Lamp

Lamp Day

By

A Note from the Illustrator

Matthew Zapruder’s “Lamp Day” appeared in his 2010 poetry collection Come On All You Ghosts. The poem itself is invested in honoring the small items that have entered our lives. On “Lamp Day” we are compelled to think about the emotional weight of the items we have carried from place to place, the lamp we found on Summer street, or the coffee mug from Omaha. For Zapruder, it is through interaction with these items that we remember something about the people we used to be and who we’ve suddenly become.

Rather than a mawkish meditation on the value of our stuff, Zapruder’s “Lamp Day” suggests that part of the joy of having the lamp or the mug comes from taking the time to systematically remember what they mean. At its heart “Lamp Day” is about remembering the past by working through the present. In the end, this kind of focus on the past is calming and connecting.  On “Lamp Day” we remember the past as something entirely connected to the present; we see it as influencing us, and connecting us to the people on the street. We all have a lamp. The things, then, are not merely trappings of our material world, but a link to another time. At its best, designating a “Lamp Day” becomes the mode by which we honor all that has happened since the moment of possession.

On the page, the poem’s structure, tight and straight, plays with the same kind of light and darkness that a lamp might give off. The right side of the page is lightened by the heavy, darkening structure of the poem on the left. Yet, the lines seem sturdy and stable, almost able to be clenched and carried, like the lamp itself. It is for this reason that my graphic interpretation is self-consciously flat. The lines of poetry in this adaptation are cut and strewn around the images, rather than using the words, like Zapruder does, to construct a sense of light. And yet, I’ve attempted to offset this inherit deficit with strange variegations of color and shading. Not only do the images have a shifting light source, but often, the light seems to be radiating from within the characters and objects rather that a secondary light source. In addition, I have chosen to juxtapose heavily detailed pages with spartan backgrounds and minimalist panels to play with notions of weight and lightness that are apparent in the poems structure.

The charm of “Lamp Day” is in thinking about reaching back into time, across spaces and experiences to remember and retrieve the past. As you’ll notice, many of the backgrounds are drawn from an extreme or at times impossible angle. Not only do these angles add interest to the page, but I also hope that they convey a similar sense of time and length. The impossibility and strangeness of such points of view are intended to reflect the oddness of the poem itself.

Further, it should be noted that, to this illustrator’s knowledge, Matthew Zapruder does not have a beard. Instead, he has a face that your illustrator might classify as “too difficult to draw”. I consider my artistic limitations in this area kismet. The bearded man, who one might wonder if he is Zapruder himself, embodies a kind of coolness that is readily apparent in the poet’s collection. Zapruder’s voice inhabits the world around him, merging his poetic influences with the realities of his life in a way that grounds poetry as historically present. Indeed, the “presentness” of his work is, in part, what makes him so damn cool. It is for this reason that I’ve shamelessly cashed in on the bearded hipster trend to be the voice of “Lamp Day” in my interpretation. Besides, beards are fun to draw.

Finally, I must mention the difficulties of interpreting and illustrating any poetic art form. There are places in this adaptation where Zapruder’s words have rightly outshined my artistic limits. Rather than considering these moments as failings, I see them as a representation of the importance of poetic language and the difficulty of any kind of interpretation. “Lamp Day” is at once real, we know the lamp exists, but it also speaks to a journey of memory and transcendence which resists quantification. For this reason, among others, I have chosen to include the poem at the beginning of this book in an attempt to forever forward and honor the poetry that has inspired this project.

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Lamp Day
by Matthew Zapruder

All day I’ve felt today is a holiday,
but the calendar is blank.
Maybe it’s Lamp Day. There is
one very small one I love
so much I have taken it everywhere,
even with its loose switch.
On its porcelain shade are painted
tiny red flowers, clearly
by someone whose careful
hand we will never know.
Because it’s Lamp Day I’m trying
to remember where I got it,
maybe it was waiting for me
in the house on Summer Street
I moved into almost exactly
17 years ago.  I think
without thinking I just picked it
up from the floor and put it
on my desk and plugged
it into the socket and already
I was working.  So much
since that moment has happened.
On Lamp Day we try
not dreamily but systematically
to remember it all.  I do it
by thinking about the hidden
reasons I love something
small. When you take
a series of careful steps
to solve a complex problem,
mathematicians call it an algorithm.
It’s like moving through
a series of rooms, each with
two doors, you must choose one,
you can’t go back. I begin
by sitting on a bench in the sun
on September 21st thinking
all the walks I have taken
in all the cities I have chosen
to live in or visit with loved ones
and alone make a sunlit
and rainy map no one
will ever be able to hold.
Is this important?  Yes and no.
Now I am staring
at clean metal girders.
People keep walking past
a hotel, its bright
glass calmly reflecting
everything bad and good.
Blue boots.  Bright glass.
Guests in this moment. A child
through the puddles steps
exuberant, clearly feeling the power.
I am plugged in.  I am calm.
Lamp Day has a name.
Just like this cup
that has somehow drifted
into my life, and towards which
sometimes for its own reasons
my hand drifts in turn.
Upon it is written the single
word Omaha.

Originally published in Come on All You Ghosts, Copper Canyon Press, 2010.

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Laura Scroggs is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. When she isn't reading or drawing pictures of beards, she is folding sweaters and petting her pug, Butters. More from this author →