FORM OF POETRY
Section 001 / Fall 2004 / Susan Tichy / Tuesday 7:20-10:00
/ Place TBA
THE VISUAL IN THE VERBAL , WEEKS
WEEK 12: VISUAL POETRY
WHAT WE’LL COVER
This week we'll take up where last week's readings leave off: on a page space
that is visually composed. It can be argued that almost every variety of
modern poetry has a visual component, and that "visual poetry" is more a
position on a spectrum than a category of works. The definition we will use
is designed to find a point on that spectrum beyond which we can find an
irreducible difference between this kind of poem and all others. I've adapted
this definition from Johanna Drucker in her essay "Visual Performance of
the Poetic Text" --
- Visual Poetry is poetry that cannot suffer any translation into
alternative visual or typographic form without sacrificing some its meaning
and integrity; and
- In Visual Poetry the 'quality of presence' we get from the work
depends on visual means, such as typefaces, format, spatial distribution
on the page, or the physical form of the book or book object. As Drucker
says: "These visual means perform the work as a poem that can't be translated
into any other form.
Often, a first attempt at a visual poem will be a simple pattern poem. Also
common are poems that are read pretty much as an ordinary poem is read, but
some visual component is also present -- for example, a poem about an argument,
in which the text is presented in two columns. In such a poem, the visual
component adds something to the work, but the poem's meaning does not disappear
if the words are reset in a different typographic form. As you work on your
own visual poems, consider the relative importance of the visual. As a way
to get started, don't be afraid of imitating, translating, or responding
to a poem you see in this week's readings. Try to produce a poem that is
truly dependent on its visual form.
to continue reading these notes...
copy a few more things to supplement what you find below, but most of this
week's reading is on line. I will also bring some books by Drucker, Finlay,
and others to class.
ON LINE READING:
Please print and bring to class:
On Ubuweb: Early Visual
- Gomringer: Silencio
- de Campos: Example 1
- Finlay: Waverock
- Drucker: Example 2 (b/w printing is fine, but make a note of
which words are red)
Browse these images, being sure to include
Marus, "De adoratione..." 1605
Rhodius, "Wings of Eros..." 1516
Battista Palatino Sonetto, "Figurato Part I..." 1566
- Henry Lok,
"Square Poem in Honor of Elizabeth I..." 1597
- Plate 3
from Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz, "Primus calamus..." 1663
Herbert, "Easter Wings / The Temple" 1633
And again from Ubuweb:
Guillaume Apollinaire: selections from Calligrammes, the first modern visual
Eugen Gomringer: a few early poems from the inventor of
"concrete poetry." Be sure to look at "Silencio," "Ping-Pong" and "Wind."
Augusto de Campos: a few concrete poems from a leader of
the Brazilian Noigandres group. Be sure to look at "Eye for Eye," "Poetamenos,"
"Poema Bomba," "Hearthead," Example 1, and Example 2. http://www.ubu.com/historical/decampos_a/decampos_a.html
Ian Hamilton Finlay: concrete poems in several media by
a Scottish poet and conceptual artist of international importance. Be sure
to look at "Waverock" (and be sure to scroll down to see it!), "Wave," Fisherman's
Cross," and "Poster Poem." http://www.ubu.com/historical/finlay/finlay.html
Johanna Drucker: a few pages from A History of The/My Wor(l)d. Granary
Books 1995. Drucker is a leading book artist and scholar of visual poetry.
Edwin Torres: excerpts from Moholy.
Be sure to look at text as well as images. Torres is a bilingual Newyorican
poet who makes poems on the page, in performance, and as artifacts.
Cécilia Vicuña & Edwin Morgan: excerpts
from "Palabrarmás /Wurdwappinschaw." Concrete poems (in Spanish) by
a Chilean poet whose first language is Quechuan, translated into phonetically
transcribed vernacular Scots (not English) by a Scottish poet who speaks
Mary Ellen Solt: Introduction to her Concrete Poetry: A World View, Indiana
fit this general definition may still vary quite a bit from each other. What
they share is an emphasis on the materiality of language. In Easthope's terms,
they keep us focused on the material enunciation, unable to separate it from
"what is said." Indeed, some of these works are at such a distance from the
idea of a speaking voice that even Easthope's terms become metaphoric. Some
kinds of visual poems include:
- Pattern Poems. This is probably what most people think of when
you say "visual poem" -- a poem whose words form a picture. Herbert's "Easter
Wings" is a famous example, and many of Apollinaire's calligrammes are also
pictorial. Such poems are often iconic in a rather literal way.
