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troylloyd sa...

A Brief, Belated Review of “Twelve Visual Poems” (edited by Geof Huth, from the November issue of Poetry)

Actually, I don’t have too much to say about the poems themselves, which I found pleasant enough. But surely these poems deserve a livelier critical commentary than the polite one Geof Huth supplies.

In phrases like “the textual materiality of language,” “the ultimate artificiality of linguistic signs,” and “reconstitute the meaning,” to name a few, I don’t hear Huth, but I do hear some of the professors I’ve had over the years. Perhaps you hear some of yours. Having taught a bit, myself, I recognize the usefulness of prepackaged phrases, phrases which can be unpacked for the students. But in addition to its mildly academic jargon, Huth's language surrenders to more obvious formulations:

“Visual poetry provides a reading challenge to most readers…forcing the reader to delve ever more deeply into the text to sift meaning out…”

“The results are stunning and enigmatic textscapes that a reader must sift through…”

“…deconstructing found texts to tease out hidden meanings.”

“This portfolio of twelve works provides only a hint to the richness and variety of today’s visual poetry.”

“These twelve pieces by these thirteen people represent the smallest slice of their work…”

“[mIEKAL aND] uses these [scripts] to allow us to see written language with new eyes…”

This stuff isn't bad - and the aforementioned jargon is understood easily enough - but it is conspicuously bland, which leads me to wonder: who is contemporary visual poetry’s Clive James, or Michael Hofmann, or Carmine Starnino, or Ange Mlinko, to name but a few regulars in Poetry, regulars who, despite what you may think of their respective opinions, can write sparkling sentences to order? In other words, who is contemporary visual poetry’s critical prose stylist, that person who has equipped it with a clear and original critical language? (And I'm well aware that such a person can exist outside of the pages of Poetry!)

Again, I enjoyed the visual poems – indeed, I thought Huth's own piece, "jHegaf," a delightful entanglement of type and maybe the best of the batch he corralled– but I wonder: what else can visual poems do, besides challenge conventional ways of communicating, or call attention to their materiality, or recruit the reader (who always seems to be vulnerable to some avant-garde’s draft board) into making their meaning? Or is the mild poverty of the buzz-words which these poems seem to attract an indication of the poems’ limitations, an indication that they are, finally, anachronistic curios, doomed to be confined to their zines (whether mimeographed or electronic) or the glossy special sections (cordoned off from the other poems) in magazines like Poetry?

Great criticism is powered by great enthusiasm. Obviously Huth has an investment in visual poems. His own skill in sculpting the things is clear. But in his studious sentences about them I don’t hear enthusiasm - or, at least, the level of enthusiasm that’s necessary to press clusters of words into fresh configurations, an enthusiasm that crackles through, say, Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, which remains a wonderfully written book on the experiments of another era, no matter what you may feel about some of those experiments.

I apologize if any of this sounds elitist. Good writing is hard and, as I think (and hope) my first post communicates, something I know that I need to work on, too. I certainly don't mean to play 'gotcha criticism,' since I've made my share of mistakes. But as it stands, I empathize with poor Amadeo in the novel The Savage Detectives, who, exasperated with a concrete poem, needs a little first-rate guidance.

So: is there a substantial study on visual poetry that is also a pleasure to read, in and of itself? A picture's worth a thousand words, but in the case of the 'pictures' made by visual poets, whose thousand words should I be reading? If contemporary visual poetry isn’t just an anachronistic curio, where is its great – and I can’t italicize this enough – jargon-free criticism?

PS My question marks are real, not rhetorical. Originally, I was going to submit this piece as a letter to Poetry, but here, at least, people can answer the questions!
PPS I urge everyone to go inspect the actual poems (link still above) since they are interesting works.

01.21.09 Permalink | Comments (21)


One book I like is Craig Dworkin's *Reading the Illegible*, which is certainly a pleasure to read. There are essays by bp Nichol which are good reading, too.
Posted by: John Bloomberg-Rissman on January 22, 2009 11:33 AM

. . . i did a "review" of it too—

see the post entitled "Vizpoems are the perfume ads of poetry"

on my prose blog
Posted by: Bill Knott on January 22, 2009 11:45 AM

There is also Geof's blog, which may still be too "polite" for you, but which has been working out some foundations for discourse on visual poetry for a few years.

You write: "what else can visual poems do, besides challenge conventional ways of communicating, or call attention to their materiality, or recruit the reader (who always seems to be vulnerable to some avant-garde’s draft board) into making their meaning?"

This is the sort of thing that happens when you expect poetry to "do" anything at all. The detritus of the MFA program approach to endlessly justifying poetry. But the things you mention getting done are some of the very things I most want "non-visual poetry" to do, so I'm not sure what you're fishing for here. What, are you asking if visual poetry can make you cry? can topple down governments? I think it has as good a chance as "non-visual poetry".
Posted by: Chris Piuma on January 22, 2009 11:57 AM


I liked, or at least was amused by, what the Times Literary Supplement (No. 5512, November 21 2008) had to say about about the visual poems, and in particular Joel Lipman's 'Origins of Poetry':

"[S]ome of the works are not poems at all, containing no words, or at least none legible (one is composed of the letter "e"). Lipman's attempt is closer to the traditional poster poem as we know it from the inventive oeuvre of Christopher Logue. According to the accompanying note, Lipman's technique "creates a frisson between the apparently unrelated base text and Lipman's overtext .... It is poetry enhanced by the distinctive appearance of the words". Well, maybe...."

Note the condescending 'attempt' in the second sentence, followed closely by the imperial 'we' and then the dignifying reference to local Logue. Different world over here.
Posted by: Evan Jones on January 22, 2009 5:36 PM

Haha, jargon-free criticism, good luck with that. 'I like it'. 'I didn't understand it.' 'It was boring.' Anything else is just jargon.
Posted by: Paul on January 22, 2009 5:55 PM


Thanks for enjoying the visual poems, which was my main goal in this endeavor. Visual poetry, and poetry itself, exists primarily for our enjoyment--anything more is either pointless or icing. I do find it refreshing to be criticized for my writing rather than having to defend visual poetry itself one more time.

I fear, no matter how sad this is to say, that I might actually be "contemporary visual poetry’s Clive James, or Michael Hofmann, or Carmine Starnino, or Ange Mlinko," though I'd have to read what they've done to be sure. Visual poetry has survived the onslaught of my words so far, though I hope the best for it with or without me. I'll read over what I wrote sometime soon to see if my words fall as dully to me now as they have to you.

Thanks for the kind words on my little typoglyph (my own personal jargon term). I did not want to include any visual poems by myself in this, but the folks at "Poetry" wanted something for the "cover" of the selection and didn't want to use any of the work of others I had suggested.

And that Bill Knott--always a card. I've got to search out his review next. Don't know how I missed it.

Posted by: Geof Huth on January 22, 2009 10:18 PM

Here's my take-home sentence:

Great criticism is powered by great enthusiasm.
Posted by: Mary Meriam on January 22, 2009 10:54 PM

Jason, thanks for taking up the subject of visual poetry, which, for my money, is getting more interesting the more it brings in the new digital and electronic technologies that are increasingly available. When it is both expressive with, and questioning of the technology it seems most exciting. I was never really that interested in the stuff until I moved to Portugal and discovered the work of Manuel Portela, among others. He led me to the very strong Brazilian visual poetry scene. Manuel, besides being one of Portugal's most important translators, is also a fabulous poet, and an eloquent critic. Here is a link to one of his recent studies (which includes sound effects and graphics). A very worthwhile stop for anyone interested in the subject:


At any rate, thanks for touching on a much neglected world.

Posted by: Martin Earl on January 23, 2009 7:50 AM

John and Bill, thanks for the suggestions.

Evan, Paul, and Mary, thanks for your input (and Evan, yes, it is a different world in the UK).

Chris, I appreciate your comments. I don't expect poems to do any of the things you mention. I'm happy if they're just entertaining. Perhaps I should've phrased my question this way: "What else can visual poems do within our critical discussions of them? Or put another, better, more Kennedy-esque way: what else can our critical discussions do for these poems? - poems that are interesting but (at least in Huth's piece, in my opinion) often addressed in a predictable language. In other words, I don't think visual poems - or poems, in general - need to do anything they don't already do (whatever that may be); I just wonder if there are less obvious ways to discuss whatever it is they already do. For example, when it comes to visual poems, are there critical writings that recall the vividness of, say, Benjamin's reading of the Angel of History or Pater's description of the Mona Lisa (a description so good it moved Yeats to treat it like a found poem and line it)? If, however, threadbare phrases like "textual materiality of language," among the others listed - phrases even I've found myself recycling in seminars, because they can provide a useful shorthand - if these phrases don't seem well-worn, then my questions may not have much resonance, or even make much sense, which is fine.

Geof, many thanks for your comments. For what it's worth, I think you made an enjoyable selection and the magazine gave them a nice presentation. I'm glad the editors insisted you include that poem.

Posted by: Jason Guriel on January 23, 2009 9:23 AM

Geof deserves the praise for "touching on a much neglected world" in his original piece, Martin. But thanks for the note and the link.
Posted by: Jason Guriel on January 23, 2009 9:36 AM

I think how you read Geof's criticism in part depends on who you think its audience is. Sure, when I read it I found it to rehash the gereal concepts that I've heard before (particularly in relation to concretism in Brazil-- see: de Campos). However, POETRY does have readers who aren't as schooled as you. Geof's writing was, in my reading, directed to those readers who need a general "introduction" to concrete/Visual poetics. I do think his introduction wasn't "lively" enough and frankly, I don't think any of the visual poets presented in his "survey" adequately represent the possiblities of Visual/Concrete Poetry and/or Text-Art (though piringer's piece does, rather simplistically, demonstrate "Vizpoetry's" possiblities in a very accessible form and is therefore a great piece with which to introduce uninitiated readers).

I do agree with you.
And in a sense, Geof's piece seemed more like an advertisement (which, when you think about it, it is) and I don't think he "marketed" "Vizpoetry" very enthusiastically.

This excerpt is one that makes me stop to think:

"One important notion to keep in mind while reading visual poetry is that it makes sense via more than just the text itself. Color, shape, and arrangement—including proximity to, and integration with, images—are important elements in the meaning of any visual poem."

-Does one really "read" a visual poem (in the traditional sense)?

Heck, most poems "make sense via more than just the text itself" do they not?

And, another thing to mull over is: do visual/concrete poems and "text-art" consciously resist the excessively-intellectual hermeneutics or the rage for order-meaning? I have often considered them to do just that... to exalt form over content/meaning.

Thanks Jason. I'm glad you brought this up. I do most certainly think there is a lack of criticism and writing about visual and concrete poetry. Yet this may be because it (often consciously) resists interpretation. (?)

