Poetry and Photography Books

Books which combine poetry with photography represent a small but distinctive genre, which raises its own particular questions about interpretation and aesthetic effects.

Three examples represent different ways of using the genre.

Positives, with poems by Thom Gunn and photographs by his brother, Anders Gunn, is an example of a work with a largely direct or illustrative relationship between the two forms: what is represented in the photographs corresponds relatively closely to what is described in the poems.

Plan B, with poems by Paul Muldoon and photographs by Norman McBeath, represents a more oblique, even quasi-random relationship between text and image. In his introduction, Muldoon claims that he sat down with the poems and photographs and allowed connections to emerge. His description of this process may be more or less tongue-in-cheek, but it is certainly true that in most cases, the connection between poem and photograph is at the level of mood, association, or individual element.

Distance and Proximity, with poems by Thomas A. Clark and photographs by Olwen Shone, is different again. The text consists of a number of prose poems, each made up of a series of sentences. Photographs appear at various points in the book: small ones at the front and back; double-page in between the poems. The photographs are thus not placed opposite the text, invoking the possibility of some direct correspondence, but rather a joint presence in the volume, sharing with the poetry elements of atmosphere, setting and theme (such as the theme of reflection).

Our research on poetry and photography books has taken ambiguity as a theme, in exploring some of these different configurations of poem and image, and what forms of interpretive process they invite or generate.

Further Reading

Newey, Adam. ‘Connections at the keyboard’ (review of Plan B), The Guardian, Saturday 16 May 2009.

Roberts, Andrew Michael. ‘The Visual and the Self in Post-Romantic Poetry’. In Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 51 (August 2008).