Rhys Hughes introduces us to the delights of doodling poetry in his new book with a name that I would not dare to pronounce, Corybantic Fulgours.
I ought to explain the title. It’s a title I have wanted to use for a book for a number of years. I often write down titles for later use and I usually have no firm idea what the books or stories or poems will be like until I write them. I just like the music of the words and that’s sufficient reason for me to write the titles down. ‘Corybantic’ means to dance wildly but I can’t recall where I first learned its meaning. A ‘fulgour’ is a light or glow and I’m sure I picked the word up from M.P. Shiel or one of those other writers of ‘weird fiction’ from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries who loved to overindulge in archaic or abstruse words. I have always found it amusing that those writers tried so hard to be wilfully obscure. They were often very good writers but strove to make themselves less palatable to a popular audience rather than more popular. I admire this eccentricity. My favourite among them is Clark Ashton Smith, who never used one simple word when a dozen complex ones would serve.
So the title came first. Then I had to provide a rationale for using it. The book turned out to be a set of poems to accompany some drawings I had done. The drawings were all of monsters. I justified the title by declaring that these monsters were made from curdled light and that they danced a lot. Let’s say that I cheated in order to find an adequate reason for using the title, Corybantic Fulgours. I don’t mind admitting that this stratagem was highly contrived. Monsters themselves are highly contrived too, so it all fits together well. I have drawn monsters most of my life. But I must add a disclaimer here too. I don’t believe that I can really draw. What I actually do is doodle. I doodle a lot and the majority of my doodles turn out to be monsters. It is easier to draw monsters than anything else. The great thing about drawing monsters is that any mistakes will contribute to the monstrousness of the final image. Therefore those who can’t draw are better able to represent such entities monstrously.
In other words, I didn’t let the fact that I can’t draw well hold me back. I have long been interested in combinations of texts and imagery. Recently I obtained a volume of writings and drawings by the wonderful Mervyn Peake entitled Peake’s Progress that features work from the full span of his life, including projects he never completed. One section of the book is called ‘Moccus Poems’, written in 1929 or thereabouts, a set of drawings of monsters with simple short verses to accompany them. There are only six of them. Maybe there were more originally, but if so they have been lost. The drawings are excellent. Peake was an illustrator of genius. The poems are nonsensical and good fun. I decided that I wanted to attempt to create a book along the same lines. I know I can’t match Peake in image or verse, but I decided to amuse myself anyway.
I thought that if I doodled one monster every day, and wrote a poem for it, the book would be completed after two months or so. But I found that I was doodling more than one a day, sometimes four or five. I decided to stop only when I ran out of blank pages in the notebook I was using for my doodles. The result is that there are 54 monsters. One of the monsters, the ‘Unfeasible Space Giraffe’, covers three pages because he has such a long neck. He can stand on the surface of one planet and nibble the leaves of the trees that grow on another planet. But all the other monsters occupy one page to themselves. I wrote poems for each doodle as I went along. The monsters came first every time. The shape and size of each monster determined the length and structure of each poem, because I had to fill the remaining space with words and sometimes the remaining space wasn’t very much. I often curled and curved the poems around the bodies of the monsters and I allowed myself to enjoy certain typographical tricks, such as having text upside down or in the shape of a wave.
Poetry written for images that already exist is called ‘ekphrastic verse’. I didn’t know that until shortly before I began this project. The book took only two weeks before it was done. I am pleased with it. The hardest part was formatting the poems so that they followed the contours of the forms of the monsters, or at least appeared on the page in a manner that seems a little more interactive with the image than merely descriptive. Might I do a sequel one day or another similar book? I see no reason why not. What surprised me most was how purely enjoyable the creation of ‘Corybantic Fulgours’ was. Some books are headaches to write. This one was quite a delight. It turned out better than I had hoped.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
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