Here is a link I found and I'm pasting it just for kicks (even the Greeks had their own concretisms):

Posted by: Manoel Cartola on January 23, 2009 10:14 AM

Thanks, Manny, for your thoughts, especially given the frostiness of my last response to you (and my apologies for that). But let me stress that I'm not that schooled. If anything, I found Huth's piece a little too academic. I suppose the kind of writing I would like to see more of (at least in the world of visual poetry) is the kind you see sometimes in Slate or the New Yorker or Harper's - smart, exciting, but reasonably accessible writing that doesn't lean too heavily on a 'loaned-out' lexicon. Ange Mlinko's piece on Ashbery, in the Nation, would be a good example, or Carmine Starnino's recent piece on Irish poets, in Poetry. (Or, combing through the past, Randall Jarrell on Marianne Moore, or, in terms of pop music, Lester Bangs on Just About Anything.) Mary Meriam's cool review of a cool Michael Robbins' poem, on another thread of mine, exemplifies that kind of writing. (Has anyone EVER compared a poem to a Darth Vader mask?)

Thanks again, Manny, and I'll look forward to the link.
Posted by: Jason Guriel on January 23, 2009 11:03 AM

i agree w/ Manoel that Geof was writing for a very specific audience & i think he did a fine job being clear & concise enough for a reaer who was clueless of vispo, could immediately grasp a proximation of the form & function of such poetics.

it sounds as if you desire a kind of "gonzo criticism", & i understand where you're coming from, but a critism such as that has its own place -- as you mention Lester Bangs, what if Rolling Stone had never publish'd him? would he still have become the creemy dreamboat we romanticize about today?

i like how Lydia Lunch writes:
"I wasn't expecting the toilets at CBGB's to be the bookends to Duchamp's urinal, but then again, maybe 1977 had more in common with 1917 than anyone at the time could have imagined. The anti-art invasion of Dada in Switzerland and the surrealist pranksters who shadowed them had a blast pissing all over everybody's expectations. The anti-everything of No Wave was a collective caterwaul that defied categorization, defiled the audience, despised convention, [expletive] in the face of history, and then split. It's only a movement in retrospect. Post-Suicide, pre­Sonic Youth New York was the devil's dirty litter box. No Wave was the waste product of Taxi Driver, Times Square, the Son of Sam, the blackout of '77, widespread political corruption, rampant poverty, the failure of the Summer of Love, the [expletive] of Charles Manson, the hell of the Vietnam War, and a desperate need to violently rebel against the complacency of a zombie nation dumbed down by sitcoms and disco. Yes, we were angry, ugly, snotty, and loud. But better to brutalize the audience with screeching guitars and piercing screams than to beat them over the head with fists and feet ... which, okay, sometimes we did, but most nights we'd rather [expletive] than fight. You guessed right if you thought the toilets of CBGB's sang a song of diseased lust to my raging hormones. "

but i also like how Steve McCaffery writes:

here writing about soundpoetry, which is closely related to visual poetry:

from: Prior to Meaning

"The ear, observes Certeau, "is the delicate skin caressed or irritated by sound: an errogenous zone, exacerbated, so to speak, by the interdictions which banish from language and good manners, coarseness, vulgarity and finally passions". How, then, to define the ear's most in intimate lover - the voice? Régis Durand (1977) demonstrates the volatility of voice as a cultural and psychoanalytic concept positioned between reality and representation and functioning as both a metaphorical support of pure time and a physical production. Writing comes into being through the midwifery of fingers and a competence with encoded incisions. But in order to reach Cedrteau's errogenous zone, human sound, like human birth, must pass from a cavity through a hole dilated under pressure. Indeed, "voice" seems inadequate to describe the full workings of this organ-concept, and Certeau's definition of it as " a sign of the body that comes and speaks", by factoring out the complex buccal and respiratory labor essential to its functioning, proves insufficient. Voice is a polis of mouth, lips, teeth, tongue, tonsils, palate, breath, rhythm, timbre, and sound; less a component than a production of a materiopneumatic assemblage of interacting bone, liquid, cartilage, and tissue. Enjoying such complexity, even a single voice resonates as a simultaneity of corporeal, acoustic events; the consequence of energy and respiratory force in flight through fixed cavities and adjusttable tensors."

& i'm so autodidactic that i mispronounce autodidact.

i don't think itsa question of schooling, sometimes, reading about learning how to read is better left unread -- but it's silly to dismiss certain strains of critical writing because they use precise logical wordchoice/concepts, as opposed to the more emotional/poppish amphetamine-driven accessible gonzo/outsider strain -- both avenues are equally valid & valuable.

& what, exactly, lexicon isn't loan'd out?

Posted by: troylloyd on January 23, 2009 5:50 PM

I think what Jason's getting at is that these particular phrases are imprecise and, moreover, deadened by overuse. In a word, cliched. The problem isn't that they're jargon. Jargon is very useful, when it's descriptive. Iamb is a jargon term. Simile. Metrical substitution. Quatrain. Anaphora. The problem with the sort of phrase Jason highlights is that it sounds rather more like the answer to a catechism than the particular response of an engaged individual reader. Correct me if I'm wrong, Jason.

In my limited experience, I've found people either all too willingly to talk about visual and concrete poetries in the lexicon of academic bafflegab, or, for reasons I think Manoel rightly observes, they don't want to talk about it at all. I tried to get one of the visual poets highlighted by Huth to write a review of a book of visual poems once and he declined. Here's how he put it:

"not everyone wishes to be a didact. when i encounter 'art' of any stripe i never feel the need to have it explained to me by "experts". i make my work for those with similar inclinations. and globally, there are plenty of us.

to be perfectly honest, i'm tired of all these terms, all the defining, explaining and justifying which only ever seems to amount to talking to drywall."
Posted by: Zachariah Wells on January 24, 2009 2:42 PM

Yes, Zach, I guess I've been trying to talk about cliches, and in my struggle to find some synonyms for the word "cliches" (e.g., obvious formulations, loaned-out lexicons, etc.), I've been unclear, and have wound up conflating "jargon" and "cliche," creating more confusion. "In a word, cliched," is what you write, and I probably should've stuck to "a word," as you did.

In my defense, though, negative connotations often seem to cling to the word "jargon", at least in my mind (but then that's usually where my troubles start). And I do wonder if the line between "jargon" and "cliche" is not quite so crisp and depends on context? For example, perhaps that phrase "textual materiality of language," in a theory seminar, is useful postmodern jargon but, in the pages of Poetry, is merely a cliche.

Or perhaps I'm being imprecise, though I don't mind risking imprecision, from time to time, in pursuit of less mildewy prose. Cliches are useful - e.g. "from time to time," etc. - and I hold my own prose up to ever more outside scrutiny the longer I pull at this (post's) thread. But I just found too many cliches in Huth's piece, especially given its relative brevity. But maybe others out there don't find phrases like "the transformative power of language," among the many quoted above, to be as tired as I do. And with these folks, my ultimate question - where's the great criticism on visual poetry? - will not resonate.

I appreciate, Troylloyd, the less complacent examples of prose you've shared. And I suppose 'complacency' is what I'm complaining about, a little too much satisfaction with preexisting expressions. Or is it sloppiness? On his own blog, Huth writes, "I had written [the piece] in a flurry of activity in my aunt’s dining room in Burlingame, California." I can't account for the demands on Huth's attention - a cursory glance at an online profile of Huth suggests he has more demands than I do - but this sounds like Huth is open to the possibility, even if others aren't, that his prose could've been a bit rushed or passed over (in terms of his attention).

But as initially stated, I don't think Huth's piece is "bad" or even unclear. And I'm sure he's done much for visual poetry.

And I'm not advocating for "gonzo" criticism. Indeed, I find terms like "gonzo" limiting. Hugh Kenner and Lester Bangs may have operated in different worlds but they're both great writers. If I "desire" anything it's great writing, the best of which tends to avoid cliches and outlast categories and not be satisfied with its "own place" for long.
Posted by: Jason Guriel on January 24, 2009 7:08 PM

-where's the great criticism on visual poetry?-

In my book, Geof Huth is one of the most important critics we have on visual poetry, maybe i shouldn't use the term critic, he's an extremely critical reader who shares his readings w/ interest'd folks -- he's also a great visual poet, from way back when in the zine days. Thru his blog i've been turn'd on to many vispoets i'd never know about, i've garnered new ways of lookreading & i've come to understand some vital tenets of visual poetries, all thru reading Geof's blog, which he posts on every single day. If you spend some time going thru his archives, you'll discover what an attentive reader he is, & he's not afraid to say when something doesn't work or if he simply doesn't like something, he's as honest as they come & his ingrain'd passion is self-evident.

here's a short article somewhat related to his being ask'd to do a portfolio for Poetry:
visual poetry: what it is & is not

& here's an interview w/ him that's well worth reading:
an interview w/ Geof

again, i state the fact his writing was intend'd to be an introduction, a primer, a keyhole to lead those so interest'd about finding out more to the simple doorknob for entry. The fact that there was even a visual poetry portfolio in Poetry is stunning & difficult enough for "pure poetry" folks to digest as being a legimate form of poetry -- the last thing one would want to do is go off onna wildride tangent of transgressive threshing & risk even further alienation!

i appreciate great writing as well, but your great writing is different from my great writing -- even when we all read the same book, the pages are different for each of us.

Posted by: troylloyd on January 24, 2009 11:11 PM

jason guriel? sorry, i havent heard of you. or you of me. would i be amiss in saying, nothing you've done is remotely related to visual poetry or that you haven't spent time looking further than the limited and limiting portfolio (10 visual poets) geof huth culled for mainstream POETRY? i ask because, of course, i wonder how you can even review, briefly or belatedly, something you don't know? saying the poems are "pleasant enough" or "i enjoyed the visual poems" is the extent of your offering. you backhandedly arouse contempt about visual poetry in the minds of those who know nothing about it. your blog entry is a pleasant smelling negative comment. you jab at the preface, but miss the surface. you want explainations. you want quantifiable results. most critics aren't even practitioners of the thing they critique. art critics, theatre critics, music critics, etc.

i have to agree with you though, that there is little in the way of current text pertaining to visual poetry. you can go to KALDRON to seek some answers. visual poetry is a worldwide endeavor. your lack of information in a setting like harriet is unfortunate. you do a disservice squabbling over geof's preface.

but perhaps, the silver lining is that you may help spark a call to arms to those truly interested in visual poetry - to write about it. beyond comments in a blog would cetainly be a starting point, eh?

thanks and no thanks jason guriel whoever you are.
Posted by: nico vassilakis on January 25, 2009 12:57 AM

Troylloyd, thanks for the resources.

Nico, I have heard of you, and you would be "amiss" in saying that I "haven't spent time looking further than the limited and limiting portfolio (10 visual poets) geof huth culled for mainstream POETRY." I live in Canada, where bpNichol is regarded as a literary icon by the "mainstream." I took Steve McCaffrey's class, as an undergraduate at York University, where I was exposed to much visual poetry. As a graduate student, I've taught bpNichol's visual poetry to undergraduates, with enthusiasm. But I appreciate the KALDRON link.

I would hope that visual poets don't need an unknown like me to rally their critical cause. I would hope that the visual poems themselves are enough.
Posted by: Jason Guriel on January 25, 2009 8:43 AM

Nico Vassilakis? Sorry, I haven't heard of you.

See how easy that is? It's a passive-aggressive formulation of the argument from authority. Seems to me Jason wasn't pretending to know anything in his post. He was asking questions. A bit of a "disservice" to, effectively, tell him he doesn't know sh-- in response.

