Prose from Poetry Magazine

Visual Poetry Today

They are not merely poems, but they are certainly poems.

by Geof Huth

"jHegaf" by Geof Huth
The child of both poetry and the visual arts, visual poetry has a double set of interests and its forms are myriad. Some visual poets continue to write traditional poems that require a certain visual context in which to properly mean—a context so important that it serves as a critical component of a unified text. Other visual poets focus entirely on lettershape, drawing out the beauty of these pieces of language either in isolation (sometimes focused on parts of letters) or in swirling clouds of characters.

The original forms of visual poetry—the technopaegnia of classical times and the pattern poetry of the 1500s and beyond—were easier to define. Their hybridization consisted merely of giving conventional poems an essential visual structure. A good example would be George Herbert's "Easter Wings," a masterwork of visual poetry written in the shape of angels' wings. Designed to be printed with its words running sideways down the page, the poem is heavily metrical, rhymes, and takes advantage of varying line lengths to concentrate its verbal message. It is not merely a poem, but it certainly is a poem.

Few visual poems these days function as poems do. Instead, they encompass a wide range of verbo-visual creations that focus on the textual materiality of language. The form includes poems written as mathematical equations, collage poems, xerographic pieces that include no words but concentrate on the meaning that has built up within the shapes of letters, and even asemic writings in invented scripts created to mean through shape rather than word. Visual poetry is written for the eye, but its methods and intentions, even in those works most limited in their verbal content, are always poetic, always compelling the reader forward into the transformative power of language, always entranced by—and entrancing through—the text that is before us.

Visual poetry provides a reading challenge to most readers, because the methods of interpreting information vary widely. Some poems read linearly, just as a traditional poem would. Many others utilize individual words outside of any traditional syntax, requiring the reader to find connections that are suggested only spatially. Most contemporary visual poems fragment words into pieces, forcing the reader to delve ever more deeply into the text to sift meaning out of an often hectic mise-en-page. 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.

We are living through what might be the greatest age of visual poetry, in a time when the methods of production and distribution are such that the form can prosper without the need for extensive capital. A convergence of factors—which include the Internet, print-on-demand publishing, and an increasing interest in the visual and textual—has allowed this hybrid form to flourish across the planet. Visual poetry used to be confined to mimeographed or photocopied magazines that rarely existed in editions greater than one hundred. Today, many venues on the Internet, including poetry e-zines, regularly publish visual poetry, making access effectively free, and distribution essentially infinite.

This portfolio of twelve works provides only a hint to the richness and variety of today's visual poetry. Without a selection much larger than this, it is impossible to represent the constant inventiveness of today's visual poets. The pieces here include works from three different countries. Some of these poets have been working in the form for decades. Others are relative newcomers. These twelve pieces by these thirteen people represent the smallest slice of their work and an even smaller one of the world of visual poetry, but together they provide an instructive glimpse at an entire world of creation.—GH

AUTHORTITLE
mIEKAL aND mi'kmaq book of the dead
K. S. Ernst & Sheila E. Murphy Vortextique
derek beaulieu untitled (for Natalee and Jeremy)
Peter Ciccariello The Disremembered Glossolalist
Bob Dahlquist alwaysendeavor
Jesse Patrick Ferguson Mama
Scott Helmes haiku #62
Joel Lipman from “Origins of Poetry”
gustave morin toon tune
jörg piringer fallen
Philip Gallo untitled
Michael Basinski Labile
Originally Published: November 6, 2008

COMMENTS (23)

On November 3, 2008 at 11:59am Jessica Smith wrote:
A wonderful selection of poets and "hint" at a huge body of work... as Huth says, "without a selection much larger than this, it is impossible to represent the constant inventiveness of today's visual poets. "

For those who would like to see more visual poetry by women, please seek links at the following address:

http://looktouch.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/female-visual-poets/

On November 18, 2008 at 3:47pm Douglas Manson wrote:
It's wonderful to see visual poetry featured in such a widely visible forum. I would like to make one correction to Michael Basinski's biographical statement:

his amazing book _Of Venus 93_ was published for the first time by my press, little scratch pad editions of Buffalo, New York, in the Fall of 2007 (and not by the U.S. government printing house DIANE in 1999). It would also be nice if the print edition of _Poetry_ would also print this correction in their next issue. Thanks!!

On November 20, 2008 at 5:32pm Sheldon Hurst wrote:
I am not interested in having this published. What I am interested in is having an exhibition of visual poetry.

Our college has a visual Arts Gallery, and a collection of art that is exhibited throughout the college.

It would be wonderful to know how I might be able to get and frame work for an exhbition. We could then make it available throughout ... to other colleges interested in showing as well.

Thanks for getting back to me. Sheldon

On November 24, 2008 at 4:17pm Sina Queyras wrote:
Very nice. And the appropriate percentage of Canadians represented too.

On December 6, 2008 at 2:36pm Kevin S. Borgard wrote:
Are there any anthologies of Visual Poetry available? I'd love to see/read more in this genre.

