Collaboration & Bookish
SPECIAL TOPICS IN
WRITING / ENGL 497:002 / FALL 2006
//////// Visual Poetry \\\\\\\\
look at it
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" --
...These notes continue at the
bottom of this page, after the list of poems to read. Click here to continue reading. Click here
From the reading below,
please print and bring to class:
- Apollinaire: La Petite
Auto, Il Pleu
- Gomringer: Silencio, Wind, O
- de Campos: Example 1
- Finlay: Waverock, Fisherman's Cross, Flags
- Drucker: Example 2
(b/w printing will do, but make a
note of which words are red)
Poems to read on line:
Browse all these images, being sure to include
Marus, "De adoratione..." 1605
Rhodius, "Wings of Eros..." 1516
Battista Palatino Sonetto, "Figurato Part I..." 1566
Lok, "Square Poem in Honor of Elizabeth I..." 1597
3 from Juan Caramuel de Lobkowtiz, "Primus calamus..." 1663
Herbert, "Easter Wings / The Temple" 1633
And again from Ubuweb:
Appollinaire: selections from Calligrammes,
the first modern
Eugen Gomringer: a few
early poems from the inventer
of "concrete poetry." Be sure to look at "Silencio," "Wind,"
"Pingpong", and "o". http://www.ubu.com/historical/gomringer/gomringer.html
Augusto de Campos: a few
concrete poems from a leader
of the Brazilian Noigandres group, who began this work around the same
time as Gomringer. Only later did they meet, and decide they were part
of a single movement. Some of these poems began life printed on paper,
but have been translated into forms made possible by hypertext. 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. Be sure to look at "Waverock"
(you have to scroll down to see it!), "Wave," Fisherman's Cross,"
and "Poster Poem." http://www.ubu.com/historical/finlay/finlay.html
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
Torres: excerpts from Moholy.
Be sure to look at text as well as images. Torres is a Newyorican poet
who makes poems on the page, in performance, and as artifacts.
Mary Ellen Solt:
Introduction to her Concrete Poetry:
A World View,
Indiana UP, 1968.
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 by a
Scottish poet who spoke bothScots and English. http://mason.gmu.edu/~stichy/CVCVicuna.html
F.T. Marinetti: images from and an introduction
to Zang Tumb Tumb. This is part of Maurizio Scudiero's "The Italian
Futurist Book" on The Colophon Page.
Scudiero's essay and the
other book images are optional.
that fit the general definition of visual poetry may still vary quite
a bit from
each other. What they share is an emphasis on the materiality of
language. In Antony Easthope's terms, they keep us focused on the
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
Pattern Poems. This is probably what
most people think of
you say "visual poem" -- a poem whose words form a picture. George
"Easter Wings" is a famous example from the early 17th c., and his models were Roman, from the
4th c. BC.
Many of Apollinaire's
calligrammes (early 20th c.) are also pictorial. Such poems are iconic
in a rather
In an ideogram, or spatialized poem, layout on
page is iconic but not visually literal. It resembles the feel or
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" (1897) was the prototype and 20th century
open-field free verse is one of its familiar descendents. (Ubu archives
translations, which are visually quite different from each other.)
Pictorial. Don't confuse this with
'pattern poems.' A
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-write 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.
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
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
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 typgraphic poetry, as are some
early 20th c. manifestoes.
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...
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 Concretism. 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
fit anyplace else. If we don't succomb 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.
»»» This phrase might also
contemporary visual poetry that draws on multiple conventions and
traditions, though viewing such work in relation to specific
predecessors can be delightfully illuminating. I will bring a few to
class--you can do that too.
Performance of the Poetic Text." Close
Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word. Ed. Charles Bernstein.
New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 131-161
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