In my experience--again, limited--whenever some vispo outsider dares to say anything remotely critical of something related to vispo, there's always some vispo insider--often a choir of 'em--leaping up to shout "philistine!" As an example, in a riposte to Carmine Starnino's review of the anthology Shift & Switch, a book that is co-edited by one of the vispoets in Huth's feature, Katherine Parrish told Carmine to "stop pissing in our end of the pool." Keep in mind that this is an anthology that even Ron Silliman couldn't find much good to say about.

In my much more extensive experience with criticism of lineated textual poetry, most critics--and almost all of the most interesting ones--actually are practitioners. I recently read Paul Muldoon's Oxford lectures, for instance. I can't tell you how many times my jaw dropped at the sheer brilliance of his insights into various poems. (I can't tell you how many times I scratched my head over some bizarre stretches, too, but genius is usually uneven.) This isn't a matter of "explainations" [sic--again, see how easy this is?] or "quantifiable results." It's a question of the criticism itself being a work of literature, a pleasure to read, not merely workmanlike and pedagogically useful.

I haven't read Huth's writing elsewhere, but Jason's right about the prose in Poetry. And this is what he is responding to, not to the poems and not to Huth's critical oeuvre writ large. The text accompanying the poems reads like exhibit catalog boiler plate. Better to take the stance of the poet I quoted in my last response and say nothing.
Posted by: Zachariah Wells on January 25, 2009 9:31 AM

jason, i can appreciate bpNichols' lineage, but we're still talking 20-30yrs ago. current work in visualpoetry has exploded. your question of available criticism is about a lack of organization on this side of the visual poetry fence. i can understand that. vispoets don't have overly ambitious agendas. they're not flarf or conceptual or o=t=h=e=r poets. but an overview of textual response to visual poetry is a necessary item. yet there are no major presses that take on visual poets. there are no grants for this category. visual poetry is locked in purgatory. a segue literature that is considered a bastard child - barely making it to the table. they get less than scraps. it seemed impossible that POETRY included vispo - pretty amazing. and doing that has brought about this conversation.

zach? part of the problem is that lineated textual response to visual poetry is typically descriptive. offers little more than telling me what im looking at. i hope for a textual response to a visual poem or a collection visual poetry that blends with the poem/s to create new writing and seeing. this idea of insider and outsider ...not the people i know, but i know it happens. i would have prefered if jason spoke to the work - as he did title his entry a review.
Posted by: nico vassilakis on January 25, 2009 3:13 PM

wellsaid nico.

i can only quote R. Johnson:


a f t e r

Posted by: troylloyd on January 25, 2009 11:07 PM

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troylloyd sa...

Jason Guriel recently took a keen-eyed look at the visual poetry we presented in the November 2008 issue of Poetry. One of our readers, Jerry Payne, in Clearwater, Florida, wrote in to say:

"Look, let’s call “visual poetry” what it really is—visual art. Some of us are in love with language and the way in which words—just words—can be put together in relationships that say something. Let’s not continue to water down the concept of poetry any more than it already has been."

Well, I guess we've upped the ante in the February 2009 issue.

There you'll find a portfolio of Tony Fitzpatrick's poems, visual poems that I suggest are different in character from the ones discussed on Jason's thread. Fitzpatrick is both a poet and visual artist, so he certainly knows the difference between one medium and another. In my little introduction to the feature, I quote him on the watery subject of poems as image, particularly in the context of this work constituting a response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; he says

“I’ve thought long and hard about how to make art about this holy place. I didn’t want to draw pictures of people trapped on rooftops, or struggling to stay above the water. The images from cable news seemed pornographic in their quest to wrap tragedy around the commercial breaks. So, for now, I’ve decided on words. . . . I’ve decided to draw poems.”

In one of his Harriet comments, Nico Vassilakis responds to Jason by protesting that

"In this world letters are vulnerable and can't always stand on their own. Letters alone are typically unwanted things. They are in danger of being individual, of lacking community, of not forming into a word. Isolated."

I imagine Fitzpatrick would agree. In his work, letters - formed into and made out of images - are repurposed to make a place for the unwanted, lost, and forgotten who still speak to us. I wonder what those who weighed in about Geof Huth's selection will make of these very different pieces.

02.02.09 Permalink | Comments (36)

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I think you've missed Jason's point, but let me speak for myself instead of trying to speak for him. A poem may be a component in a word of visual art, but its being part of the artwork does not make it a poem. It's a poem for reasons that have nothing to do with the art. In most cases, "visual poetry" is not poetry; as Jason says, it is visual art. Take Tony Fitzpatrick's images for example. I like them a lot; the words in them enhance the art, and vice versa; but the words are not poems—at least not what I would call poems.


... is not a poem.


... is not a poem.

Claiming that Fitzpatrick's images are "visual poems" is as absurd as saying that W. D. Snograss's poem "Vuillard: 'The Mother and Sister of the Artist'" is a painting. I've seen the poem presented with the painting beside it, and I supposed a clever Photoshop jockey could integrate the poem into the painting—but it would still not make the poem a painting. The combined artworks might make a third artwork, of course—but its nature would be a painting (or a let's just say a graphic image), one that included words.

I think Jason is suggesting that there is a value in maintaining distinctions, especially from the poet's point of view. After all, a graphic artist can run around claiming to produce "visual poems," but a poet can't get gallery prices for writing "verbal paintings."

Posted by: Joseph Hutchison on February 2, 2009 2:51 PM

Thanks for this, Joseph. I take your point, and Jason's, about maintaining distinctions, which we're naturally free to do from our perspectives as readers; but what does it mean that Fitzpatrick himself calls these poems? For him, presumbably, there's some value in blurring or washing away our distinctions. Not just on aesthetic grounds: as I say in the intro, when it comes to an unfathomable disaster like Katrina, ordinary modes of representation won't work. In other words, a question is why a visual artist (though Fitzpatrick is also a published poet) would make certain claims about images as poems... Claims, I hasten to add, that can be taken seriously, at least for the sake of discussion...

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 2:58 PM

Don, thanks for your post, but just to clarify, I didn't take much of a "critical...look at the visual poetry" that was in the November Poetry. And just to clarify, Joseph, I didn't suggest that visual poetry is not poetry, though I appreciate your comment, and I'm open to being swayed by it. I merely took issue, in my post, with nothing more than the quality of Geof Huth's critical prose, which borrowed too much, I felt, from academic jargon and cliched language, and which, to me, suggested some of the potential limitations of visual poetry. But my original post puts all of this much better.

Posted by: Jason Guriel on February 2, 2009 3:17 PM

text from staReduction: People, I spent long stretches of time doing absolutely nothing It’s not that unusual to find someone in the midst of doing nothing I’m not sure how I’ll proceed, but I will proceed anyhow +++ It’s about being patient I think – waiting and not rushing Clearing the mind to let simplicity enter with nothing else to hinder you Drawing a blank – seeing a blank undone +++ Very shortly, from the last page, it will be entirely about staring – locked in place – held in focus Eyes have always been the brats – attention-getting toys securing their place in our very cognition – vispo, its very victim +++ Disengage and jettison the idea that the alphabet has to do with language – letters are memory and experience The periodic table of speech held up to light From childhood – letters – the first set of tools learned that are not physical and pure idea +++ Staring at letters reminds you that their visual substance is there to encompass entire human histories\ Letters are the source. One letter is a color of paint - talking is painting Each letter contains a history that is both personal and communal +++ Letters are the first recording devices. The first great invention to capture communication If you dissect a letter and stare at it further you come upon nature’s world – the bits, the parts, the shapes are a product of nature Talking is an acceleration of letters +++ So looking at a word the eye lands on a letter and it begins to stare back at you Staring into letters assures this response – eliminating the peripherals leaving just the markings and their associations Layers of logic recede and the elemental logic of the letter surfaces +++ A letter has no beginning and no end You stare for combinations that are pleasing. Letters are atoms and words are molecules, but the letter is the essence of your staring The keyboard is a house of letters +++ Stare your way into a word till the meaning of the word is gone then allow each letter to achieve its visual potential Burn the cohesive bonds between letters – the ones that formulate words – and you are freeing the letter Words make a prison for letters +++ So you’ve stared and liberated the letter – why is that important and where do we go from here Here To discorporate the letter further is to acquire its subatomic level placing it in danger of becoming purely visual +++ Alphabet is organized for communal usage. It is the rosetta stone for drawing, writing and thinking Other alphabets, besides the one in use here, are cumulative history arranged to convey the building blocks of human experience Vispo exists because it encapsulates the area of thought based on the alphabet that requires attention – the letter +++ Vispo is a byproduct of staring. Staring penetrates natural design. Design is a way to make associations between people and nature. Human nature seeks to make sense of larger nature. Vispo distinguishes the tree from the forest Staring transforms. Staring translates. Staring evolves. Staring compounds. Staring disrupts. Staring resolves. Staring removes the bullshit sheen of things +++ A moment to be blank, to be in synch, to be entranced, to be attentive, to be in tune with planetary and atomic realities simultaneously You realize looking is different from staring. You are disengaged from the saccades of looking. You are caught. You are mesmerized. Your sight and your thoughts join. One is not racing before or after the other +++ A sleepers stare awakens eyelids open for half a minute, half the hour what moves in through the eyes and out from the mind are the same, half of a day of peripheral viewing honed into half a week of serious focal points As someone completely dedicated to eliminating logic, to eliminating logic hinged to fabrication +++ Not so much obedient to staring vispo, but to be aware of it and so find myself attending to the presence of the singular letter – its intricacies, its implications to thought Deconstructs alphabet and so alters the message +++ One alphabet for you to stare at. A reproduction of this in other alphabets. Alphabets comprised entirely of vowels. Alphabets comprised entirely of consonants. Combinations attract us. The idea of creating sound of our staring attracts us further. Detach the ribbon round the alphabet. Retrieve the alphabet from the rivers of words around us Concrete is ancient vispo +++ Each state in the union – in the vispo union – is producing vispo – viable examples of vispo. But where’s the staring. But where’s the staring +++ It’s not that unusual to find someone in the midst of doing absolutely nothing +++ July 2nd – 12th 2008 New/ Jersey/York

Posted by: nico vassilakis on February 2, 2009 3:20 PM

All writing is visual. All vocal production is "sound."

Language has no unmediated existence. It exists visually or aurally, or, in the case of Braille and tactile signing, tactilely. (Tactile Sign Language is used by deaf and blind people, such as Helen Keller.)

The convention of our time is to present the past as if it were contiguous with the present, and that language is stable. It is not. Modern editions of Shakespeare pretend that he wrote in our language. He did not. Not only have meanings shifted and disappeared and appeared, but the pronunciation has changed as has the orthography.

I don't object to modern editions of Shakespeare; I rely on the footnotes; I appreciate the emendations of punctuation and occasionally of spelling -- all of these things "normalize" his work and bring it closer to us -- and that's a good thing! But we shouldn't forget that it's not how Shakespeare conceived his stuff, it's something different. It's an adaptation -- almost in the Darwinian sense of that word!

