Poetry is Useless is not quite in that genre, although it flirts with it heavily. What it is in fact, is a sketchbook-cum-graphic novel-cum-journal. It is seven years of artist Anders Nilsen’s life and musings on such. And it is infectious. From page one - which opens onto a page with a blank page and a silhouette – the reader is transfixed, and like a smart phone addict that cannot allow his thumb to leave the keypad, employs the same digit to rifle through this irresistible ‘product’.

Artists’ sketchbooks are a fascinating, uncharted territory, where everything is already there, yet anything can still happen. For many artists they serve as private archives; some, like Art Spiegelman, insisted on publishing his sketchbook pages. Nilsen does the same, redefining the sketchbook format in the process, creating a new hybrid form where words and drawings cohabit, and the narrative is, well, all over the place.

In Poetry is Useless one may stumble on abstracted, unfinished shapes and patterns, only a page later to find elegant, detailed renditions of mythical animals. There are short comics drawn in ink, pages of them, in Nilsen’s trademark hatching and fluid pen strokes, speaking of the author’s huge intellectual curiosity and wit.

Profound issues are debated by stick people, graphic shapes warp and change, while sketches made in cafes on his many travels turn the book at times into a travel diary. Skipping from images to words may seem a daunting task to a casual reader, but we must remember that this is not a book in the conventional sense, it is not even a comic book.

It is, indeed, an artist’s sketchbook embellished by absolutely nothing, other than hardcover. What sets it apart from a comic book is the caliber of the artist, both intellectual and creative. His observations on life are imbued with wry humour, and his drawings speak of a long and established career in cartooning. The book covers the period from 2007, and includes visual references to his many other works, such as Dogs & Water, Rage of Poseidon, and the New York Times Notable Book Big Questions.

This is not a book to read at one go. In fact, that would probably be impossible and leave the reader/viewer with a massive headache. If there are deliberate messages in this, at times wordless story, and knowing Nilsen, there are galore, than the onus is on the reader to give it time, and mental space. Nilsen was born in 1973 in New Hampshire, and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Soon after his comics began appearing in the Best American Comics anthologies, and he is now considered one of the best in his field.

 
Poetry Is Useless
by Anders Nilsen
published by Drawn & Quarterly
Hardcover, 224 pages
$37.95 CAD
ISBN 978-1-77046 207 6
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