When invited to participate in a series of reactions to The Last VisPo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008 edited by Craig Hill and Nico Vassilakis last year, I found myself facing many dilemmas about how I myself define the limits of poetry, of visual art and language art. I realized that, for me, to experience visual poetry as poetry still required the element of readability, an ability to see into and through language. So, while everyone else responded to the anthology, I just journalled various notes and reflections to myself about a few of the particular images that struck me as I went through the anthology. To read the series of reactions to the book by other poets, please see The Volta's The Evening Will Come issue 32 from August 2013 (with responses by Rosaire Appel, Kristin Prevallet, Katie Yates, Sharon Mesmer, Deborah Poe, Kate Greenstreet, Amaranth Borsuk, Crystal Curry, Mary Burger, Melanie Noel, Colleen Lookingbill, Janice Lee, Donna Stonecipher and Jessica Smith). As for what follows, these were a few of my thoughts and reactions, in journal form, for whatever dialogue they might invite--or merely to share in a process of reading/looking that this book evoked:
Page 23: Jim Andrews, from "NIO"
(FYI the photos I am responding to are not the one below but of the image contained in the VisPo Anthology. Image below is of the homepage for the online "NIO" project).
Asemic writing meets fractal imaging. The letter(s) break apart, feather and disperse neon-cobalt blue over black backdrop. A second image, below, more black than blue, like a
|http://vispo.com/nio/index.htm to see Andrews' NIO prjct|
Page 24: Oded Ezer, "The Message"
|Oded Ezer, photo by Idan Gil|
Page 34: Satu Kaikkonen, "Paper Flowers"
Sculptural space: typelettered pages on thick-grained paper, cut, formed to petals, to rounding-opening outward from the abyss at its center (apex). Can one read you, dear flower? Your dark yawning maw less pestil than portal, escape hatch--threat of deep space and silence. Cycling out from there, wider and wider, the curves of pages turn. Close-up image enclosing viewers. I perceive "John" but then other, closer thus larger words I see are mirror-image printed backwards, to be--or not--decoded. A snippet of island? sav? us? Fractalesque bouquet sentences, inorganic flora. Species, genres, as of yet unnamed but stretching, reaching, yawning with its wide-open, desperate maw, for name, speech. So much here depends on the photo. The skillful play of pale grey light and deeper shadow, making me think this could almost be the arial view of some massive concrete-language construction. Radial. Layered. Escher-esque cascades of curving stairwells which rise and fall, rotate, swallow and consume vocabularies.
Page 35: Fernando Aguiar, "Calligraphy"
Thin scotch-tape ribbon helix of alphabet delicately bridges fringertip and thumb--from one hand to another, speech-connection. Blue sky universe above this speech-rope suspended bridge of vocables twisting towards and away from language. A whisper. A shout. A series of gestures--is it breezy and windy where the A, O, I, Es turn and catch and thump against L and M and R? Something is rolling off the tongue. Who is speaker? Who listens? Here is linguistic flight, breathed-out, breathed-in lettrism. Asemic poetry evokes the fragility of speech, of connection, of comprehension. Langue on the brink of making and unmaking. Dance. (See Aguiar's blog HERE)
Page 57: Spencer Selby, "Jahbend-3"
Acrylic? Oil? I spot / deciper "gh night / ate pi a tin (?) / out / its in oil / fes / th / sen e/ her / ctc." where a "here" could be "here" or "there", even "where", and "ctc" could be "etc" could be "ate", just as "patio" evokes for me the French "partir". On the canvas-surface, an abstract expressionist-style painting rooted in the primal colors (red, blue and yellow) with white and black balancing out, cutting over or through like water or line. Yellow is mostly applied in dried pigment form, or has been scraped hard as if over rough stone or grit. Did yellow come after, cascading in from the right edge--smears of mustard, of flora? The reds are horizontal dashes with softened edges falling down the rocky surface. Behind both a kind of rugged-rock surface, waves and protrusions of color, shape and shadow have come to absorb the printed language, picking at it, seeping the black ink away. Eroding / erosion of language. A kind of painterly landscape erases language. The image wins, eye over I in creation. This composition succeeds in its evocative-ness. The longer I stare at it, the more I focus on the milky white which spills through the bottom half of the canvas like part of a letterish body looped over or laying languidly across the surface. The words, too, are like
|Jahbend-3, from Spencer Selby's BLOG|
Again, what moves is away from semantic meaning, not yet relegated to a series of independent letters yet not a sentence with grammar and syntax. Not an enigma or puzzle to decode, as all the pieces are simply not provided. The surface asks, instead, for me to look, observe: "in oil / sense"? The "..." to (or not) be filled in by the viewer. As Donato Mancini writes on page 65 of the essay section of the Anthology: "To read as if to observe. To watch the poem move over the surface, skitter, skate, slide, slip away." Here, yes, we have entered "into visual linguism" where "color (is) evocative surface, depth." (65, Donato Mancini) where, as Mancini continues, writing is being reinterpreted or defined by the editors and practitioners of this anthology as "mark-making, the capacity of one substance to affect the surface of another." (66, Mancini). Here, the substances of paint ink, canvas, paper, photo, reproduction, viewer, reader are entirely altered by that of the others. Do we read? Watch? What is the difference between the work here defined as poetry and that defined as painting, for example, that of Jasper Johns? Would Johns have called himself a visual poet? Yes, I bend, Spencer Selby, and marvelling at your fabulous image wonder at the significance of definining and limiting genres and practices of reading/viewing--my own and yours as well.