Language always exists in a medium; there is no "pure" language analogous with the "pure" sound that composers such as John Cage have explored or "pure" color or form that painters such as -- I dunno, Pollock? -- have explored.

And Shakespeare comes to mind as a good example. Robert Giroux's book on the Sonnets prints a facsimile of the original (not approved by Shakespeare) edition at the end. And it's a very foreign book to look at, after looking at, for example, the modern Signet edition.

As it happens, Google digitized another reprint of the original edition of the Sonnets. In the context of these thoughts, it's hilarious that Google has printed a digital watermark on every page, "Digitized by Google." Imperious!


I don't mind that most poetry is very bland visually. But just because you pay no attention to fashion when you get dressed in the morning, it doesn't mean that your clothes don't make a fashion statement.

Words are never naked.

Go Vizpo Go!

Posted by: john on February 2, 2009 3:22 PM

I'll add, too - though again this is in my original post - that I enjoyed the visual poems in the November issue. I haven't seen the new ones, but that's because I live in Canada, and haven't received the new issue, and prefer reading it in print form.

Posted by: Jason Guriel on February 2, 2009 3:25 PM

Hi, Jason! I didn't mean "critical" as in... negative, but more as in criticism - recognizing that you were examining the claims Geof made by and for the works presented. Folks should indeed see the original post, which I linked above.

I'm interested in these discusions of limitations and arguments that poems have to be made of language particularly; the next step on that slippery slope, if one slips, is naturally... what kind of language constitutes poetry... and on and on! And so I quite like the spirit of John's comment. Though I'm a rigorist myself, I'm one who wants to see the envelope pushed. Do I contradict myself?

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 3:27 PM

Oh, another thing. Joseph, it doesn't seem fair to pull those phrases out of the context of the pieces. They were never presented as poems on their own. The question is what happens to words made up of printed text and embeded in the pieces as wholes, in context. The images, it goes without saying, allude to poetry: blackbirds... hope the thing with feathers... and much more. I wouldn't underestimate Fitzpatrick when it comes to knowing things about poetry, the kind you read in books!

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 3:35 PM

Sorry, Don - I was thrown by the phrase "rather critical," which sounded like "negative." Still, for the record, my focus was less the poems themselves than Huth's commentary.

And great, after skating around you for several weeks, to finally encounter you on Harriet!

Posted by: Jason Guriel on February 2, 2009 3:37 PM

Good point, Jason and all. I changed it to... "keen-eyed"!

I do think the commentary that went with the poems is really important to them & articulates the claim made for them...

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 3:47 PM

Thanks, Don. I also observed, in my original post, that the commentary was not entirely unsuccessful. It was clear enough. But I was after something else. But again, it's all in the post.

And I didn't know you could revise posts! (So much for my concerns about the un-take-back-able quality of the blog post! I love it!)

Posted by: Jason Guriel on February 2, 2009 3:54 PM

Let me shift focus here by comparing Nick Flynn's recent poem relating to Katrina, which you can read by clicking here - and also Katie Ford's book of poems on Katrina, reviewed, as it happens, here.

Just words alone: can you compare them with the Fitzpatrick?

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 3:58 PM

P.S. As Michael Hofmann says in his manifesto: "All there is is confusion, pretense, contradiction, and instinct. Most of what proposes itself—or is hailed or dismissed—as poetry at any given time probably isn’t."

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 4:41 PM

Dear Harriet,
The boxes on this thread are so wide that my screen (a pretty wide Apple screen) isn't wide enough for the line lengths. I think John's URL might have stretched out the boxes. Hope you can slim yourself down. Looking forward to reading you soon.....

Posted by: Mary Meriam on February 2, 2009 4:51 PM

my question goes unanswered:

how much DOES it cost to print these special inserts,

these glossy color pages

like the ones by Fitzpatrick in the new issue which arrived today with
a "Year in Review" letter from Pres. Barr

which says "this year's economic collapse has afflicted everyone in the poetry community,"

by which he must mean that the recent editorial decision to feature these colorful creations

in the center of every issue is motivated by

financial reasons—is that right? Is President Barr implying it's CHEAPER to print these

perfume ad-like inserts

than it is to print normal-paper pages with real poems printed on them?

So these "vizpoem" inserts are a cost-cutting device?

Why don't you just run inserts of real perfume ads? wouldn't that help your budget?

Posted by: Bill Knott on February 2, 2009 5:04 PM

Fitzpatrick's work excites me.

I see what you mean, Joseph, when you write:

... is not a poem"

I'm willing to agree with this statement, but only so we can push this discussion along. The lines "Oh / Black / Water" probably account for less than two percent of the language in this poem. They are the largest of the words, sure, but there are many more words in this work.

For example, the letter A, in the word "Water" contains what looks like "Heaven" and "Hunts" and "Peaches."

I don't know about you, but heaven hunting peaches sure takes some of the pressure off my worries about damnation.

If we're going to look at this Fitzpatrick work (and the others), then it would be a shame if we limit ourselves to only the largest message.

That would be like driving down the highway, and taking in only the words "LIVE NUDE WOMEN" while your passenger is confessing to murder.

Well, maybe that's extreme. But does it make sense?

That the large words are foregrounded doesn't excuse us from reading all the words, If we're just going to consider the work's language, then we must consider all its language.

Just some thoughts.

Posted by: david krump on February 2, 2009 5:57 PM


Sorry about that URL!

Can you scroll the screen from side to side? It's a bother, but that's how I have to read this thread too.


Thanks for linking to the beautiful poems by Mr. Fitzpatrick. The impact is cumulative and powerful. The visuals provide an emotional climate for the words, but the words carry the impact. The visuals give some of the emotional freight back to the exclamatory "Oh." To that extent, the visuals translate the work of a dramatic actor onto the page. The visuals do a lot else too, and I wish they were bigger so I could make them out better!

I have no objection to anybody saying they're not poems. I experience them as hybrids too -- poems / visual artworks.

Michael Hofmann can have his snootiness. If someone wants to call something a poem, that's fine with me.

Labels shmabels.

Posted by: john on February 2, 2009 6:02 PM

Hi, Bill,

Though it costs a bit more to do those sections, it's a lot less than you seem to think. We've done exactly two of them so far, and didn't bust the bank, I'm happy to say. But I'm sorry to hear that you think these sections are somehow like "perfume ads." They aren't - though that's no knock on magazines that do run ads to defray the expense of publishing their magazines. We don't, at the moment. But come on. Why not just say you don't like visual poems - and why?

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 9:05 PM

I’m afraid you’ve all got the cart before the horse. When I was a student at the School of Visual Arts in NYC back in 1969~71, one of the popular trends among the conceptual artists and the post-Abstract Expressionists was the use of words on canvas. It started with simple things like the word ‘red’ painted red, or blue blue. Then it expanded into lines about sunrise painted in yellow or gold. It got much more complicated from there, evolving into entire poems in many shapes and colors.

Many poets have been painters, and many painters poets.

The point is, you should study your Art History. This idea was around nearly forty years ago and the painters certainly trumped the ‘poets’ in this case.

Posted by: Gary B. Fitzgerald on February 2, 2009 9:50 PM

Indeed, Gary - I only had room in my intro to the portfolio to mention folks like Larry Rivers and Ed Ruscha, but you're right.

Posted by: Don Share on February 2, 2009 9:57 PM

OK, art history.

Wm. Blake. Great artists, but the poems and not the (gorgeous, astounding) visuals drive the illuminated books.

As the text does in, you know, illuminated manuscripts of the medieval era.

Who instigated the "Prose of the Trans-Siberian"? Cendrars or Delaunay? (I don't know, but I'd bet Cendrars.)

Posted by: john on February 3, 2009 12:24 AM

I just want to emphasize that in my original comment I acknowledged the existence of a combined work that contains both words and visual images, in which words are used as images, but because they are words, provide extra "meaning lift". But the distinction between poetry and visual art remains: this third thing is visual art.

As Bill Knott points out, visual art is privileged in the sense that it requires more money and produces more money than poetry. Take, for example, the ekphrastic event I was involved in last year at a Taos gallery. Several poets, several visual artists working from the poets' poems; a luminous experience. But in the end the nicely framed poems vanished from the walls, while the visual art stayed up for sale, most at many hundreds of bucks a pop; a couple of them sold the very night of our reading.

I have no ax to grind about visual artists; most of them starve as well as poets do. But let's not pretend that what they do is even similar. Both the marketplace and Art History say it's not.

And Nicos, you're certainly free to call visual art that incorporates words "vispo" and advocate staring as a transcendental activity, but that only makes my point: staring at a conventionally printed poem accomplishes nothing, because the poem is not visual art. It is a visual representation of sound, the sound of language in motion, and requires hearing rather than staring.

Maybe that's why poets don't get paid to create it. We all chatter on, after all; we all make the noises. Why pay somebody for making noises the rest of us make for free?

Posted by: Joseph Hutchison on February 3, 2009 10:17 AM

a helpful historical overview regarding visual poetry.

VISUAL POETRY: A Brief History of Ancestral Roots and Modern Traditions
by Karl Kempton


Posted by: nico vassilakis on February 3, 2009 7:51 PM

I don't understand why some poets get outraged about what is and isn't "real" poetry. And I've noticed that the people we call "visual artists" don't really care about such distinctions very much. Why are poets so addicted to these distinctions? Why are they often so much more bound & gagged by their own definitions?

To me, the fact that Vispo wanders into & around this murky in-between area is exactly why it's so fascinating. I love those places where the arts cross over, and definitions become blurred. Often, that's where one can find the most opportunity for something really radical to happen. It calls into question what our definitions are, & why we have them, & forces us to react & respond without an arsenal of closely-held overly-familiar interpretive tools. If nothing else, it's fun to wander around in that murky area --- why would some poets have such a kneejerk repulsion to doing that? I just want to say to these poets: RELAX---open your mind and eyes.

p.s. I adore Tony Fitzpatrick's work -- so thanks, Poetry, for calling attention to it.

Posted by: Lynn Behrendt on February 4, 2009 7:49 AM

i want to thank Poetry for having the balls to have a Visual Poetry special -- the comments here augment the sad fact that many readers confine themselves to a narrow notion of poetics as opposed to an expanded one.

point well taken about the fine line between vispo & art proper, it is a fine line indeed -- but the two have altogether differing distinctions: art is art & poetry is poetry.

the Concrete poets predated the conceptual movement & actually contributed to the freeing framework of words being another artistic material, anyway, the Dadaists & Futurists were doing vispo right after the turn of the century -- the "attention to materiality" inherent in the plasticity of written words has a long tradition in the histoical avant-garde, not to mention Eastern cultures who have been practicing a "poëzie fusie" as an integral aspect of how written language can be augmented to include differing operational aspects of the reader's brain. i.e., Egyptian hieroglyphics circa 2700 B.C. , "...certain determinative marks relied upon visual relations to produce linguistic meaning..."

i find it quite amusing that such arguments are still with us, that we cannot simply say that poetics exist in a state of liminality & the supposed boundaries that are set up around it are only feeble attempts to preserve a critical powergrid & angrily tries protect the canonic empire from collapsing the established system of control.

here's a few choice exceprts of Ezra letters to Harriet Monroe, & this is what i find amusing, the slowness of evolutionary outlook & the resistance to any poetic practice that cannot be cuddled away into the corner of criticality.


