The Map as Poetic Subject: A Nostalgist's Map of America
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Agha Shahid Ali. A Nostalgist’s Map of America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.

The Map as Poetic Subject

There is a stunning breadth of poems on the subject of maps and mapmaking in the contemporary canon. Maps have provided vehicles for poetic meditations on memory, history, geography, travel, and identity (both national and personal), to name a few.

Agha Shahid Ali travels westward in his collection A Nostalgist’s Map of America, charting a vision of America informed by memory and history, loss and politics, identity and otherness.

The Map as Poetic Subject: That the Science of Cartography is Limited
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Eavan Boland. “That the Science of Cartography is Limited.” New Collected Poems. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

Eavan Boland uses the science of cartography as a jumping-off point for a heartbreaking and intimate meditation on the history of her native Ireland.

The Map as Poetic Subject: Geography of the Near Past
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Al Young. “Geography of the Near Past.” Berkeley, CA: Poltroon Press, 2006.

Al Young treats memory and history as a kind of geographical trick, imagining a speaker moving “against world current…as if nothing ever happened” in a universe whose spaces and chartings are uncertain.

The Map as Poetic Subject: The Map
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Elizabeth Bishop. “The Map.” North and South. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.

Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem “The Map,” published in her first collection, North and South, was an early exploration of themes of travel and geography that would inform her work throughout her life.

The Narrative Atlas: Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will
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Judith Schalansky. Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will. Trans. Christine Lo. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

The Narrative Atlas

A number of contemporary artists, writers, and cartographers have published innovative and critically acclaimed atlases in recent years. These artists interrogate and expand the ways in which the atlas can function as literature—can, in fact, tell the story of a place.

The Narrative Atlas: Infinite City
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Rebecca Solnit. Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

With a team of cartographers, artists, and writers, essayist Rebecca Solnit creates a “love letter to San Francisco” in her atlas Infinite City, bringing disparate elements together to form a vivid picture of the city’s past and present.

The Narrative Atlas: Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas
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Denis Wood. Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas. Los Angeles: Siglio Press, 2010.

Everything Sings maps Denis Wood’s own neighborhood, Boylan Heights, charting features (pools of light, Halloween jack-o-lanterns, sidewalk graffiti) that give us subtle clues to its character.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body: Hymn to God my God, in my Sickness
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Interior image of Hymn to God my God, in my Sickness

John Donne. “Hymn to God my God, in my Sickness.” The Poems of John Donne. Ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson. Oxford University Press, 1912.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body

The idea of the body as a map-able topography has fascinated poets for centuries. These poems are often frank and sensual, reveling in the exploration of the body as a frontier.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body: The Cartographer’s Wedding
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Sam Hamill. “The Cartographer’s Wedding.” Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1982.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body: Topography
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Sharon Olds. “Topography.” The Gold Cell. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body: Topography
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Ruth Stone. “Topography.” Topography and Other Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc., 1971.

The Map as Metaphor for the Body: Cartography
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Louise Bogan. “Cartography.” Collected Poems. New York: The Noonday Press, 1954.

Collaborations: Dart
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Alice Oswald. Dart. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2002.

Collaborations

Because of the specialization and complexity of the tasks involved, mapping is often a collaborative effort. A number of contemporary poets, recognizing the rich potential of the collaborative process, have created unusual partnerships to realize innovative book projects that combine poetry and cartography.

In Dart, the poet Alice Oswald collaborates with residents along the River Devon to create a poetic, narrative map of the river as it travels from source to sea.

Collaborations: Inside Chance
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Alberto Ríos. Inside Chance. Designed, printed and assembled by Linda Smith. Phoenix, AZ: Picnic Press, 2000.

In Inside Chance, a familiar treasure of the Poetry Center’s collection, book artist Linda Smith constructs a cube which opens to reveal a globe, and then opens again to reveal text by the poet Alberto Ríos. The book works in three dimensions, folding and re-folding to alter the flow of the text.

