Allen Crawford’s Gorgeously Illustrated Version Of Walt Whitman’s “Song Of Myself”

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Designer and illustrator Allen Crawford has just released a beautifully illustrated and hand-lettered book version of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” an iconic poem included in the collection, Leaves of Grass. Inspired by his friend Matt Kish who illustrated each page of Moby Dick, Crawford completed this project over the course of 1 year in his basement. Crawford didn’t plan his illustrations for the poem he calls “an expression of primal joy”; he improvised each one by letting Whitman’s own words speak through him to create a tangible, visceral, and immediate visual interpretation of Whitman’s classic poem in keeping with the author’s sensibility. From Philadelphia, where Whitman spent his last decades, Crawford is intimately familiar with the settings and places Whitman describes in his work – this connection partly fuels Crawford’s affinity for the author’s writing. Because of Leaves of Grass’ status as a sacred American text that is inspired by Biblical verse, Crawford feels that a transcription of “Song of Myself” through illustrations and hand-lettering is fitting.

In his book’s introduction, Crawford writes, “I try to treat the poem as almost a landscape, in the sense that I’m exploring this unknown territory and I’m taking field notes from the mind of Whitman. He treats ‘Song of Myself’ as this broad, epic sweeping poem where he’s trying to include everything about American life he’s experienced. So it is a kind of landscape, a kind of world. It is a kind of continent in itself. And as you’re travelling through it, you have different impressions, your style will change, the type will change, sometimes the type will take the fore and you’ll get a very pictorial sort of a interpretation, or a symbolic one. Sometimes the image doesn’t necessarily jive, and isn’t depicting something that’s actually in the poem. I’m trying to provide a parallel narrative to Whitman’s in visual form.”

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Scott Hazard’s Torn photograph constructs

Scott Hazard’s photo constructs blur the lines between photography, collage, and sculpture creating three dimensional portals into the urban landscape. (via laughing squid & colossal)

The objects I make serve as devices for poetic awareness. Looking into them creates an atmosphere of in-betweenness which helps frame the small extractions and resonances of the world featured in each work. Commonplace elements in the natural and built worlds provide points of origin for helping people gain insights and understandings of the landscape around them. My work incorporates extractions from sites in urban and pastoral landscapes, whether the material extracted is local stone or wood, video, or photographs.

In a world with a seemingly endless amount of stimulus available, most of us are concerned with our own business, unable to let some of the more subtle aspects of the world reveal themselves to us at times. Taking note of these details might help us better appreciate or gain an enhanced understanding of the world we live in. As Walt Whitman wrote in the preface to Leaves of Grass, “The greatest poet dilates any thing that was before thought small…with the grandeur and life of the universe. He is a seer.” My work temporarily removes or alters the viewer’s existing frame of reference to provide an opportunity for a different presence of mind, a distilled frame of reference.

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