Illuminated Poems by Allen Ginsberg, with paintings and drawings by Eric Drooker. Four Walls Eight Windows, New York/London. First printing 1996. ISBN: 1-56858-070-3 (trade paperback).

For Illuminated Poems, New York artist Eric Drooker selected a few dozen Allen Ginsberg poems and arranged them with his own artwork. The result is a striking little book that leapt out at me from a a pile of books on a Greenwich Village street vendor's table several years ago (I remember I was going to see STOMP with my family, which should probably give me a better idea of when it was, but I'm forgetful). The cover artwork is an angular sunset-reddened aerial view of New York, the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings prominently visible beneath a pair of winged human figures flying around the "O" of the book's title, which glows like the sun. The higher of the two is falling as the lower watches: the painting, which was on the cover of The New Yorker in 1992 or 1993, is called "Icarus."

The rest of the art in Illuminated Poems---visual and verbal---is equally ambitious and soaring. Ginsberg's seminal work, "Howl" and "Footnote to Howl" are here in all their shocking and oft-censored glory, the sentiments that are as relevant today as they were in 1955 given a contemporary spin with images of homelessness and urban decay. Drooker also turns in a number of memorable portraits of Ginsberg the poet. A particularly striking one accompanies his 1990 poem, "Rock Song": the pot-bellied, bespectacled writer stands atop a New York skyscraper in a thunderstorm, wielding a fountain pen bigger than he is as a lightning rod. He is illuminated as it is struck by a bolt from above. Amazing stuff, in a simple palette of blues and grays that accentuate the yellow of the lightning. Cool.

Other favorite Illuminated Poems of mine include:

  • "Song (The weight of the world)", which is paired with a painting of an Atlas-like figure carrying a huge red heart on his back,
  • "Sunflower Sutra": one of my favorite poems given striking form in a painting dominated by a huge, stylized blossom towering over two dark silhouettes surrounded by a polluted city.
  • "This Form of Life Needs Sex", which features another of the aforementioned Ginsberg portraits (the naked poet timidly climbing up the breast of a huge, exaggeratedly female goddess figure) and a female figure crucified on a uterus and pair of ovaries. Disturbingly cool.
  • "New Stanzas for Amazing Grace
  • ", an amazing 1994 songlet paired with a wordless comic of a beggar ignored by passersby.
  • "Capitol Air", whose illustrations feature another fearsome female figure, a baton-twirling policeman who hearkens to Drooker's experiences with police brutality, a portrait of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and more.

In case it wasn't obvious from my review, I highly recommend this book. Good stuff.

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