"...I may be myopic, but during my last tortured visit to America
I found no writer and but one reviewer who had any worthy conception
of poetry..."

"...until someone is honest we get nothing clear. The good work is
obscured, hidden in the bad..."

"...as to getting a number that will please me; I think it is a
possible feat, tho ' I'd probably have to choose the contents myself. When you
do finally adopt my scale of criticism you will, yes, you actually
will find a handful of very select readers who will be quite delighted, and
the aegrum and tiercely accursed groveling vulgus will be too scared by
the array of delightees to utter more than a very faint moan of


"...the unspeakable vulgo will I suppose hear of him after our deaths.
In the meantime they whore after their Bennetts and their Galsworthys
and their unspeakable canaille..."

"...the gods do not care about lines of political geography. If there
are poets in the U.S.???? Anyhow, they oughtn't to be poisoned in infancy
by being fed parochial standards..."

"...I am willing to reconsider my resignation pending a general
improvement of the magazine, and I will not have my name associated with it unless
it does improve..."


"...scholarship is but a hand-maid to the arts. My propaganda for what
some may consider "novelty in excess" is a necessity. There are plenty to
defend the familiar kind of thing..."

"...and there is no use implying that I lack reverence for great
writers. My pantheon is considerable, and I do not admire until I have thought; that is to
say I do not admire until I have tested. One has passing enthusiasms: one finds in time
lasting enthusiasms..."

"...dam 'em..."

"...my gawddd! this is a rotten number of Poetry. It is, honestly,
pretty bad..."

"... yes, the prizes were peculiarly filthy and disgusting, the ₤10 to
H.D. being a sop to the bintelligent.However, I knew it would happen. I know just
what your damn committee wants..."


"...the most hard-edged and intense of the Latin poets should not be
cluttered with wedding-cake cupids and cliches like "dregs of pain",etc.,etc.,
ad. inf. Pink blue baby ribbon..."


"...but i wish I could really get you roused on the meaning of the
American University and the menace of it..."


"...and Poetry has never printed anything that could bring the blush
to the cheek of a deaf nun..."

"...Poetry, with its intense, its almost oppressively respectable
reputation for respectability..."


"...and that you tend to become more and more a tea party, all meres
de famille, only one fallen woman among them (and 'er with the sob of

"...you might as well admit that trying as you may to be catholic, you
miss being any kind of arena for combat; you get a general air of mildness..."

Posted by: troylloyd on February 4, 2009 1:26 PM

What I don't understand is why people assume that the questioning of terms is a "kneejerk" manifestation of "outrage." Yes, I've seen the spluttering reactionary, too, but most of the people questioning or objecting to the terminology--here and elsewhere--seem a great deal more thoughtful than this stereotyped strawman. Most of the outrage seems to come from practitioners of vispo, who seem way more invested in calling what they do poetry than their putative enemies have in removing the label.

Poets deal with words, which is why the misuse of a word might tickle their skeptic bone. How we frame a work of art affects our reception of it, and not always for the better. Calling Fitzpatrick's collage--which looks to me much like other collage works not called poems--a piece of visual art, as Mr. Hutchison suggests, is a far more neutral way of framing it. By calling it a poem, more attention is drawn to the frame than to the art. Which doesn't seem productive to me. I could care less if someone wants to call a work of vispo Poetry. Poetry, in the non-generic sense of the term, is a property inherent in things and is abjectly subjective. But I don't think it's useful to call that same work a poem.

The thing, generically speaking, about a poem is that you can make any number of copies and it's still the original poem. Change the ink, the paper, the font, the typeface, it's still the poem. Copy it out with a Bic on a cocktail napkin, it's still the poem. Take it off paper or a computer screen altogether and speak it, it's still the poem. A poem on paper, I've long thought, is analogous to sheet music, sitting there waiting for someone to interpret it and give it aural shape beyond its two dimensions.

Poetry's reproductions of Fitzpatrick's works, on the other hand, are not Fitzpatrick's works. They're reproductions, and something significant is lost in the transfer. (I assume, never having seen the originals.) They can't be copied by hand, they can't be held faithfully in memory (except by eidetics), they can't be spoken. Even more significance would be lost if you used different materials to reconstruct "Oh Black Water." Sounds like visual art to me.

Colour me outraged...

Posted by: Zachariah Wells on February 4, 2009 3:05 PM

Lo, the hundredletter thunderword tentimes yunder yonder roarrumble echo to echo on cloud to ground and as air under dreamwings, flown of phloem same as same as soundsense via earwitness nevertheless past postpropheticals still breathing heavyhot in this lattermost daily of rapid agings - suchwrit old as 1912 in transrational zaum seeking to cleanse semiotics of common sense (& yet seeking),"We order that the poets’ rights be revered: To enlarge the scope of the poet’s vocabulary with arbitrary and derivative words (Word-novelty)...To stand on the rock of the word "we" amidst the sea of boos and outrage...And if for the time being the filthy stigmas of your "common sense" and "good taste" are still present in our lines, these same lines for the first time already glimmer with the Summer Lightning of the New Coming Beauty of the Self-sufficient (self-centered) Word." ¡Viva Velimir Khlebnikov! ¡Viva Пощёчина общественному вкусу! кроиться миру в черепе ! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа! из черепа!

The cognitive element of processing semiotic/visual hybrids is an inherent advantage to vispo - the immediate stimulation & activation of the brains different centers of perceptual software begin competing for meaningful values, one linguistic & one visuospatial. Once one comes to embrace these complexities (even in something as seemingly simple as 'lighght' ), the rich reward of lookreading provides the thinking mind with much adventure, like a skulltop lightning strike. I pity those who shouldershrug vispo and don't even attempt to 'get it', perhaps the neural interference from the info-processing overloads their circuit to a short & thus for them the vispo becomes completely meaningless - however, this is becoming less of a concern since within our post-info modernity we've already witnessed fairly rapid visuolinguistic evolutions and I suspect these modifications will continue.

Because human lives are not lived in isolation, the conception of human agency also includes collective agency. People work together on shared beliefs about their capabilities and common aspirations to better their shared world. This conceptual extension makes the theory applicable to human adaptation and change in collectivistically-oriented societies as well as individualistically-oriented ones.

Humans possess an extraordinary capacity to symbolize. By drawing on their symbolic capabilities, they can extract meaning from their environment, construct guides for action, solve problems cognitively, support forethoughtful courses of action, gain new knowledge by reflective thought, and communicate with others at any distance in time and space.

Language is considered an embodied system whereby bodily gestures become ritualized and conventionalized into an accepted communication system. Given that our ancestors were tree-dwelling primates, our hands are well adapted to create four-dimensional space-time representations of the four-dimensional world. This ability was especially amenable to exploitation once our hominin forebears became bipedal and gained additional freedom of hand movement. With conventionalization, gestures become simplified and may lose their iconic aspect, but they are readily maintained through cultural transmission.

In this view, speech itself is a gestural system, composed of movements of the lips, velum and larynx, and the blade, body and root of the tongue. This is consistent with the so-called "motor theory of speech perception" developed at the Haskins Laboratories (a private research institute in New Haven, Connecticut) during the 1960s, which holds that the perception of speech is not so much an acoustic phenomenon as the recovery, through sound, of speech gestures. The arbitrary nature of speech sounds is not a fundamental property of language but is rather the consequence of the medium through which the gestures are expressed. The authors aptly quote the linguist Charles Hockett: "When a representation of some four-dimensional hunk of life has to be compressed into the single dimension of speech, most iconicity is necessarily squeezed out." The concentration on speech may have created a myopic view of what language is really all about.

"Language is a skin. I rub my language against the other. It is if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. " -Roland Barthes

It is obvious that we have two eyes but perceive a single picture of our surroundings. Also, people with one eye do not perceive a different picture. When we fixate on a nearby object, the optic axes of the two eyes converge to intersect near the object, and this convergence is greater, the closer the object. These facts led to no contradictions when viewed in the light of early theories of vision, where vision was essentially touch, and naturally the eyes touched the same object, so there was only one impression of a unitary reality.

In the theory of Aguilonius, that points in the retinas were in one-to-one correspondence, and single vision occurred when the two images on the retina were located in corresponding locations. The convergence of the optic axes defined a point, and a line through this point parallel to the line joining the eyes was called the horopter (the "see-image"). Points in a plane containing the horopter and perpendicular to the plane of the eyes were seen singly, other points not. The sense of depth was provided by the convergence of the optic axes.

The stereoscopic ability is not present at birth, since the visual system does not yet register objects at that time. Recent research shows that objects are not recognized before the 7th month of life. After that, the ability may begin to develop, but it may not be perfected for several years. It seems that the visual centers in the brain communicate through the corpus callosum, the thick cord connecting the hemispheres, but information from both eyes goes to the centers in each hemisphere. It would be interesting to know if one or the other connection was the essential one in stereopsis, or that they both play a role.

The importance of vision in humans (and in other primates, as well) can be deduced from the fact that the large space in cerebral cortex is devoted to vision. More than one third of all cortex is included in processing and elaboration of visual information: primary and secondary areas in occipital region, higher visual zones in inferotemporal and parietal lobes, associative centers in frontal lobe and many diffuse regia in non-dominant (mainly right) cerebral hemisphere.

To see and to speak are different in many elements. They are different in the format of information packing and information processing. The visual information is given spatially, analogously and holistically (spatial field topology preserved) and processed parallel and immediately (all at once). Linguistic (verbal) information is temporal, digital and discrete, and it is processed serially and subsequently (sign by sign). Visual information processing is automatic and natural (non-intelligent), whereas the linguistic information processing requires intelligence. Intelligence is necessary for language acquisition. Without intelligence we could not understand the meaning of words and use syntax rules (how to organize the words into the meaningful messages). In addition, language in its both variant, spoken and written, has strong social, cultural and historical dimension. Thanks to its inner structure the language is highly economic, flexible and productive (a few tens of basic phonemes + combinatory rules = infinite number of messages). In this case, vision is less productive and flexible because it is constrained by concrete object distribution. However, vision (or visual description) of any particular object is more economic and more precise than the verbal description of the same object. It is much easier and more accurate to know how an object exactly appears if we simply look at them, rather than using even a highly scrutinized and detailed verbal description.

Vision and language are not completely distinct. They are overlapping so that there are some linguistic elements in vision and visual elements in language. Linguistic, i.e. symbolic elements in vision can be noticed in the following phenomena: visual signs and visual communication (e. g. language of deaf persons, traffic signs etc.), visual intelligence (e. g. many tests of intelligence include visual perception tasks), visual thinking and imagination (e. g. spatial concepts, visualization of objects etc.), symbolism of dreams etc. Sequentionality of vision can be found in two groups of phenomena, eye movements and information processing within the visual system.

