the vispo challenge
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"?
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...