By Amy J. Barry Special to Living
Beautifully crafted poems not only touch the heart, but also create vivid images in the mind. Ode on a Martian Urn, Jason Marchi's newly published book of poetry-a collection of works written over the past 20 years-does both, while adding an even richer dimension to the reader's experience with exquisite illustrations by Noel Belton.
This is the first title that Marchi, a Guilford native now residing in New Haven, is publishing under Fahrenheit Press, his new publishing company. The book is designed by Tom Goddard, co-owner of the Sundial Gardens & Tea Shop in Higganum.
Some of the poems in the collection were first published in Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Poetry Break Journal, Verbicide, Futures Mysterious Magazine, Byline, and Guilford Poets Guild 10th Anniversary Anthology. Five of the poems won placement in magazine-sponsored contests.
Marchi is also the founder of the former New Century Writer Awards, which worked closely with Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story literary magazine. He is the author of the award-winning children's story The Growing Sweater and his newest children's book, The Legend of Hobbomock, the Sleeping Giant, will be in bookstores this summer.
After his first professional sale of a poem in 1988, Marchi knew that someday he wanted to collect his work under a single title and he also knew he wanted artwork to accompany his poems.
Celebrated science-fiction/fantasy writer Ray Bradbury, Marchi's friend and mentor, inspired him to seek out an artist to illustrate the book.
"I fell in love with Ray Bradbury's books," Marchi says. "The beginning of each story is illustrated in pen-and-ink drawings by Joseph Mugnani. As a reader, I thought it added a different dimension."
Marchi and Belton's collaboration came to be in an unexpected way. In "other hats" Marchi is a journalist for Shore Publishing Newspapers and Belton is a dispatcher at the Clinton Police Department. Marchi would call Belton for information for the Harbor News's police incident reports and discovered that he was an artist.
Marchi went to Belton's website and says he was engaged by the style of his art.
"It touched me emotionally," Marchi says. "His work has a color and softness to it. I liked that it bleeds off into a negative frame."
Marchi asked Belton to do a color cover to reflect the title of the book-Ode on a Martian Urn-which takes its name from one of the poems in the collection. He also sees the title as an apt metaphor for his book-a "vessel into which are placed the objects of life and death, observed and experienced."
Belton also did black-and-white illustrations for each of the book's three sections-"Dreams and Science," "Dreams and Nightmares," and "Our Mainstream Lives"-as well as for several individual poems.
"The book's three sections reflect human nature," Marchi explains. "We all live lives made up of a little fantasy, some terror or horror, and the regular day-to-day. And science and technology touch our lives wherever we go. So I write in all these genres."
The Artist's Perspective
Belton, a native of Dublin, Ireland, has lived since the early 1990s with his family in Deep River, where he owns and operates Deep River Gallery. He received a full scholarship to Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts soon after arriving in Connecticut and graduated with a B.A. in painting and drawing. His work is in private collections in the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K. and in the permanent collection of Old Lyme's Florence Griswold Museum.
Belton spent many hours reading the poems in Marchi's new collection and making notes of the mental images he got while reading them. His goal was to develop a whole picture-a consistency in his illustrations that would tie all the poems together, even though they're already somewhat connected.
"The poems are very personal and [yet] very universal in their appeal," Belton says. "All together they make a statement about the struggles and joys of life."
Belton works mainly in oils and charcoal, but for this book he chose gouache as his medium for its versatility.
Describing his work as abstract realism, Belton says, "I felt the images needed to be pulled out from nothing-from a loose, abstract application of paint."
Reading Marchi's poem "Ode on a Martian Urn" over and over in order to create the cover artwork, Belton says it made him think about how the poem was trying to connect Martians to us.
He did a lot of research on ancient urns and old black-and-white movies of the Art Deco era, which, he notes, often had space themes.
"I developed a historical-looking piece similar to a Grecian urn, with faces on it," Belton says, "and [also brought in] Celtic and American Indian traditions to create 'the big picture.' I wanted a spiritual place for the background, which is inspired by a temple in Turkey."
Marchi is very pleased by Belton's illustrations for the book.
"Noel brings my poems to life and he adds a visual dimension beyond the limitation of the words," he says.
Ode on a Martian Urn (Fahrenheit Press) $10, softcover, is available online at www.jasonmarchi.com. It can also be purchased at Breakwater Books, Sachem Card & Party Shop, and Page Hardware in Guilford and can be ordered through local bookstores.