Recordings of eye movements show that the image of objects is constructed part by part (fixation point of eyes practically jumps across the surface of object). Modern visual science shows that visual perception of the object has a temporal dimension. The retinal image (retinal image = mosaic of excitation of photoreceptors in eye) is processed holistically and parallel, but it passes through several stages within the visual system (parallel processing + sequentional elaboration) So, during the given period of time, the perceptual image of external objects becomes more and more articulated, precise and rich.

All visual phenomena can be classified in two large groups, visual perception and visual cognition. Visual perception is the detection of present scenes, objects and events. Visual cognition is mental manipulation ("mentipulation") of absent contents. It encompasses the different processes and capabilities. Imagery or visualization, that is, creating mental images or mental representations of absent or unreal objects and events. Visual memory, that is, storing and organizing mental representations and filling the missing details. Visual intelligence, that is, capacity for manipulation of visual contents (mental rotation, labyrinth test, camouflage tests etc). Visual intuition and knowledge, that is, understanding the meaning of pictures, iconic symbols etc. Dreams, that is, symbolic combinations of mental images and creating the unconscious messages.

Ecological approach states that the amodal completion is not a good paradigm for the study of perception. In natural conditions, a perceptual system is not forced to complete anything, but it selects invariants from the rich informational pool. In the standard experiments with 2-D patterns of contours, some extra-perceptual mechanisms are prevailing, such as reading the pictorial depth cues. However, the amodal contours are perceptually strong and relatively stable which indicates that it is not correct to classify them in the category of pictorial or iconic signs.

For Cognitivist approach, the capability for reading the cues (cue = sensory symbol) imply some fundamental intelligence. According to this, amodal completion can be taken as a good example for perceptual hypothesis testing (what is the most likely meaning of ambiguous 2-D sensory data). The pan-logism of this approach is double because it claims that the perception is intrinsically intelligible, and that it is under the strong control of higher cognitive instances (so-called top-down processing). However, this approach fails to explain many cases when the effect of prior experience, knowledge and logic are more than weak.

Connectionists are interested to find out how the visual system works by itself, i. e. irrespectively of memory influences (knowledge reduced), and in the conditions of reduced input complexity. According to this approach, the perceptual system integrates sensory primitives tending to reach the optimal (most economic) solution.However, sometimes is not quite clear which perceptual description is most economic, because in some cases the ambiguous (multistable) primitive patterns can be completed in at least two equally economic ways (e. g. simple and regular outputs).

The Roman poet Virgil observed that "they are able who think they are able."

"It often does more harm than good to force definitions on things we don't
understand. Besides, only in logic and mathematics do definitions ever
capture concepts perfectly. The things we deal with in practical life are
usually too complicated to be represented by neat, compact expressions.
Especially when it comes to understanding minds, we still know so little
that we can't be sure our ideas about psychology are even aimed in the right
directions. In any case, one must not mistake defining things for knowing
what they are."

-- Marvin Minsky, from The Society Of Mind, 1985

Posted by: troylloyd on February 4, 2009 4:04 PM

i ripped out a couple of the fitzpatricks

and rubbed them on my underarms,

but they still stink—

and the pits ain't no sweeter either

Posted by: Bill Knott on February 4, 2009 5:42 PM

are those people above

who are defending the inclusion of "viz" in your mag—

are they SUBSCRIBERS? if they aren't, then they have no right
to comment on the contents of the mag—

I am a subscriber—and the money I sent you was paid for poetry, not art—

if I wanted art, i would have subscribed to ARTNEWS or Art in America etcet—

I didn't subscribe to your mag for art, but for poetry—

the space you've wasted on these mediocre artworks should have been used for poetry,

the poetry I paid for—

I demand a refund.

Posted by: Bill Knott on February 4, 2009 6:27 PM

hey Bill,

the perfume ad comment
you use is a cheap shot,
you've been around long enough
to know that the advertising
industry has swiped technique
from the visual poetry/concrete
practice -- they swiped the
technique because they know
how effective a visuolinguistic
approach stimulates a reader.

you were included in the '73 anthology
"Breakthrough Fictioneers" -- don't you
think that the open approach with that
anthology was a step in the right direction?

it was pubb'd by Something Else Press,
one of visual poetries essential publishers,
Dick Higgins has said:
"It is difficult for me to imagine a serious person attacking any means of communication per se. Our real enemies are the ones who send us to die in pointless wars or to live lives which are reduced to drudgery, not the people who use other means of communication from those which we find most appropriate to the present situation. When these are attacked, a diversion has been established which only serves the interests of our real enemies. "

do you think Higgins' idea of "intermedia"
was offcourse? i think it was what we need,
esp. here & now in post-info webworld.

Artnews & Art in America do not publish
visual poetry, because visual poetry ain't art!

i could designate yr collage of rejection letters
as vispo, even tho they have no poetic content
they indicate the pain of poetry & do so
inna visuolinguistic manner.

i buy Poetry at the newsstand, w/ a cover price
of only $3.75, it's like buying a cuppa coffee.
i bought multiple copies of the Nov. ish to
send to friends overseas & distribute amongst
friends & family azza brief intro to vispo
from a "legitimized" source.

one may pay for poetry,
but one may never own it.

Posted by: troylloyd on February 5, 2009 9:34 AM

Edwin Honig once told me that he decided to become a poet because all it took was a pencil and a piece of paper.

I don't have anything against vizpo or calling other things "poems", by the way. (Honig was also a great doodler.)

Art begins as a blank slate. You must make of it what you will.

I myself will stick with the pencil & paper. Probably.

Posted by: Henry Gould on February 6, 2009 7:52 AM

Friends & Fellow Workers--

this is from a leter to the Spidertangle list-
prompted by one of Nico's responses there to this piece and thred--which only just got a chance to check now--
there is tons of new visual poetry from aournd the world i just put up at my two blogs today
in reply to a Call of mine as well works sent from many visual poets who send all updates and news from their work and that of others--
there are as well a great great many links included in a number of these latesest arrivals
and visual poetry seen in a much large context than the one iin portry, though one understands to be sure space and financial limitations effect these
a long interview with brilliant questions from Jared Schickling will be appearing in the near future in a new online journal--
also a number of recent "Faites divers/fate's divers" at my blogs comment on such things as slow poetry conceptual poetry flarf poetry and "mirrror mirroro n the wall/who is the most avant/of them all"----
happy valentines to all!--dbc

Apologies that this is running behind the discussion--
every time i think i will get someplace something happens--
Thursday was the day the ringleader of the pumpkin people moved out and the lobby was filled with his followers--
many hours passed as they existed in some other zone and the pumpkin efforts to carry things downstairs failed miserably
like watching the Living Dead in Dawn of the Dead going up the escalators and keeling over at the top
and between then and now a friend was shot and died in the hospital--

The Harreitt blog noted by Nico bothered him as it seemed to sepearte "language and art"

i'd say things are far worse than that--
one might join say art and lanaguge

but what about Visual Poetry and life anddeath
and as life and etah matters--
or as materials of Visual Poetry-in themselves living and dying, being Living Deads-
or the Dead Living--or Pumpkin People--

what might one do when al there is to converse with is an ancient rotting charred scarred telephone pole--
no telephone
just a pole

a Hot Line to Nowhere--
Zero Poem Poem Zero--
and in the dust of ages blown abt by the weird winds of potholed streets
why not use a crayon and paper to start rubBEing--
with life and death as they are passing
as one see
's and hears them in passing--
having passed many times oneself the backwards and forwards of living dying the living deads and the deads living--
ghosts of ancestors inside one walking among the foreign murdering language-- languages not from here, but came to this place-killing and erasing away to make room for the settlers and settlements of this "language" and "art" of a separation accomplished with violence
so then--
how to find lost languages except in living them--dying with them--and returning among the living deads and pumpkin heads--
the Living Dead and the Death of a Living Person--what might one make of and with these events and beings as "Visual Poetry--"--

"from the Ground itself the voices and images come--to touch the ground and find touching back-hand to hand--no separation--not even in death--not even in life--hand in hand hand to hand--

is Visual Poetry capable of a kind of "deep personal expression" of a world lived among these--and certainly--what hundreds of examples may not emerge as one thinks on it --memorial tributes of Flowers and fotos--lines of remembered sayings of the departed--or for the Living dead, their dance among dimensions--a slow motion waltz with dementia re orchestrated by pharmacologies of the industrial variety--
might a telephone pole be a totem pole if one remade it so by "the works of one's eyes and hands--imagination--memory--"--

to be as El Spontaneo--that aspiring matador who jumps from the arena's walls into the ring with the bull and steals some moments of danger and hopefully glory before being carted away to leave the final killing to the professionals--

if one vaults enough times into the ring with the Minotaur--might not a labyrinthine Visual Poetry become Visible and within it the threads of Ariadne--a non-alphabetically based Poetry of lines and directions--colors, forms, sounds, noise, musical outbursts, the aromas of women colognes of men and smells of wine and spicy foods--creating "a way out of the nightmare"--

to confront death and life both--the "Moment of Truth"--a blood spattered writing among the hoof incised sands--the footprints of men and the horseshoes of dilapidated and dying horses--

or "an entrance into history--if not myth--"

isn't a Visual Poetry what one might be living in--and as--

The Dead See Scrawls--

i did get to think more in between and al around and under and over and through though re visual poetry critical literature--
I think the examples such as Nico's aren't critical writing in the sense of essays or, basically, thinking re Visual poetry in a way that's interesting to anyone outside a tiny coterie, which often seems to be the problem with such writing--"Visual Poetry" becomes something more obscure and elite and distanced and the provenance of "specialist's" response either to the Visual piece it is elaborating an obfuscation of it as it were--than a writing which is going to make Visual Poetry something interesting nd alive to not simply other specialists but anyone--
unless one believes art isn't for just anyone--
which in itself gives material enough for plenty of essays--

why not have essays on basic questions which are alive and give one much to think on? for example, what are the changes --and non-changes, conform ties, reiterations of already overfamiliar tropes--going on in Visual Poetry with each new generation of technological it is involved with in terms of production, reception, distribution-
what is the shift in the quality of the image when one uses digital, which has "holes" in it, compared to say the non digital image which does not--
what are the changes in the kinds of colors and spaces available? and how does this affect the works--
how does the computer affect the "clean" and dirty" distinctions--does it seem that things get more "clean" al the time?
is cleanliness "next to Godliness"/ is it next to ethnic cleansing?

has the influence of semiotics in Visual Poetry waned?
why do American and Canadian Visual Poetry make very little use of Visual Poetry in terms of politics, political actions, questioning the world around them as it structured in images and words?

why is there a clinging to, in order to appear "avant-garde" the "conventions" of previous and classified, academically recognized "avant-gardes" in order to "justify" Visual Poetry as "really and truly a branch of the arts worthy of academic study and funding"? isn't that what the imitating of Gertrude Stein implies? a hundred year old "guaranteed" "authentically avant-garde" "look" and "language"--

a critical writing doesn't mean "reviews" of one or another kind or "responses in words to the pieces which already have words and images"--

a critical writing to me at any rate means taking hold of some of the thinking that is IN the works and what they may suggest as further questions, thinking--
for examples
and these just the barest tip of the icebergm there are so many that spring to mind-one has to stop if one wants to get on with the day say or get back to work--or--

typefaces, fonts--is one restricted to the standardized in terms of alphabets and their structures as froms?