Collaborations: Greensward
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Cole Swensen. Greensward. Graphic collaboration by Shari DeGraw. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010.

Poet Cole Swensen collaborated with graphic artist Shari DeGraw to create Greensward, a book that combines altered maps of 18th-century gardens with text that argues for an aesthetic sense in animals.

Books Constructed Like Maps: Revenant
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Stephanie Balzer. Revenant. Tucson, AZ: Kore Press, 2009.

Books Constructed Like Maps

The physical form of the map—in modern production, a large, folded sheet of paper—creates an inviting space for poetic text as well as art: the size of the paper permits large-scale imagery and typography, while the folded structure makes the object portable, practical, and comfortingly familiar.

Stephanie Balzer’s Revenant uses the square folds of a map to frame square blocks of prose poetry. The poems in this collection unfold, in both physical and metaphorical senses, to an exploration of a particular house on a particular street, mapping what it means to inhabit a space.

Books Constructed Like Maps: Fossil Sky
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David Hinton. Fossil Sky. New York: Archipelago Books, 2004.

David Hinton’s Fossil Sky follows the poet on a series of walks taken near his home. The non-standard orientation of the text creates a fascinating journey for the eye as it moves along the book’s enormous page.

Books Constructed Like Maps: Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps
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Interior image of Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps

Andrew K. Peterson. Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps. Philadelphia: Fact-Simile Editions, 2011.

Andrew K. Peterson’s Bonjour Meriwether and the Rabid Maps intersperses map coordinates with poetic explorations of place; the book’s front and back covers are made of old gas station maps.

Visual Poetry and the Map: Topographies
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Nicole Cooley. “Topographies.” New York: Center for Book Arts, 2007. Designed and printed by Delphi Basilicato.

Nicole Cooley’s “Topographies,” itself a powerful meditation on the devastation of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, is rendered as a topographical shattering in this imaginatively designed broadside from the Center for Book Arts.

Visual Poetry and the Map: The Chaffinch Map of Scotland
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Edwin Morgan. “The Chaffinch Map of Scotland.” Collected Poems. Manchester, England: Carcanet, 1990.

Visual Poetry and the Map: Map of Domesticity
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Hugh Steinberg. “Map of Domesticity.” Tucson, 1993.

Hugh Steinberg’s “Map of Domesticity” creates a chattering chaos of mundane detail on the page.

Cartographies 1.
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Image of Cartographies

Marty Cielens. Cartographies 1. Blackwood, South Australia: Walden Press, 2010.

Poet and book artist Marty Cielens presents a fascinating view of his native South Australia in Cartographies 1, which combines photos, transparencies, maps, and spare, lyrical fragments of language to honor “three remarkable, linked ecosystems… related through their beauty, fragility, aridity, human struggle and environmental degradation.” Cartographies 1 is a unique edition; this handmade artist’s book is held by no other library in the world and was generously donated to the Poetry Center by the artist.

Altered schematics from Diagram III: The Third Print Anthology
Image of Diagram Schematics from User Contribution 1
Image of Diagram Schematics from User Contribution 2

Altered schematics from Diagram III: The Third Print Anthology. Ed. Ander Monson. Washington, D.C.: Del Sol, 2008. Includes text and drawings by Poetry Center Library users.

These schematics were posted in the library during the initial “Maps” exhibit, and users were invited to make their own contributions in colored pencil.

Altered schematics from Diagram III: The Third Print Anthology
Image of Diagram Schematics from User Contribution 3
Image of Diagram Schematics from User Contribution 4

Altered schematics from Diagram III: The Third Print Anthology. Ed. Ander Monson. Washington, D.C.: Del Sol, 2008. Includes text and drawings by Poetry Center Library users.

These schematics were posted in the library during the initial “Maps” exhibit, and users were invited to make their own contributions in colored pencil.

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