The illustrated book I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail is an illustrated gem published in 2010 by the amazing Tara Books. To have it on my bookshelves is a powerful reminder of the incredible richness that experiencing a book can offer.
For this title, Indian publishing house Tara Books picked an English folk poem from 17th century and asked artist Ramsingh Urveti, from the Gond tribe of central India, to illustrate it. The design by Jonathan Yamakami perfectly cements the interplay between words and images.
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail is a trick poem. If you read the lines straightforwardly, it sounds like a surreal poem invented to amaze and enchant imagination. But if you break the verses in the middle and link the second half to the following line, its meaning falls back within the domain of logic. With their creative imagination and devoted commitment to the magic potentialities of book making, Tara Books‘s people have given life to the duality of the poem in the shape of a physical object that joins the text and the images in a multi-perceptual experience organically involving the senses and the brain abilities.
I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud with ivy circled around
I saw a sturdy oak creep on the ground…
Ramsingh Urveti‘s drawings give shape to the words in the traditional Gond style, made of intricate and minute lines that give to the images a poetic vibrancy. The powerful stark black-and-white helps to immerse oneself completely into his hypnotic elements and creatures. It could be already enough for offering a delightful book experience. But with their tireless will to explore and experiment the boundaries of the book medium, Tara Books embarked on the challenge to go further and embody the double reading of the poem with the awareness that the storytelling could not be rendered only by the printed words.
Faced with the task, designer Jonathan Yamakami recounts in his blog how he came up with the die-cut solution. Only half of a verse is printed on each illustrated spread, while the other half is printed on the following half and appears through a die-cut hole. In this way, each half line is connected not only to the previous one but also to the following one, thus physically generating both possible readings for the reader.
This is the tangible proof of how much Tara Books aims at deeply exploring how a book can work in its materiality. The die-cuts in the book are like cogs of a perfect machine that works its magic thanks to the harmony between all its constitutive elements. Here, the physicality of the book is intended as an ongoing interplay involving text, image and design that perfectly mirrors the conceptual structure of the poem. In its rich materiality, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail hooks all the senses and engages completely our perceptive faculties. See this video below for a preview of the experience, but for the whole immersion get yourself a physical copy of it!
A special thank to Maegan Dobson Sippy at Tara Books.