On December 12, 2008 at 5:11pm David Drum wrote:
Like visual poetry?

Check out my website at www.burningbookspress.com

On December 21, 2008 at 12:58pm serkan isin wrote:
You can find very refreshing visual poetry works at www.poetikhars.com and www.poetikhars.com/camera.

best geof

serkan

On January 21, 2009 at 2:06pm Daniel Brenner wrote:
I just gave my uncle - poet Robert Funt - a copy of Concrete Poetry - which is the best anthology of visual poetry I've ever seen. All done on typewriters!

On February 2, 2009 at 7:46pm Cecil Touchon wrote:
I am in here too but at this address:

http://poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=182435

for those interested in an anthology see:

http://www.xexoxial.org/is/anthology_spidertangle

On March 10, 2009 at 4:35pm Yaffa wrote:
Thanks for this wonderful article and great

selection of works. I find myself more and

more attracted to visual poetry.

I think I may try to organize an exhibition!

On April 23, 2009 at 2:19pm visualpoetryfan wrote:
hi there!

this is a great article about visual poetry.
i found an artist in the net, that has a lot of visual and concrete poetry on his site:
http://www.anatol.cc/en/index.htm

On May 2, 2009 at 12:10pm Amanda wrote:
I recently visited poetryetcetera.com this site displays the most amazing visual poetry I have ever seen. It seems as though the visual poet, Deborah Young creates visual poetry similar to work by George Herbert; Easter Wings and The Altar. I can’t wait to experience a visual poetry exhibition by Deborah Young.

On May 31, 2009 at 11:44am Luc Fierens wrote:
nice to see interest & research for visual
poetry. I'm a belgian visual poet active
since 1984 (one of my influences was Paul
De Vree ,Sarenco and mostly poesia
visiva (the italian form of visual poetry)
check my website:
http://www.vansebroeck.be
and check this "poesia visiva"show in
australia:http://www.usyd.edu.au/museu
ms/pdfs_docs/Poesia%20Visiva%20Exhibi
tion%20Catalogue%20-
%20A4%20web%20page.pdf

On July 7, 2009 at 5:05pm Adrian Hill wrote:
Great article. Thank you. One
observation: there is a conspicuous
absence of women included among the
poets listed.

-Adrian

On July 28, 2009 at 12:50pm Vernon McVety Jr. wrote:
By your own interpretation what did Robert Frost mean when he wrote: "Don't stand so far away."

On September 22, 2009 at 2:39am Bernhard Neumueller wrote:
@visualpoetryfan:
thanks for the link to the austrian artist "anatol"! i really love his work, but i have to say, that its much more interesting to people who speak german, as i do :-)

On October 1, 2009 at 7:33am Paul Demuth wrote:
Hi. I respect concrete poetry, and I enjoy quite a lot of it.

However, when I googled 'visual poetry', concrete poetry was not what I had in mind.

I was thinking of the traditional verbal form, consisting purely of visual information, or other sensory information (smell, sound, touch, taste etc).

Song is a fusion of the verbal and music, and concrete poetry, I guess, constitutes a fusion of the verbal and art.

Interesting, but not what I had in mind. Any ideas?

Paul

On October 15, 2009 at 7:24am David Clark wrote:
Re: are there anthologies available?

There was a very good exhibition in
France some years ago with a big
catalogue entitled
'la poesure et la peintrie"
Don't know whether it is still possible to
get hold of the catalogue but it was one
of the best yet.

Check out my website for word
mobiles
and selections from a collaged
newspaper headline poetry book -
Stellations

www.activityzero.com

On March 24, 2010 at 5:37pm PenPenPoems wrote:
i love verbo-visual and shape poetry.
oh i want to support this group
and i happy i found a community like this
that suit my interest.

On December 29, 2010 at 7:23am Armando Macatrao wrote:
I'm sure you'll enjoy looking at the blog called poesiarium

http://www.poesiarium.blogspot.com

Armando Macatrão,
Portugal

On February 18, 2012 at 6:49pm Ganesh wrote:
your site ranks high on yahoo and i must say your consistent writing style deserves your blog to be so high in rankings. i relished your writing style. keep it up.

On October 12, 2012 at 1:48pm Nico Vassilakis wrote:
Here is a new collection for your perusal:

The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008

http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/the-last-vispo-anthology-visual-poetry-1998-2008-pre-order-13.html

On July 21, 2014 at 2:15pm Will Means wrote:
Nice introduction to the work. You might find this artist/poet's visual poetry to be interesting as it manifests into sculpture and installation. www.seldonyuan.com

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MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This prose originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2008

Biography

Geof Huth is a poet and visual poet who writes daily on visual poetry and related matters at dbqp.blogspot.com. His recent books are Out of Character (Paper Kite Press, 2008), Longfellow Memoranda (Otoliths, 2008), and texistence (co-written with mIEKAL aND, from Xexox Sutra Editions, 2008.

Continue reading this biography

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