Monday, December 21, 2009

Copycat Blues! (Or Another Drive Down the Crybaby Highway)

OK, so I know that ideas for things like book covers and such aren’t, well, what’s the word for it? Proprietary? Is that it? Maybe this is no big deal, but I’m seriously hacked off that Tony Hoagland’s new book, due out in February looks the way it does (below). No crime has been committed, I know. There’s no one to complain to, so I’ll just rant a bit about it here, as Amy Freels did a superb job on the cover of Map of the Folded World (above). I hate the fact that it has to share the artwork of Amy Casey with Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Was there even a Honda Dynasty? That's a joke, right? Some joke on the fact that Hondas were cheap cars and were once plentiful? And it does kind of sound like one of the dynasties? And having Americana houses strung together does help bridge the Honda Dynasty into the American decline. Yes, but.

It’s like a cosmic joke on me for criticizing his essays and comments about other poets, to have this happen. I can see the humor in that, but currently I am not laughing. Grrr. In fact.

When I was working with Martha Rhodes at Four Way Books on the cover for The Little Book of Guesses, we had an idea for a bit on a wonderful image of one of those photographs of falling houses. I was so hopeful that would be the cover, until Martha told me that she saw a book with another of those photographs on it a couple years earlier. She said it would be in bad taste to go ahead with that idea, and I agreed.

So here I am looking at the cover of Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (below) feeling disturbed. Am I making too much of this? The fact that he’s relatively well-known and I’m relatively unknown makes me think that in the future people will remember his cover and then if they see mine, they’ll think mine was the copycat. I’m making too much of this I’m sure, but right now I’m just highly irritated and ranting to the dogs who just look up at me mournfully and trusting. Aargh. I think I’ll go out and throw them a ball now.

OK, I think maybe I'm over it now. But I still think they should have gone with a different cover.


At 12/21/2009 1:24 PM, Blogger marybid said...


At 12/21/2009 1:37 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

Actually, you should send his publisher a copy of Map--with a just FYI note on it. Or have your publisher do it.

There is a dark still life that several (I think) books of poems have used. I need to remember which one it was.

At 12/21/2009 4:34 PM, Blogger marybid said...

Weren't there a bunch of O.K. Davis nudie lady on beach covers?

At 12/21/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Adam Deutsch said...

This seems to be a common problem because a lot of designers use royalty-free art, stock images, or art in the public domain. They can take it for a nominal fee or for free from a data bank online, and one might find the cover image of their book used in an Erectile Disfunction ad.

Acquiring art in that way is cheap, but it's bad for artists and the visual art community. Small presses need to start forging relationships with artists so that they license the art they're using specifically so it can't be found and used by just anybody.

That being said, it's a very nice cover. And a damn shame Hoagland's designer had a similar aesthetic vision to yours.

At 12/21/2009 4:56 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

First, I love the idea of sending a copy of Map to the graywolf designer.

Adam, the problem with this cover thing isn't the same as the one you're talking about, though that problem does exist. Akron worked directly with the artist, Amy Casey, on the cover of Map of the Folded World, and paid her a usage fee of some sort. I don't know about Hoagland's cover.

At 12/21/2009 5:23 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Davis and William Logan used the exact same photo for covers, yes...

At 12/21/2009 8:06 PM, Blogger marybid said...

Yeah, Adam, we totally worked with Amy Casey, who is local and awesome.

At 12/21/2009 8:48 PM, Blogger Oliver de la Paz said...

WTF??? That's my reaction. Pretty lame.

If it's any consolation, your word verification is "Popwongs"

At 12/21/2009 10:22 PM, Blogger Adam Deutsch said...

Right on. The Casey piece is really nice, and I'm glad it's genuine art.

If it's any consolation, you were there first. I'd absolutely send one to Greywolf...and let Hoagland ride your cover-concept coat-tails.

At 12/22/2009 4:30 AM, Blogger Kelli Russell Agodon - Book of Kells said...

Yikes. What a bummer. I would follow up with Graywolf.

So I'm confused if this is an actual copycat or if the creative energies in the world just are into similar themes?

I ask because I had a friend whose book cover resembled a Paul Simon album that came out that year and we both thought it was odd, though neither had a connection.

And another friend had to retitle her book when another poet came out with a book the exact same title that year?

I guess I'm wondering if this is an intentional copycat or if you know that?

(You may have answered it in your post, which I'll read again in the morning... currently suffering from insomnia, so it's 4:30 am and I'm up reading blogs...)

Anyway, I think your cover makes much more sense with the image given your title. And I think it looks better, if that makes you feel any better.

Take care.

At 12/22/2009 5:17 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

Yes, both William Logan and Olena Kalytiak Davis use a Weston photograph, but I was thinking of the Raphaelle Peale still life on the cover of Hirschfield's Lives of the Heart, which appears on at least one other book of poems, though I can't remember which one.

At 12/23/2009 1:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is there something also vaguely racist about Hoagland's title? As with "Real Sofistakshun" part of the humor-- which I don't find very fun-- is a kind of Bush II "I'm just one of you dumb guys" thing. But the ignorance (feigned or not) that creates the humor with this title is at the expense of a whole (other) civilization.

At 12/23/2009 11:24 AM, Blogger Diane Lockward said...

It does matter. Of course it matters. The consolation must be that your cover is so much more attractive, really stunning, visually arresting, memorable. I think you can't hold Hoagland at fault. His contract might stipulate that he has no say whatsoever in cover design.

At 12/23/2009 12:34 PM, Blogger amy newman said...

It's a pain, I agreee-note covers from Bonomo and Teicher, same year--but it's what's inside the book that sings.

My beef is I think you used my copyrighted phrase "Crybaby Highway," invented at the Dodds in 1990.

At 12/23/2009 6:44 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

AMY! Oh, no, you're right! That IS the chant, and you are the author.

Can I buy a use fee?

At 12/29/2009 10:55 AM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

I'm just catching up and reading this now -- and am sorry to hear it. Definitely I'd send your book to Graywolf as an "fyi."

Probably just coincidence, but they also published Eamon Grennan's "Matter of Fact," which used the same still life on the cover as Mary Cornish's "Red Studio," published by Field/Oberlin a year earlier.

At 2/05/2010 3:09 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Do you think Amy Casey mentioned having contributed another image in the series for the cover of another poetry book, presuming Graywolf contacted her after/concurrent to her work with you? Since this is the work of a living artist involved in the permissions process, that's actually where the concern could have most easily been raised.

My guess is that if you "alert" Graywolf, they will just see it as reflecting badly on Casey, for not warning them herself. Not sure you'd want that.

At 2/06/2010 4:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I heard from someone that Graywolf knew about it. I don't want it to reflect badly on anyone, I just wish they wouldn't have done it. But it's kind of hard to blame them, as the Amy Casey paintings are just wonderful.


Post a Comment

<< Home