I haven't been linking much here to Silliman's blog, because regular readers of this site likely know about it already and because if I tried to respond to every substantial post there I certainly wouldn't be able to blog anything else. But today's visual poetry challenge poses especially worthwhile conundrums-- and no, I don't think it should be conundra-- for our readers. Click the link, then click back and go below the fold.


Silliman, a partisan of the avant-garde in most of its manifestations, argues (correctly) that while poets working in the Stein-Williams-Pound traditions now get more academic and popular recognition than they got 15 or 25 years ago, and in some cases much more more, what he calls "visual poetry"-- word-and-image works which depend on the medium and the appearance of the words on a page (in ways I suppose, which go beyond unusual layout, such as cummings' or Hillman's)-- still gets no respect (and, he adds, deserves a lot of it).
It seems wrong to treat Blake as an example, since (a) the visual elements of his work now get plenty of respect (the standard teaching edition is called Blake's Poetry and Designs) and (b) most of his poems, if not all of them, work as poems even when you read them outside the contexts of the books he also designed. To call his works visual poetry, rather than poems located inside works of printing and visual art (which comment on those poems), is like saying that the songs on Sergeant Pepper's don't work unless you listen to the whole LP and look at the cover art while doing so (or, if you prefer another kind of music, it's like saying that you can't perform Wagner's operas, or excerpts therefrom, except at Bayreuth).
But it seems right to ask what this vispo thing is. Which examples work best on the web? To what relation do its practitioners stand to the practitioners of other sorts of poetry, in print or in oral form? Does it have one progenitor or founding point, according to its self-conscious practitioners? Does it make any more, or any less sense, to use the term "visual poetry" for something made as much of images as of words as to use the more familiar term "telenovela"?

Originally Published: November 10th, 2007

Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice...

  1. November 10, 2007
     Tricia

    Relatedly, I've often wondered why there are so relatively few vispo blogs out there. Art blogs flourish, comics blogs flourish, and poetry blogs certainly flourish, so where is all the vispo? Then again, perhaps my yellow-belt google-fu is to blame--if there are tons of fantastic vispo blogs floating around that have escaped my attention, please post links!

  2. November 11, 2007
     shanna

    tricia, definitely check out geof huth's blog here if you haven't!

  3. November 11, 2007
     Tricia

    Thanks, Shanna! In the course of my searching I also found kickknees, which features a chubby vispo blogroll.

  4. November 14, 2007
     david baptiste chirot

    There are a great many visual poetry blogs in several languages and a great many web sites. I have a blog which presents a wide variety of works and also have a Mail Art/Visual Poetry exhibition running at it, and starting a new one this week--if you look at the links i have you'll find lot of great blogs and web sites both--which in turn have further linkes from all over the world.
    http://davidbaptistechirot.blogspot.com

  5. November 15, 2007
     Don Share

    Folks interested in vispo might also check out the Sackner Archives.

  6. November 15, 2007
     Don Share

    Oh, and of course: vispo.com.

  7. November 22, 2007
     Bob Grumman

    Meant to comment before this to second what David Chirot said and note that I discuss visual poetry often at http://comprepoetica.com/newblog/Index.html. Also at my blog are two galleries devoted to specimens of my own mathematical poetry, a kind of poetry which is to visual poetry so far as recognition goes as visual poetry is to language poetry, and language poetry to mainstream poetry.
    I'm not sure what to say about Silliman's take on visual poetry. I don't think he knows much about it. Blake is certainly not a visual poet, but an illustrator of conventional poems. Nice to have Silliman sort of on my side, though.
    I would add that Stephen Burt is wrong to characterize Cummings's visiopoetic work as limited to "unusual layout". (And, yes, it is "Cummings," not "cummings," the Madison Avenue misspelling.)
    As for what visual poetry is, that's a contentious question. I say it's poetry whose verbal and visual elements are approximately of equal aesthetic value. To make a sound bite of it. Who knows what visual poems work best on the web, or anywhere, But Writing To Be Seen, an anthology of visio-textual art I and Crag Hill edited, has many good specimens of them. Most visual poets would agree with me that visual poetry derives from Mallarme and Apollinaire through Cummings, but many do not, wanting to find a more ancient, non-Western lineage for it. Certainly, modern visual poetry derives from Mallarme and Apollinaire. I claim that haiku is also an important ancestor, via minimalist poetry, of contemporary visual poetry.
    I tend to think the relation of most current visual poets to the practitioners of other sorts of poetry is small (with the exception of language poetry, which is also innovative and sometimes has visual elements), but some--I, for one--have deep roots in the Western poetry tradition. But most visual poets also compose conventional poems. "Does it make any more, or any less sense, to use the term "visual poetry" for something made as much of images as of words as to use the more familiar term 'telenovela'?" Yikes, the term, "visual poetry" has been around for decades and is much more familiar to me than "telenovela," which I never heard of before. Surely, it must have to do with prose fiction? It certainly doesn't sound like it has any more to do with visual poetry than the term, "novel," has to do with what I call "solitextual" (for solely textual) poetry.
    --Bob Grumman

  8. November 25, 2007
     karl kempton

    the inernaitonal visual poetry KALDRON on-line site open snce 1996
    http://www.thing.net/~grist/l&d/kaldron.htm

  9. April 27, 2008
     C Mehrl Bennett

    www.flickr.com/photos/cmehrlbennett
    for my own visual poetry, visual poetry collaborations, and a set of kimonos (collaborations); many of which I made for/with visual poets I'm familiar with.
    My recent book of visual poetry is available at
    www.lulu.com/lunabisonteprods