and if so why?

does the computer digital spacing constrict the sense of movement within a piece? is there a difference between stillness and stiltedness in this form of fixing of the letter within a limited field of movements and spacings?

and what of colors? can one attain a spontaneous mixing, a conglomeration of deluges of accidents out of which emerge things never before seen nor heard?--

it is not to "compare and contrast" or say "this is better than that"--it is to understand what are the choices available in working, rather than saying, well--come on man--who bothers with al the mess of working by hand anymore ?--
so nice so clean so efficient--isn't that one wants--
like the killing of humans by "unmanned drones"--

what are the ranges of what Visual Poets have considered as indeed "letters" and "words"--is one limited to the "legible" and the literary" aspects of words and letters--

isn't color a voice?--a splattering a blotting a blurring a smudging are they not also forms of articulation of sounds and actions, dance--

is the world as we see it turning into what one sees via photogrpahed videoed cinematized and computerized visuality?--

is not a very great deal of what persons "see' in the "signage" of a "street scene seen"--precisely that--what they are trained to see by photos and cameras cinematic and video--of computer enhanced gorgeous stunning digitalized dogs in front of the old fashioned fire station with some quaint old lettering as of Yore?--

is every person becoming a tourist of their own daily life--equipped with those "quaint native markets" whereon might purchase souvenirs of one's own existence as a sign that one "has become certifiably a member of one's own tribe"--

how have the new technologies affected the sense of sight as it is "appearing" in Visual Poems?--

is one seeing "within the field of the page"--
or within a different sense of the horizon , of perspective--

Is Visual Poetry a historical in the sense that it mixes older forms of typographies or images with the contemporary in order to create a "mix"--which--has a meaning in the sense of Visual exploration of time in relation to the forms and changes in these due to the developments of different forms and tecnhonlogies of printing through time?

or is just done as a matter of decoration?

in what ways are Visual Poetries "interested in" the actual existing language of letters in time--that is, how they are affected by weathering, winds, rains, destructions bombings, burnings, censorships, "preferential treatments" and the like--just as letters one finds everyday al around one are--

or is Visual Poetry more guided by a relatively static conception of lettering based on typefaces, standardized and "recognizable" and "clean" lettering--

when one is making or reading/seeing/hearing a Visual Poem--is it imposed upon by a vision ahead of time of what Visual Poetry should conform to? or does one work the other way round in which the Poetry emerges fro the inter-collaborations of the worker ad the materials--as they are working together in an action in time--
a time of immediacy, rather than say a time of "eternal" values imposed on top of the work--

("eternal" can mean the same thing as "recognizably avant-garde" etc--)

Think of the ways in which Visual Poetry is a public language--or a private one--or a fossilized one for the curators to hang up and evaluate the "cultural value of"--

Are Visual Poets more interested In "poetry" of language than of say paniting, drawing, carving, sculpting, spattering, spraying, rubBEing--

What forms of arts might one find influencing various aspects of Visual Poetry? Are Visual Poets at al aware actions in the visual arts, or is it primarily, in the US say, more interested in being "related with language."

And why might this be? The Puritan heritage? An anti-image image?--That is, a "spirituality" without images, without "idolatry"?--Is there a fetishization of the Word, the Book?--

What might be the historical development of this in relation not only to Visual Poetry internationally, but, for instance, in the US?--

Are the "historical accounts or overviews" which are presented of Modern Visual poetry actually "historical" accounts, or instead to some more or less large degrees "narratives constructed for the benefits of the types of Visual Poetry preferred by this or that Authority"?

One might examine the uses of letterings and words, numbers and colors, repetitive forms, the use of al manner of materials "close to hand" of Art Brut as being a source of inspiration for Visual Poetry--

Does Visual Poetry have more of an interest in the written word or alphabet than in the pure sounding of forms which are not anchored to , chained to, letters, words--

What part might sound play and beyond sounds--noise--music--random sounds of passers by, traffic, insects, garbage collectors at dawn--thunder--death rattles--explosions--

In a Visual Poem, what aspects of a "narrative" might one find?--Might one create a movie within a minute, as it "happens al over the page"--a new form of "story telling"--

Might one create an essay with visual Poetry itself--

A Visual Poetry essay re Visual Poetry--

Would a Visual Poet be able to talk about her or his works with just anybody sitting around or walking about? or does one think that it is necessary to have first some "sophistication" in order to really "grok the pieces before one's very eyes--?"

Is there a possibility in Visual Poetry of anything happening such as the "Newspeak" in Orwell's 1984?

In order to be considered "Visual Poetry"--what might be the criteria, the examples, the influences--?

Is Rauschenberg or Basquiat in many works within or not the realms of "Visual Poetry"?

The photographer Clarence John Laughlin, who was primarily an auto-didacte and created for himself a huge and eclectic library --and was inspired greatly when young especially by Baudelaire and the French Symbolists--writes of one of his pieces that he is creating "Visual Poetry."

The French Cinema of the late 1920's into the 1930's--(and after WW2 in the films primarily of Cocteau)--essayed creating form of Cinema Poetique--

In Eisenstein's writings of the same period he makes use of analogies with the "Chinese written character as a medium for poetry-cinema" in the manner a bit of Pound/Fenollosa, an ideogrammatic conception of montage. From the beginnings of photography there are examples incredibly varied of the idea of the "pen of light writing" on the surface of the negative--or, of the camera has it becomes evermore mobile and swifter in the time taken to "take" a picture--of te camera itself becoming called a "pen, a stylus" and its actions within the world a for of writing,of poetry--

In Dziga Vertov's Kino Eye and Man with a Movie Camera --the images are obsessed with the signs and acronyms of the new Soviet world--the agit-props trains--the influence of the Visual Poetry of the Russian Futurists and Constructivists on the creation of new forms of language-environments in order to "bring socialism to the people."

Even Goebbels writes in terms of a crude conception of Visual Poetry in developing his theory of how propaganda imagery moves from slogans plus images to every few word sand ever larger images until one finally needs only a wordless image "that says everything all at once."
(more interruptions so better just send this my apologiesif repetitious-
my point might really be one is always ever at the begining with these things
and a thousand essays easily to begin with wd lead to ver manymore
let alone works -
and --

in the end when suddenly THERE/HERE
one is stil faced with a telphone pole to nowhere--
being what one is --of necessity conversing with
in this place no harriet or spidertangle is much likely to peep--
to be Hidden In Plain Site-Sight-Cite!!
is where on may find visual poetries emerging--

(this is from a previous attempt--)

I started this yesterday, but things here can quickly spiral off into so many strange and different worlds the next thing you know it feels like three years later over night.

With writing re Visual Poetry i think to some extent it depends on who one thinks one is writing for. Years and years now of working outdoors and being asked questions or to explain myself to police or property owners, as well as showing works and talking about them in all kinds of environments, mainly "non-art/non-poetry" ones like jails, drug programs, community centers etc--as well as the nature of my materials and works, is an excellent ever ongoing way to develop some basic points to think of and also leave plenty of space for improvisation as without it God knows one might begin to congeal into a statue as rigid as some of the writings re Visual Poetry can be.

In a way it helped that I didn't have any precedents I knew of to work from, (other than once when little seeing women from the Historical Society making gravestone rubbings to preserve the ancient village's history before the stones were no longer legible--which was coming on soon, too--)
so had to learn as I went along--which means working al the time anywhere and no matter the obstacles or limitations of a situation. It was quite some time of working away stubbornly before anything began to suddenly almost overnight with notice cross the borders and live, have life, and after that, one had to work even harder because this means there is more to learn than one has time left to live.

Some writings re Visual Poetry to me from this point of view emphasize an "impenetrability" or "stereotypically deliberate over intellectualizing of or evasion of presentation." Writing in this manner serves to make more distant from the viewer/reader what might already seem pretty far away to them in the first place. Even among the so called educated and academic persons suddenly jumping aboard the Train of Trends' most likely temporary exploitative interest in "vizpo" (meaning their own clique members dabble in it and can be added to the lists of "vizpoets" and thus make it part of "their" realms)--even among these characters one realizes that the writings re Visual Poetry serve them not, as for the most part, outside of one or two "rubber stamped" persons, they ignore the writings of Visual Poets, preferring their own jargon to further obfuscate and authorize ownership of Occupied territories so to speak.
This is not the case with many of the actual historians of Visual Poetry like Gerald Janecek, Clemente Padin, Philadelpho Menzes and the extensive series re Spanish Visual Poetry which have been featured at Boek861 web site, as they are having a huge new series of both anthologies and issues, volumes devoted to single poets coming out.
Bob Cobbing did an Anthology which is really brilliant, on the Influence of the Machine in English Visual Poetry. For persons who know very little about Visual Poetry, including the great number of the Trendies from the aco-worlds of the last fifteen years or so, the most necessary and the most interesting--and entertaining, too, as they are "stories"--and the most useful information is regarding the historical aspects and the methods, machines, materials which Visual Poetry has made use of in "Modern Times" and further back into the dawns of Cave Art and Petroglyphs --depending on one's ideas and tastes.
For example, since a teenager it has meant alot to know that the Russian Futurists and an artist like Schwitters and many Dadas worked in times and places of material scarcities and political uncertainties, uncertainties, in Russia, even in regard to the alphabet, and that these provided challenges leading to the uses of all kinds of "non-art" materials and hand writing or cheap tabloid typogrpahies, which also indicates that the Visual Poetry is directly linked with is a part of and not apart from the daily life it is in. Just knowing that little bit of information and examples obviously has been with me through al my work, because it demonstrates indeed that "Necessity is the Motherfuckerof Invention."
If you are hoping to light a fire of interest and excitement in the persons passing by who stop and ask questions or threaten to arrest you without a good spiel, this kind of bringing it down to the "raw butt ass naked reality" level definitely helps, because it is work anyone can do, without esoteric knowledge or materials or access to to studios, computers, video or still cameras, etc etc etc.
For example, one looks at a Visual Poem and then reads some piece of writing , as Nico suggest, done in a "obviously 'avant-garde' style" as one knows these from a hundred years of examples, and--it immediately distances the work and places it off in a realm that can make a reader of any kind kind feel oh no, I'll NEVER get this stuff! You gotta have a degree just to understand a few words! It's perhaps impressive to persons "well versed in the tropes of Modernity" because it is known to them, and so creates no surprise that may disturb the placid running streams of the currents of "avantism."
On the other hand, if one begins to make things simple, which they actually really are, simple to begin with, the building blocks so to speak--ideas become real--as they exist in things, and in turn things fired by imagination. Not "material language" but the "materials of language" and a "language of materials"--such as wood grains, dirt smears, oil spills runoffs in dust, spray paints mottled with nail polish and Halloween paints found in dumspetrs, or any kinds of letters and Numbers and froms found on metal, plastic, glass, bricks, rubber tires, cartridge casings, license plates, shoe logos, medicine bottle caps, you name it--buttons, elevator buttons, bathroom fixtures, everywhere one looks there is something one can work with that is a material with language on it or in it and it may be whole prhase, it may be smashed up, it maybe worn down, it may somewhat moss covered or rusted away or obscured by layering's of paint in attempts to obliterate it, yet in al these ways of existing it is there, living through time.
More and more "vizpo" is done via computers and so one assumes the Future lies in that direction. Already one can see what this Future holds in store for the creation of Hells on Earth --Gaza--where no electricity is allowed and people die from hospitals having no power, where there are no Media of any kind letting a peep out of there most of the time as a people vanishes inside a prison, the same method used in Rwanda, when al the power and electric lines were severed just prior to the killings. Inn Milwaukee, last year a third of the students in schools had either no electricity and heat or no heat and electricity. Many schools and libraries had cut backs and limitations of time on the computers still available in the places still standing where they are located. The Virtual world is one of huge gaps between peoples, some of them violently imposed, including by massive bombings of power grids, some of the economically imposed,and some of them when a huge storm just comes along and knocks out power to tens of thousands of persons. The We and the "Disinformation Highway" are not at al "free" as one pays a bill to be riding on them--yes?--Yes.

