In Between

Mita Mahato

Pleiades Press, 2017. $20.00

Reviewed by RebeccA Fish Ewan

In Between, a book of poetry comics by Mita Mahato, is a quiet meditation on life and loss. Each page offers a beautiful collage of cut paper, drawings, and words that evoke the deep sorrow of a mother lost to illness, animal extinction, and ended relationships. While a quick read, it’s the kind of book I return to again and again. Each time I notice a new detail, how the newsprint skin of her figures retain words, small messages—“she believed,” “care,” “look,” “growth”—printed on the hands.  

But what is poetry comics?

As the name suggests, it is a hybrid form of poetry and comics. Not a new form, its roots extend to ancient hieroglyphs and cave paintings, in the idea that stories can be told, and songs recorded, in words and pictures. Both comics and poetry have grounding in image, in movement, and sequential structure (think stanzas and panels). More recently, aided by the visual accessibility of digital media, comics poetry (and its cousin motion poems) have exploded as an evocative art form.

Mahato’s book includes nine poem comics, each one separated by a cut-paper scene of a women with bare branches growing from her back, which read together as the tenth poem comic. The voice and color palette, both muted and spare, create a calm space within which Mahato tackles enduring loss. I felt the second poem comic, “September,” most intensely. Rendered in black and white, with only a ribbon of blues streaming through one panel, this piece speaks directly to her mother, who died of cancer. The black panels read like earth, all the words a burial.  

I love finding books in forms and media different from those I work in. I’ve been blending words and drawings all my life, as a poet and cartoonist, but didn’t discover the genre of poetry comics until finding Ink Brick, a journal of comics poetry, in 2015. Poetry comics and comics poetry are essentially the same, except, as I heard poet Bianca Stone explain it on a panel at AWP, what goes first is what comes to the page first or what matters most.

Mahato’s cut-paper method brings a refreshing voice to the hybrid genre. In Between is a lovely book to read in the quiet of your days. If you ever have a chance to see her read, accompanied by images, it’s an additional treat that I highly recommend.