visual poetry

Building upon the work of the concrete poets, the poets associated with Vispo (which, like sound poetry, is perhaps better understood as a set of associated practices than as a movement) have continued to explore the treatment of the letter as visual material throughout the late twentieth century and into the present. Vispo has extended from the granular treatment of letters to non-letters that reference the symbols and practices of writing. It seems a project to extend and complete the project of the Dada. In The Last Vispo Anthology, Nico Vassilakis writes “You are looking at an alphabet after it’s exploded and word/letter cohesion is broken. What you’re looking at is the trajectory of the verbo-visual extending into asemic language compositions” (Vassilakis, 2012, p. 8). Asemic writing moves beyond even the restriction of using letters as individual units, by using “letter-like” writing that is untranslatable because it purposefully conveys no linguistic meaning but instead gestures towards legibility. A number of poets have explored writing different forms of material media. Maria Damon creates visual poetry in cross-stitch. Artists such as Cy Twombly, Max Ernst, and Derek Beaulieu have produced works of asemic writing which reference language as a kind of negative space or variable component, an illegible language which is inscrutable or almost-present, coming into being. In W. Mark Sutherland’s work “Negative Thoughts,” white blobs set against a black background in the upper left side of the page move towards legible letters on the bottom right, suggesting the transition from unformed thought to legible letter (Sutherland, 2010, p. 50). Mikeal AND combines legible letters with invented ideograms. The connections between Vispo and some strands of digital poetry are explicit. There are a number of authors and artists such as Jim Andrews, Ted Warnell, Maria Damon, and Miekal AND, whose work bridges Vispo (reflected in works in print or other media) and digital poetics. Funkhouser notes that by the 1980s, visual poets were already using digital tools, as “digital processes become overtly implemented in static visual poems” (Funkhouser, 2007, p. 86).

(Source: Electronic Literature, Scott Rettberg, Polity, 2019)

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