Print Writing & Editing

SWEAR, poems by Hakim Bellamy

The first Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Hakim Bellamy writes loudly.

West End Press, a publisher with deep pockets in the personal, political, and postmodern, published his first collection in 2012. It was the second in their New Series. They wanted a fresh design, distinct from their general catalog (which stretches back 40+ years). They wanted to begin new traditions, while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others.

Hakim’s verse is built on tight rhyme schemes, hairpin turns, and blunt truths. Even as it opens possibilities, this book does not equivocate. These are poems steeped in the liberation traditions of the 20th century.

So I chose a sharp, un-equivocating 20th century typeface, and pushed that typeface further, through experimental design, while always keeping the book readable. After all, this is a work to be read (from the rooftops), and its design shouldn’t distract from the literary study it deserves.

For the cover, Hakim wanted to reference a specific photograph of Jay-Z.

Hakim and the publisher went to Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza and shot the poet, now, with his hand to the camera.* I used the same hard-edged typeface from the book’s body, blurred the edges, and placed it on the poet’s hand, in the style of a worn tattoo.

I matched the hue of the tattoo to the hue of the sky. Azure is a jarring color to see below the horizon. It doesn’t sit well on the skin. And here, on the poet’s hand, it looked imposing, blunt, barely organic, and unnaturally sharp. All of which can be said about Hakim Bellamy’s poems.

The result is a book whose design is tightly correlated with its words.

There’s no room to hide in Hakim’s poems. There should be no room for this poems to hide in his book.

*In 2012 I was not yet working as a photographer. Had this book been produced in 2015, I would have offered to do the shoot.