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Vispo at the Paris Review Blog

By Harriet Staff

Over at the Paris Review blog Nicole Rudick is thinking about all things vispo (that’s visual poetry). She begins by remarking on the manuscript pages often posted with Paris Review interviews:

I’m struck by the frequency, in Paris Review interviews, with which authors describe writing as being a visual activity. John Edgar Wideman imagines his drafts as “palimpsests.” Don DeLillo finds that “the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality … They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look.” Nicholson Baker admits, “I can fiddle around with something on a screen for days and think I’m getting somewhere, and it won’t be right. Then I’ll print it out and take it to bed, and instantly it’s obvious what’s bad about it, and I’ll cross out, cross out, cross out.” Words become objects, things to be looked at. I’m reminded of Apollinaire’s calligrams, Jackson Mac Low’s grid poems, and Robert Smithson’s Heap of Language (1966), which views words and phrases as “matter and not ideas.”

Rudick then reminds us that, of course, such fixations on the material construction of language is a central preoccupation for poets:

In poetry, such notions have long held sway: micrography, or text that forms an image, dates from ninth-century biblical codices; instances of concrete poetry exist in seventeenth-century religious poetry, and also in the early-twentieth-century works of the anarchist Futurists; asemic writing is a wordless, ideogramic form that Henri Michaux described as “interior gestures” and Roland Barthes called his “contre-écriture” (see, again, Twombly and also Jackson Pollock). Poetry that can’t simply be read or heard must be seen, experienced, enacted; how it is interpreted is the reader’s prerogative. In this way, both writing and reading are performance. In the new Winter issue, Susan Howe says, “I often think of the space of a page as a stage, with words, letters, syllable characters moving across.” In the 1960s, composer Cornelius Cardew wrote a number of indeterminate scores—stunning visual experiments—that cannot be read in any traditional way and that, like these examples of poetry, charge the performer with interpreting abstract forms and shapes that allow for an unlimited set of permutations.

Lest we think visual poetry reached its apogee as a phenomenon in the mid-twentieth century, we have The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998–2008, a sampling of the current, international state of the art.


Surf over
to check out some awesome samples from the Vispo anthology. Featured above is one of our favorite vispo artists gustave morin, with “toon tune,” from the November 2008 issue of Poetry.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.