upon Devonian beaches,
huddled under Neolithic stars.
through powdered teeth,
staining each other as we kissed.
Always we loved.
How could we otherwise,
when you are so like me,
but in a different guise.
Alan Moore, known primarily as a cutting edge comic author (From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen), is no slouch when it comes to other artistic endeavors. He’s written a novel, songs, and even poetry. The Mirror of Love is one such foray into the realm of poetry. Originally published in 1988 in comic form (as part of an AARGH!, or Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia, comic anthology) as a protest against England’s anti-homosexual Clause 28, Mirror encapsulates the history of same sex love, from pre-history to Sappho to today. This edition is hardbound, with a beautiful dustjacket sporting praise from Clive Barker, Samuel Delaney and James Magruder. It’s printed on thick glossy paper and runs 116 pages from beginning to the very last page, which is a detail of an unpublished frontispiece by Aubery Beardsley, “The Mirror of Love,” from whence the poem draws its title.
As the excerpt above suggests, Moore’s language is beautiful and emotionally compelling. It is by turns loving and stirring (when in praise of same-sex love) or condemning (when in scorn of its detractors). Moore upholds his tradition of clever and apropos references — à la The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — which are detailed in the book’s first two appendices: “Who’s Who in The Mirror of Love” and “Poems Quoted in The Mirror of Love.” Sappho, Oscar Wilde, and Collette all appear, as do more obscure historical figures such as the ladies of Llangollen (a pair of Irish women who lived in “romantic friendship” in Wales), Natalie Barney (American novelist) and Wilfred Owen (English poet). Moore also quotes from poems by such diverse authors as Walt Whitman, Michelangelo and Dickenson. He weaves these references together seamlessly, working his way forward in history on each page.
Complementing Moore’s text are Villarrubia‘s gorgeous colour photographs (replacing the original illustrations by Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch), many keying off specific words or phrases in Moore’s verse (e.g., images of blood spattered snow and ivy surrounded grave stones to signify World War I, Oscar Wilde’s gravestone covered in lipstick kisses opposite a mention of him, etc.). The most exquisite picture in the entire book, without a doubt, is one of two young women lying opposite one another, their faces turned to one another a gentle arm across one chest their only contact; their gowns are simple, their expressions chaste, and roses fill the spaces between and around them. Pure and lovely.
A professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Villarrubia’s involvement with The Mirror of Love dates back several years, to his starring turn in a stage performance of the poem, created with the assistance of his friend David Drake, who also provides a introduction to this edition. While it may sound more than a little odd to act out a poem, Drake and Villarrubia staged it as a bedside story, one man reading to his sleeping lover, which must have been quite emotionally moving to listen to.
Closing out the volume are two additional appendices – suggested reading and an explanation of Clause 28, which has, since The Mirror of Love‘s original publication, been repealed. This new edition could not be better timed, though, with the U.S. Senate is considering a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, Moore’s words and Villarrubia’s photographs should be required reading for everyone, so we remember the beauty of love … in all its guises.
(Top Shelf Productions, 2004)