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There is No Safety

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Five PNCA Illustration graduates contribute to an lushly illustrated new poetry chapbook

When Portland-based poet Graham Murtaugh began his search for illustrators for his new book project, he looked no further than PNCA. With some help from Martin French, chair of PNCA’s BFA in Illustration program, Murtaugh connected with five recent PNCA Illustration alums and commissioned two pieces of artwork from each.

The resulting book, There is No Safety, is a compilation of new work by Murtaugh and features illustrations by PNCA students and alumni: Beth Austin ’11, Danny Frazier ’11, Lea Rebecca Karlsen ’12, Autumn Northcraft ’12, and Adriana Vawdrey ’12.

“I didn’t give them any direction,” Murtaugh explained. “Each of them picked a poem that they liked and responded to it through illustration.”

Murtaugh met with each of the artists after that first finalized illustration to talk about the artist’s process and details behind how and why each made the artistic choices he or she did. After that meeting, the illustrators returned to their studios and produced an additional finished piece. The book includes five poems, each accompanied by two illustrations, and one short story.

“I was impressed by the professionalism of all the artists,” Murtaugh said. “They were courteous. Everything was done on deadline or earlier. The quality of the work was really impressive.”


“Sackcloth and Ashes,” by Lea Rebecca Karlsen ’12.

PNCA’s Illustration Department, one of the fastest growing programs in the country, specifically prepares students to respond to texts through courses such as Word & Image, Narrative Image, and a Literature Seminar. These courses combine creative writing and illustration in order to explore the confluence of visual and verbal art, while addressing the need for the modern illustrator to be a multi-dimensional communicator. Over four years, students gain fluency in using writing to discover and articulate visual tropes, and using images to sharpen, deepen, and refine writing.

Text and image go hand in hand for a reason – when done well, each expands and nuances the other. Through the process of working with these five PNCA alumni, Murtaugh learned new things about his own work.

“The title, There is No Safety, is a line from one of the poems and speaks to the conviction that there is no guaranteed safety in the world,” Murtaugh explained, “either physical or emotional. But I like the fact that it also spoke to the collaborative process. I put a poem out there. An artist did something with it. I didn’t know what I’d get. That uncertainty echoes the idea of ‘no safety.’”

Murtaugh was so pleased with collaboration with PNCA alums that he hopes to work with them in the future. The book release is scheduled for June 6, and proceeds from the sale of the book will help to fund future projects and collaborations.

“We have Samantha Mash [Illustration ’13] in the pipeline for the next project, and I’m eager to meet other PNCA students and alumni,” said Murtaugh. “I like that these artists are young and not terribly well represented yet. This is an opportunity to give them a leg up and to help show their work.”


Look below for an excerpt from There Is No Safety:


“Phoebus and Phaethon #1,” by Autumn Northcraft ’12.

Phoebus and Phaethon

by Graham Murtaugh

I knew him when we were young.
I knew his darkened eye, his sad sneer
and defiant stance.

Once, behind the library, we kissed, cool
fingers along my throat. When he beat
that boy for talking shit he didn’t know
shit about (he always wore a patch
after that) I didn’t see

him for a while: expelled,
cast out, all over
anger at a father more
absent than my own.

Mine said, Good riddance.
Saying He deserves the truth
earned me a constellation
of bruises.

To wonder—not to know—is worse,
though his mother always promised;
he said she said royalty:
a king, a star, a god.

Afternoons alone together, hiding
in the belly of a gutted house,
each window a face—god, king, father—
each shattered by a shameful brick.

We’ll see, he said.

Storm season raged that year,
left us wrung-through, blind, dark for days.
He was caught out one night, alone
on a crest, and struck:

twinned forks of lightning,
I heard, hurled from on high
lit him from within
(if you can believe it). I never

saw the body,
never said goodbye,
never thanked him
for the kiss.

— Posted on 05/24 at 03:50 AM

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