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Tom Waits to Release First Photo Illustrated Book of His Poetry November 26, 2010

Posted by David W. King in books.
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Tom Waits is collaborating with photography Michael O’Brien to publish a book of poetry called Hard Ground. The book has been described as a “portrait of homelessness,” combining Waits’s poetry with O’Brien’s images of the people who “live on the hard ground.”

Although this is the first official collaboration between Waits and O’Brien, the photographer had previously taken pictures of Waits, and one of his photographs was used as the album art for Waits’s Glitter and Doom Live.

For the past 30 years O’Brien has worked as a photojournalist, and for the new book, he and Waits wanted to communicate the “common humanity” of people who live on the streets.

Although Waits 40-year songwriting career has placed him in dozens of films and he has about 20 albums in his discography, he’s never actually published anything in print. Hard Ground will be a publishing first for him.

According to Waits in a 1975 interview “Poetry is a very dangerous word” and “I don’t like the stigma that comes with being called a poet, so I call what I’m doing an improvisational adventure or an inebriational travelogue.”

Hard Ground is reportedly modeled off of 1941’s, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which combined James Agee’s poetry and Walker Evans’s photographs of Depression-era farmers.

According to the publisher, University of Texas Press, the book is “a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live ‘on the hard ground’ and recognize our common humanity.”

According to the publisher, the book is much more than a documentary piece:

“Letting words and images communicate on their own terms, rather than merely illustrate each other, Hard Ground transcends documentary and presents independent yet powerfully complementary views of the trials of homelessness and the resilience of people who survive on the streets.”


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