“The dance proceeds but there are small intimacies that I have never revealed in words.” (Martha Graham on the choreography of Night Journey)
This is the illustrative conflict. To not destroy the small intimacies of a poet's text – to not brutally highlight or explain something which is poetic, ambiguous and beautiful.
What is evident from a first reading of Oedipa is that the words don’t want to be on the page – they want to be in your mouth.
My practice is somewhere between illustration and design – with a background in theatre, which I draw heavily from. I treat each collaboration as an opportunity to stage a writer’s work, the book, the paper, is a theatre. McCauley’s preface calls her text a ‘machine which uses the page as its performance space.’ So there was an obvious affinity.
McCauley sites Martha Graham as an influence and when I’m working I like to have a soundtrack, which connects me to the writer. ‘Perfect’ – I thought – I’ll listen to scores for Martha Graham’s choreography.
But you don’t just listen to a dance piece. I’d look them up on you tube and then get hooked on the movement. Fairly immediately I was struck by a bit of costume design in Night Journey. The dancers have strong white lines running along the bottom of their skirts, these highlight the way they move – changing as they kick and twirl.
I wondered how to highlight the kicks and twirls of Oedipa. What costume could I dress it in? The piece, as concrete poetry is already choreographed - it is already has movement - So I felt like ‘dressing’ the choreography already in place was a good approach.
With bold lines, matching the skirts of the dancers - I decided to trace the shape of the words. It felt like notating the work as if it were a dance. And if felt like a way to not disrupt the ‘small intimacies’ within the text, but to compliment them. Somehow the lines felt brutal – simplistic and somehow they felt like they were holding and supporting the words. They would move and bend with each turn of the page.
To highlighting the mechanics of the book object. I chose (though it was difficult to source) translucent paper so that you could see these marks - layering - like the circuit board of a strange machine.
I also made my grid visible. I matched the time span given to the piece, (17 hours of daylight) with 17 equally spaced vertical lines, & pulled horizontal lines from these in classic ratios. Which I give numerically, as the preface announces the poem as a machine, on the opposite page. This normally invisible structure is given from the outset – like the key to understand the shape of the piece.