Friday, February 26, 2010

A Question of Covers: Contemplating Book Cover Choices

I was reading this morning about book covers on the Best American Poetry blog. Don Share and others contributed their favorite book covers and wrote a little bit about where their preferences came from. I know I have judged a book by its cover before and thought it interesting to think about why. I've learned I have a strong preference for color and especially paintings.In the case of Elizabeth Bishop, several of her covers feature her paintings and if I were a painter, I would want to do this. Derek Wallcott is another poet who often has his own art work where a reader can see two angles of his artistic vision at once, image and word. The fact that The Complete Poems has also reversed the regular order of image and title, I also find appealing.

Deborah Diggs collection, Trapeze is also a favorite. It is difficult to see from this image, but the cover shows a photograph of wheat in light and wind. It is beautiful, basic, and mysterious all at once. These are covers that bring me into the mind of the poet (or so I like to believe) but also links me to the work inside the covers. Finally, boy, by Patrick Phillips surprises me. It is the most contemporary cover here, and that shows. If I squint, it could almost be an add for a shampoo called "boy" - but why is the face obscured? I love the boldness of this cover and the way the image of the child is split between what we can observe and what we can only imagine. I've chosen books that I love - not only the images, but all the lines between the covers. I could choose different ones tomorrow perhaps -- some covers I love just don't work in this format. As I've learned through the production of three books, covers aren't really meant to be subtle - they are meant to sell books. And yet I know I need to love the image, the colors, even the font. Books, for example, that use mainly lettering -- like Frank O' Hara's Lunch Poems don't work for me. I think it is a relatively new thing (ten years or so) since it's become fashionable to "sell" books of poems with good looking covers. And that's fine with me!


  1. Your book covers are beautiful but I would buy them for the poetry even if they weren't. Oftentimes, we writers don't have a say in what the cover looks like. Maybe that is for the best. I might put my cats' pictures on mine. ; )

  2. Hi Lana,
    Thank you for your kind words about my covers. I think it is both a blessing and a year long headache to try and find the right cover art. I'm really happy that my publisher lets me choose and at the same time, I worry about whether my sense of a good cover will be shared by other poetry lovers. I do think, however, that over the course of three covers, I've actually developed a stronger love for visual art. Perhaps that's where my interest in ekphrastic work originated.

  3. Nice choice of covers here, Susan. I had little input on my cover, but it's grown on me and now I'm grateful that it's as striking as it is. I would likely have chosen something more subtle that might not have been as visually effective in terms of sales (not that my sales have been rip roaring, but you know what I mean...)!