design contest no. 9, visualizing verse: the narrative of illustration

According to John Berger (Ways of Seeing, 1972), “it is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world, and we explain that world with words.

This contest is part of a research project that investigates the relationship between and verbal and the visual; more specifically, to what extent an image (or a set of images) can effectively capture the essence of a text, and how this process of illustration occurs.

To this end we have chosen a particularly evocative poem and we are inviting artists from all over the world to come up with an illustration of this text — as ‘literal’ as possible, in visual terms, to the text.

The poem is unfamiliar and is presented anonymously so that the artist’s response is not conditioned by preexisting knowledge.


The unmade bed


She sits on the unmade bed, just right

of centre, with something in her hands.

Her dark hair hangs in one long pigtail


down over her right shoulder, the left

her white nightie, décolleté, leaves bare.

Her dropped face, that winsome, downward stare.


On the floor near her naked, crossed feet

are two petite brown boots: one lies flat,

the other toes a blur of paper.


If the scene were contemporary,

she could be holding some flash iPad

or iPhone. She could be listening


to Leonard Cohen, Gillian Welch.

But this almost homely bedsit – wood-

ceilinged, clothes flopped on chair, wash-basin


tucked away in the hearth (what’s that shoe

doing on the crumbling mantelpiece?) –

must surely be nineteenth century.


Not English though with that crucifix

hazy behind the open shutter.

Continental? Some provincial


French town, perhaps. A miniature,

that’s what she is holding: his picture.

Does the paper – a letter? – announce


he’s died or loves another (“Ma chère

Lisette …”)? Could that black aquascutum,

angled beside the chest of drawers,


have been his? His features swim, she feels

his touch, quickens, finds her mind go numb.

Sunlight slants through the window, catches


the pretty, floral bedspread, picks out

a painting above it on the wall.

Shadows. Steps. A locked embrace. She wears


a blue dress, he a red cape, jaunty

plume in his cap. She is leaning back

to receive a last, quick, lunging kiss.


This is how it should have, should have, been.

Not here, alone on an unmade bed,

in this room, bright, sad, slightly shabby.



Each entry must be accompanied by the artist’s explanatory commentary (250 words maximum).

Submit entries to and by Friday, November 30, 2012.

The top ten entries will be included in an academic publication.

The terms and conditions of entry are that the submitted work may be used in academic presentations and publications; copyright remains with the artist

Prize: $500US for the winner.

See the full requirements here.

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