- Ideograms. In an ideogram, or spatialized poem, layout on the
page is iconic but not visually literal. It resembles the feel or process
of thought -- the thought of the poem -- and makes a nonspecific visual figure.
In other words, it is not a picture of the thing the poem is about, but an
abstract figure for the poem's emotion or idea. Mallarme's "Un Coup de Des"
was the prototype and 20th century open-field free verse is one of its familiar
descendants. »»» It is important to distinguish
such poetry from open-field verse in which typographical distribution
on the page is meant to serve as a kind of score for a reading voice. That
kind of verse can be more fruitfully compared to the ways in which iambic
pentameter becomes iconic of the speaking voice.
- Pictorial. Don't confuse this with 'pattern poems.' A pictorial
poem uses words and letters in a way that observes the spatial conventions
of representational painting: the foreground is at the bottom of the page,
the middle ground above it, and the background at the top. This is quite
different from the left-to-right or top-to-bottom conventions of reading.
In class we'll look at Marinetti's "At night, in her bed..." which represents
a woman reading a letter from her lover, sent from the front lines in World
War I. It cannot be reduced to a visually iconic form, though it is iconic
of the woman's experience reading the letter.
- Typographic. These rely on typography (or, less often, on calligraphy)
and invoke associations with non-literary printed matter such as handbills,
newspapers, posters, crossword puzzles, or (in the case of some Surrealist
works) ransom notes. Thus (to quote Drucker again) "the visual information
of the typographic medium bears evidence of a social and cultural context
which thus interpenetrates the poetic text." It is thus linked visually,
as well as verbally, to larger social and linguistic domains. This runs counter
to lyric poetry's tendency to occupy a fictional space apart from history
and biography. »»» Typographic poems are not iconic: they
do not resemble their subjects. »»» Another key difference
is that a typographic poem is not a score for verbal performance. Visual
information is presented in its own right. »»» Visual images
are sometimes included in a typographic poem. As they proliferate and words
diminish we approach a boundary at which the word "poem" loses its meaning.
(This boundary is approached from other directions by sound poems and by
works in stone, wood, glass, or other materials.)
»»» Pound's BLAST!
is a famous example of typographic poetry, as are some early
20th c. manifestoes. Contemporary works in this mode include Johanna Drucker's
History of The/My Wor(l)d and Word Made Flesh.
- Lettrism. Probably the least known of visual poetry movements,
Lettrism reduces words to letters and other detached signs and uses them
in visual compositions that sever the sign from meaning. I'll bring some
samples to class, but we are interested in it primarily as it helps us define
the next term...
- Concrete Poetry. This term has both general and specific applications.
Its general application is as an imprecise synonym for "visual poetry." Its
specific application is to designate a highly reductive, condensed, and formalist
species of visual poetry that emerged in the mid 20th century almost simultaneously
in Austria (Eugen Gomringer) and Brazil (the Noigandres Group). Where Lettrism
severs the sign from meaning, Concrete poetry seeks to unite sign with meaning
through intense reduction of means. Ideally, the two become isomorphic (one
form), materially irreducible. Drucker says: "Concretism took modern form...to
a search for reductive certainty in which visual enactment was to be the
same a verbal signification.... In Concrete poetry, visual performance is the work."
»»» Differences between the two centers of origin were
significant. Where Gomringer sought a pure and absolute formalism, the Brazilians
were (and still are) more interested in social and political applications
of Concrete expression. Deeply aware of the density and novelty of verbal/visual
artifacts in modern life, their poems often allude or are constructed from
the materials of advertising or political discourse.
- Visually Expressive. This handy category soaks up most of what
can't fit anyplace else. If we don't succumb to the temptation to just dump
everything here, we see that many poems described this way are created by
painters and artists, including Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Maurice
Lemaître, Glenn Ligon, Jim Dine, and Mira Schor. We'll look at a few
of those in class. »»» This phrase might also cover some
contemporary visual poetry that draws on multiple conventions and traditions,
though viewing such work in relation to specific predecessors can also be
delightfully illuminating. I will bring a few to class.