March 13, 2012

Four Book Covers

        In 2009 British publisher Faber & Faber issued a set of six books of poetry with newly designed covers featuring specially commissioned relief print art.  (I assume we owe thanks to the series's art director Miriam Rosenbloom for the most excellent idea of using black and white prints.)  I stumbled across one of the covers and loved it, and looked up all six.
        My favorite, I think, is Nick Morley's cover for W. B. Yeats, poems selected by Seamus Heaney.  The flowing lines, the clouds and water, wind and rain, the hills and birds and lonely buildings…  It's all wonderfully evocative of Ireland and of Yeats's poetry, which seems so often to come from a place of solitude looking out.  I think the use of separate boxes with separate scenes that still flow into each other is also very effective, and the sort of thing I would never think of doing.

        By contrast, Paul Catherall's cover for W. H. Auden, poems selected by John Fuller, has a completely different look and feel.  Instead of lines it's got geometric blocks of black and white, shapes that look almost abstract and yet resolve themselves into an industrial landscape.  Perfect for a poet struggling with the changes and challenges of modernity.

        Different again is Mark Hearld's linoleum block print for Ted Hughes, poems selected by Simon Armitage.  His fierce hawk filling the entire cover suggests Hughes's fascination with the visceral reality of the natural world.  Yet, like Hughes's best poems, Hearld's block print takes something brutal and makes it beautiful.

        I also really enjoy Joe McLaren's block print for John Betjeman, poems selected by Hugo Williams.  I love the train across the top, and how the book's title is enclosed in a fenced field.  I love the trees with their leaning white in black, contrasted with the geometry of the little town's architecture.  I love the truck, and the tiny bicycle, and the crooked gravestones…  I have to confess that I know nothing about the poetry of Betjeman, so I can't speak to whether or not
McLaren's captured its spirit.  But I will say that even though I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, this cover is enough to make me curious to go find some of Betjeman's poems now!

        You can go to the Faber & Faber site to see the other two books in the series, too: Clare Curtis's cover for T. S. Eliot and Peter Lawrence's cover for Sylvia Plath.  (That last is the only one I'm not at all fond of.  But then, I'm not very fond of Plath's poetry, either, so I guess it's fitting!)

[Pictures: linocut by Nick Morley, from W.B. Yeats, 2009;
linocut by Paul Catherall, from W.H. Auden, 2009;
linocut by Mark Hearld, from Ted Hughes, 2009;
block print by Joe McLaren, from John Betjeman, 2009.]


Pax said...

Thanks once again for introducing us to some new (to me) art. I'm curious to see which of Yeats's poems Seamus Heaney has chosen. I wonder if he provides any commentary?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I don't know - I haven't seen the content of these books, just the covers!

Nick Morley said...

Thanks for featuring my book cover! In answer to your question Pax, there is an introduction written by Heaney in the book.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks, Nick!