Self-published in 1968, Footprints, Poems, and Leaves collects dozens of poems written by Martin Wong between 1966 and 1968. Hand-written in a signature calligraphic style that he was just beginning to develop, the poems ebb and flow visually across the page, much like the fluctuating characters, scenes, and moods that inhabit them. This was Wong’s first book of poetry and it contains a double cover showcasing intricate drawings of skeletal angels and other tableaux, as well as a folded, looseleaf broadsheet containing two poems and a drawing of a boney leaf.
The poems were written during a relatively free period for the artist, shortly after he dropped out of Berkeley and began exploring San Francisco at the height of the hippy movement. The poems range from surrealist and pastoral descriptions of the urban subculture that surrounded him to downtrodden, travel-weary biographical entries that are both lonely and tender. Footprints, Poems, and Leaves functions like a journal capturing Wong’s tumultuous life in this period, which included being arrested at a queer, drug-fueled house party (along with Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn) and a stay in a mental institution in late 1967 and early 1968. Around the time of the book’s publication, Wong enrolled in Humboldt State University to finish his degree, beginning a new chapter for the artist.
Despite the dark backdrops of many of the works, the writing displays a playfulness with form and language and a sense of humor that can be seen throughout Wong’s later work as well. Altogether, Footprints, Poems, and Leaves creates a rich tapestry of visual poetry that is both a product of its time and the budding artistic mind of a young Martin Wong.