Overall Book questions:
a closure to my ramblings, or an opener awaiting dialogue...
In the end, as I read the essays and looked at the images enclosed within the covers of The Last Vispo Anthology, I found myself asking myself such questions as: What here, if anything, is to be articulated into sound? Re-pieced into legible/readable word/fragment/sentence/text? Does language, grasped at, become a commodity that cannot be reached, where something to seize on (connection, communication, music of being, linguisticall-evoked image) illudes? Has language become liquid spilling away? What is my own relationship to reading, viewing, sound and image? To making and the "real" the pursuit of the "real"?
Being a visual poet, I also thought, based on the definitions provided by the images collected in this book, evokes new questions for the "writer", questions once relegated to the category of visual artist, such as: what medium do you work in? What sorts of tools do you use to make your compositions? Do you work in oil, acrylic, collage, color or black and white, on paper or canvas or computer imaging programs? Do you use Photoshop, In-Design, a lightroom, or...? Do you have a background in graphic design, sculpture, photography? What is your relationship to the materiality of your work?
To respond perhaps to some of these questions I was left with, I would have liked, as part of this book, small notes by the authors regarding technique and process on or next to the image pages. Such notes could perhaps even include reasons for defining the work as visual poetry. As such, the comments on medium/technique and on definition might marry practices which one finds in poetry anthologies and those far more like what one sees in Art History books or art anthologies. A desire for such intellectual-critical framework to allow me to feel more deeply involved in the dialogue around the making of visual and typographical poetry is not new. (And by intellectual-critical framework I mean more than essays, which I was pleased to see were included in The Last Vispo Anthology and which I did find a strong notable point to this anthology, despite their being set off from the images themselves in essay-sections. Also, most of the essays were not by the included authors/artists). But on the not-newness of this wish for a more inclusive critical-intellectual framework within an anthology of visual poetry, I admit I have desired to see this in other such anthologies. One can take for example two parallel books in French-- the recent collection "Calligrammes & compagnie, etcetera: Des futuristes à nos jours: une exposition de papeier" (éditions Al Dante, 2010: click HERE to order/read more on the book) with a preface by Jean-François Bory and postface by Isabelle Maunet-Salliet. Like The Last Vispo Anthology, this Al Dante collection only included the images and the authors of the images on the
article on this book by Sébastien Hayez HERE and a 1997 interview with the author, Jérôme Peignot HERE). Typoésie does a far better job (though is out of date and focused on a more limited scope of visual poetry than Hill and Vassilakis' book). This book includes small paragraph pre-presentations or parallels for each set of typoetry included, some from the original appearances of the anthologized works. It also includes a group of pages by single authors or visual-art-writing groups as oposed to one sole image like we see in Calligrammes et compagnie and The Last Vispo Anthology. The anthology Typoésie as a whole does not, however, extend beyond typographical explorations into the paint, sculptural, photographic and other mediums explored in The Last Vispo Anthology. As such, I await the next Vispo edition, hoping perhaps for such additions or even addendums at the end to allow reader-viewer-critics like myself to engage more personally with each of the included pieces and their creators as I struggle to come to terms with who I am as a reader-viewer of such work, but also as an author-creator of poetry, perhaps visual, but perhaps not so much in the end.
Pages 98-99 of Typoésie, photo by Sébastien Hayez, used with his permission, I invite you to see his article on this book including a series of photos http://www.designers-books.com/typoesie-jerome-peignot-1993/