the poet and the visual artist for this arresting collection. Textually, the book is brief, but Stone’s images reify the words and create an exciting and vivid whole.

The sole blurb on the book comes from none other than John Ashbury, who writes of Stone, “In her work we are propelled along by abrupt changes in perspective and dimension,” and adds, “I have long awaited a manuscript by her that combines her visual talents with her poetry.”

I am not a regular reader of comic books, and even my childhood taste in comics is embarrassing to own up to. I was a fanatical regular consumer of the Harvey Comics universe—you know, the universe that is currently not taking Hollywood, or anywhere else besides my own sense of nostalgia, by storm.

Harvey Comics brought us Richie Rich, the richest boy in the world, and my two favorites, Little Dot, a slapstick character who was obsessed with dots, Little Lotta, a.k.a. Lotta Plump, who was hugely fat, super strong, in love with eating, and just generally kind of awesome.

What I’m trying to say is that when it comes to comics, I don’t have a leg to stand on. I have always liked them, but I’m kind of like someone who calls herself a music lover but has only ever listened to rusty windup music boxes, or to dogs singing along with the wail of the ice cream truck.

I do love art, though, and I found Stone’s art to be an incredibly effective vehicle for her words, not to mention striking and often quite moving on its own. A favorite image that I lingered over featured a character with a speech bubble containing text from the poem, reading, “… When they come they will fill me with Riesling—.” The figure’s face is lost in the fold, but that seems intentional (the face appears to be featureless, but for the visible mouth that speaks the words on the right page and the hair flung over the straight-backed chair on the left. All around the figure are flowers—zinnias, I believe, in a rich pink—and a bird breathing a pink cloud over the scene beside a stylized sun.

I can’t tell if the figure is arched back over her chair with desire or with lassitude—two attitudes that are related anyhow in sort of a before-and-after kind of way. In looking at the images—mostly black and white, but for the pink of flowers, bird-breath, and sun—I felt the stirrings of desire for something good to come my way, too, and I don’t even like Riesling.

It is tempting to say that Stone tests the boundaries of comic books. I suspect she does, since she accompanies intense and accomplished poetry with very expressive art that stands beautifully alongside it, but I don’t know enough about comic book publishing to say. I know that some tremendously innovative work is happening in the field; I have recently started to become more aware of contemporary comics, and I know there is life after Casper the Friendly Ghost.

What I know for sure is that Stone advances poetry in a compelling new direction with her use of image. And I can certainly attest to the freshness and the power of her words, and to how dramatic they are together. (I am trying to take care not to divorce word from image in this appreciation of Stone’s book; they are inextricably linked and they depend on one another, and a consideration of image without word or word without image very much misses the point.)

There is no denying that some of Stone’s words offer a gut-punch, though. In a frame from “Because You Love You Come Apart,” she presents an image of three women standing together at a social event, two in dark suits with collared shirts, and she writes,

Your brain lighting up
when you see a beautiful woman
eating French fries in a dark bar.
Your head split down the middle
by a brook; each hemisphere
divine, witchy—

Three identical women in suits appear later in the poem, side by side, arms crossed. In the speech bubbles, the first one says, “There is the clear image of someone beside you.” The next continues, “who looks just like you,” and the final woman, her mouth obliterated or erased, adds the gut-punch: “but can get bluebottle flies to land on her finger.” A tiny figure calls from a wood-frame house below the figures, saying, “This is the optic nerve / in endless reflections / of your friends.”

I admit that after seeing the airy beauty of the cover, a inked drawing of a woman cradling a fat cat, I did not expect to be floored by a meditation on the nature of life and death. That’s part of the appeal of the collection for me—how nothing is tired, and nothing here seems to have been done in quite the same way before.

So kudos to Pleiades Press director Kathryn Nuernberger and her staff for this bold selection, beautifully produced and so very stunning in its contents. They took a chance with something very different—and in the process, they really showed me.