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Cover to cover: Natalie Olsen on designing Amber McMillan’s We Can’t Ever Do This Again

Natalie Olsen struggles to give visual representation to a wide-ranging collection of poems for Amber McMillan’s debut, We Can’t Ever Do This Again (Wolsak & Wynn)

We Can't Ever Do This Again 1 We Can't Ever Do This Again 21. I still haven’t figured out why this collection of poems was so difficult. It has all the ingredients designers hope for: a title that commands attention and can be set in ALL CAPS; a table of contents divided into tidy, digestible parts; a sorrowful epigraph quoting a famous writer (in this case, Jack Gilbert); and at least one excessively quirky poem (“Happy Belated World Accordion Day”). Amber McMillan stirs up an assortment of provocative imagery including a crucified fox pelt, Catherine wheels, a mechanical toy solar system, discarded pine cones, and radioactive oatmeal.

Feeling confident that I had lots to work with, I set out to illustrate some of the most visual lines in the collection. I presented the first two covers in one batch; the second pair constituted round two.