Grass Baby

Allen Crawford


Allen Crawford’s WHITMAN ILLUMINATED: SONG OF MYSELF will be hitting stores any day now, and it’d be tough to overemphasize how beautiful the book came out. The linen cover stamped with Walt’s likeness, the richness of the color, the texture of the paper . . . it’s something you just have to hold and flip through and pore over to really experience. But, of course, it’s Allen’s vision that carries the thing. So for the next week, we’ll be running a few of our favorite spreads along with the thinking and inspiration behind them.


Whitman’s poetry generally shuns metaphors, which makes them a challenge to illustrate. His scope in “Song of Myself” is especially broad, so he tends to make lists or point at things, and then his gaze moves on. He rarely ever stops to meditate over a single subject, like William Carlos Williams or Wallace Stevens might. But in this particular passage, he speaks of the grass as being a “babe of the vegetation”, which gave me license to combine these symbols of life (a blade of grass, a baby) and then combine them with a sly intimation of death (a shroud, a mummy), a theme that also runs throughout the poem. The art in this spread may have a strange, even unsettling undertone, but it isn’t sinister. Death in Whitman’s work isn’t really sinister: it’s just another phase in life’s endless cycle.

The concentric circle motif throughout the book is meant to allude to the patterns found in microcosms (cells, motes of dust) and macrocosms (planets, galaxies).

Allen Crawford is an illustrator, designer, and writer. He and his wife Susan are proprietors of the design/illustration studio Plankton Art Co. Their most notable project to date is the collection of 400 species identification illustrations that are on permanent display at the American Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Under his pseudonym, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy, he wrote, designed, and illustrated The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One, which was optioned for film by Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil. He lives in Mt. Holly, NJ.

Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.