Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami,
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Tara Books, 2011.
The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages. As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird. From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text. The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:
I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]
The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry. Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.
This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008). Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical. He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout. The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page. The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book. In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book. If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!