(this was another essay at "thius"--)

a lot of time when i write or asked to talk about something re visual poetry i figure a lot of people wont know much about it, so one begins from the beginning in a sense to take care of a few basics--
i think in this way i am influenced a lot by working outdoors so much, where i end talking to all sorts of point out some of the historically developed languages within that used by this particular person in this piece at this time that one is writing re--

not as descriptive but as providing a framework which gives language for one not having much of a clue a bit of an inkling of things to work with--

by this i don't mean big weighty IDEAS of the GREAT theoretical sorts etc
but things like this--
how visual poetry historical is always influenced by the appearance of new machines used in creating and printing notations on the page--

the pattern poems that first came into being with the printing press--
and in the 17th--19th centuries introduction of more complex types allowing for uses of the rebus and other visual poetry forms, and more complex methods of spacing words and letterings on the page--

which begin to get ever more rapid developments via newspapers presses being speed ed up and the invention of the typewriter, the telephone the telegraph and so--modern visual poetry with Mallarme, the Italian futurists, the Russian futurists use of handwritten works on craps of "useless" machine made products--Dada use of newspaper --
the rise of typewriter poems--
leading to concrete poetry in good part--

(already lagging well behind Schwitters' who in 1919/20 is saying to treat letters like colors and forms--as objects and colors, sounds, to move around in the compositional arrangements--not having a linguistic association per se e that is immediately codified, but one that is stripped down and dissociated so it reactivates its possibilities--)

(Raoul Hausmann also developed a form of Lettriste poetry at this time, avant la lettre so to speak--)

the copier machine
the mimeo revolution
the xerox machines
the computers
each step of the way technology's a immediate element in the creation of new ways of making visual poetry--

which also means such things as types of paper that can be used are changed and the introduction of cheaper and cheaper industrial paints, inks, etc--

with copier art from bob cobbing comes the visual poetry without use of letters at all--

extensions of what one hears sees touches--of oned's reading and what one is writing--

and perhaps one learns writing first before reading--
which is what i had to do with rubBEings and the sorts of clay impressions paintings i do because there just aren't any precedents hardly to draw on one has to find as one goes along--
so one is learning the writing before learning reading n a sense--

there are so many simple things on may indicate--

with absolutely no need of description-
what i mean are that in the simple practical things are the bases of the thinking of what visual poetry is

Paul Celan wrote that "Poetry no longer imposes itself, it exposes itself."
Sadly it usually is sstill imposed upon

When talking days and night with Bob Cobbing and jw curry and Clemente Padin--often esp with Bob and jw--what we wd talk about is the kinds of paper used or what sorts of amachinesand aallkkinds of little details
the way the pressure changes as the hand's moving a crayon and how wind affects movements of paint and chalk on the surfaces-
all sorts of things

those are the basic building blocks and they help one a great deal --aare ofnbsp; huge uuse inlooking at any jother kinds ofof work--no matter what media is sued--
for example one may feel vvery quicklywhat the eemphasis ofapiece is--a person's drive in the piece--is --is there any sspontaneitythere-aany emotionaliinvolvement it is aallintellectually worked out aaheadof time-
does one have to know what It is perhaps alluding to or playing with in order to understand it

alll these very basic elements are worth far more than even such stuff as the Gertrude Stein sorts ofddescriptionswhich are shall we say already a very old overused methodology which is a kind of stereotype cliche in a particualr sense of "avant-garde"--
where as
what people perhaps not often enough think of is how an artist/poet thinks in terms of the thinking WITH MATERIALS

the materials are alive and one thinks with them--

think of your own work--are you not dependent any given piece on having such and such a tool or machine to use even if it is a penciland ruler--
a partridge in a pear tree-
you see right away these things play a part in the piece's being or not alive

what kinds of letterings did you choose
and why

is there in apiece a sense in the background of the piece or In the artist's mind of something which is being worked through and with in relation to some older language within visual poetry perhaps

some problem from the concrete poetry transferred into another mode
and now being examined in a new light-

even working for so long with just a lumber crayon you'd be amazed how many thousands bits of information one has accumulated & experienced in all manner of ways of using wind using slight drops of rain or working in a snow storm or how the cold effects the way the crayon being so much harder looks and than in summer softer and smudgier or--the dust blown in the winds across the paper as one eworks
aand indoors the way the light is not the same so one does things at a different angle than one might oout of doors
aand working by streetlamps by moon light or in complete darkness to train the hands to see and other ways in which to teach the eyes to feel with touch the grains and roughnesses of things and know if they are "good "for work or not

does one hear sounds or voices or many languages different as one works--or sounds simply of ppassersby and traffic or winds or rains--or someone outside the window fighting or shooting or police coming--
aand then--does one as one feels the hand move feel alive the dance of the forms--does one feels there Isa dance alive in these forms that one might dance this poem--
have, share movements with it in performing it not just sounding It out but moving about in some unscripted way that is suggested in side the poem-

what sort of materials did the artist use--street things machine made computer manipulated geometric tantric
what range of colors or using simply blackand white

and what might this say
without having to ddescribe what might be the difference in choosing color or b and w suggest as one is listening and looking and dancing about with this piece of life here before one
or--does It have any life--
does it iinvite one in as WC Williams says in Spring and All--"to invite one in to read and see"--


Posted by: david chirot on February 7, 2009 7:05 PM


I've decided to allow this conversation to grow (maybe fester) a bit before commenting.

First of all, I am pleased to see poetry continuing its examination of visual poetry--especially glad to see you've found someone I've never heard of. Tony Fitzpatrick's visual poems are quite magnificent, beautiful visually and simple but effective verbally (textually). I can admit, easily, willingly, that Fitzpatrick's words don't work that well on their own, but of course they are not meant to. A visual poem is of a piece: text and image, not two separate (or even separable) pieces. I think these work quite well, and I'm sure they look good in the magazine. I'll pick up a copy of the issue soon so I have the paper to hold onto.

Second, Jason Guriel continues to undermine his argument that he isn't suggesting that visual poems weren't acceptable to him. As he did in his original posting, here he claims that the weakness of my words "suggested some of the potential limitations of visual poetry." A specious argument, for sure. Maybe I am simply incompetent or ignorant, but I can't represent the entirety (and am not claiming to represent the pinnacle) of criticism of visual poetry. It is a specious argument to claim that bad criticism of a form of art means that the art itself might be bad.

I'll say what I always say, "Look." Just look at the pieces, figure out how to read them, and decide if there's some enjoyment there for you. If so, great. If not, fine.

And I'll say what I keep saying, "Visual poetry is not poetry." At least not usually nowadays. Don't worry about terminology. I guarantee that poetry itself will survive whether or not we call these little controversial creations of ours visual poems.

For years, I've been drawing, sometimes only with pen and paper, poems, visual and otherwise. We dream that poetry is an oral art, but it is usually a textual one. And poetry is always the most visual of the written arts, always the one making the most use of how it looks. So live with it. Enjoy or don't. And do not care if people agree with you or not. You just can't win those fights.

Pleased with "Poetry," and wishing you well,

I remain,


Posted by: Geof Huth on February 7, 2009 9:48 PM

Geof, are you sure you want to commit to that phrase "for sure"? The key word in the words of mine you quote is "potential." I find it odd that here, and elsewhere, advocates of visual poetry seem bent on proving that I don't like the stuff, that my praise is backhanded (as if a secret, burning hatred of the stuff renders irrelevant my other, much larger questions). I don't love the stuff, but I find it interesting - and found it interesting before your piece appeared.

I recognize that you're not the spokesperson for an entire poetry, but others seem to suggest it by the enthusiasm of their posts on your behalf. And as you write, "I fear, no matter how sad this is to say, that I might actually be 'contemporary visual poetry’s Clive James, or Michael Hofmann, or Carmine Starnino, or Ange Mlinko,' though I'd have to read what they've done to be sure."

But stop being so self-deprecatory. Your response appeared in Poetry, which positions you - whether you realized you had the job or not - in the role of ambassador. While a selection in a magazine is never going to be fully representative, I assume you picked the pieces you did because you felt very strongly about them, and, given the number of the venue's subscribers, wanted to make the best possible case for visual poetry. I'm sure no one expected you to represent the whole of your art, but surely you felt the obligation to represent the best of it, including its criticism. On one of those counts, you did a good job - in the opinion of this subscriber.

I don't think it's scandalous to wonder if certain works of art have potential limitations based on a critical text - if the critical text appears in as prominent a venue as Poetry, which gets a lot of smart readers, the sort who don't want Visual Poetry 101 or Visual Poetry for Dummies but, rather, great writing that grabs them by the lapels and insists why the stuff for which it advocates is important. But yes, no one text can speak for an art. And I did ask for guidance and resources. And I will enjoy looking through them.

Finally, I wish those who dislike visual poems didn't object to them in a reactionary way that enables their advocates to claim for visual poems the label "controversial creations." Visual poems really are not that controversial, and when addressed in cliched terms, they look like, to borrow my original words, "anachronistic curios," which tend to be more pleasant than shocking. Those still shocked by visual poems ought to invest in a good volume of art history.

Posted by: Jason Guriel on February 8, 2009 9:57 AM

these Po-Viz insert centerfolds have taken up what, 30-40 pages?—

so that's 30-40 pages of print poetry you owe me

and every other subscriber who entered into a good-faith agreement

whereby we pay you money and in return you provide us poems—

this is a contractual question, and nonsubscribers are not a party to
the matter . . .

their testimony in this court of opinion is irrelevant and prejudicial
to the proceedings,

and the fact that you are allowing them to participate is, I think,

an act of bad faith . . .

just because a bunch of freeloaders view your mag online does not
negate your contractual obligation

to us real subscribers, does it?


And in fact I think that you should not allow nonsubscribers to post any comments on this site—

Posted by: Bill Knott on February 8, 2009 12:36 PM

Mr Knott,

i thought you were kidding at first, but maybe youre not

fancy sense of ownership

i dont believe vispo is going away

maybe in a couple months

POETRY might even print some more

regards, n

Posted by: nici vassilakis on February 8, 2009 4:20 PM

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