Showing posts with label vispo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vispo. Show all posts

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kaikkonen feature in Peep Show

Visual poems in Moria

Sound poetry by Kaikkonen & Karri Kokko

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A National Geographics doc
on the Voynich Manuscript

Every bit as cheesy as that sounds

Thursday, May 23, 2013


at Southfirst in Brooklyn

Friday, March 02, 2012

This year’s recipient of the Oscar
for best animated short-subject

Friday, December 31, 2010

Peter Greenaway & David Lang
Writing on Water

Leonardo’s Last Supper
will be up at the Park Ave Armory
in New York until January 6

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The work begins

The first neon sign in America
still glows at night

Broken neon signs

Photos by Phil Davenport

Sunday, August 08, 2010

This may be an ad, but it’s a great one!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From Gökhan Turhan’s
A Bit of Everything

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some thoughts looking back on a busy time –

I got to hear live music twice in one week, a rarity at this point in my life. And the two events really do represent the range of what I like: James Fei playing solo sax at the CUE Art Foundation last Friday, then Joe Ely & Joel Guzman at the World Café in Philly on Sunday. Fei I’ve written about here. His solo performance was every bit as magical as the work of his quartet at the Rotunda in Philly earlier in the month. Again his work was the closest thing I’d seen / heard to a cerebral minimalism applied to free jazz. The combination is exhilarating.

Ely, on the other hand, is the Lubbock-raised country / folk / rockabilly veteran who’s a key part of the legendary Flatlanders (alongside Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock), a recurring member of Los Super Seven, & who’s played over the years with such folk as Bruce Springsteen & The Clash. He & accordion-wizard Guzman performed an hour & 45 minutes of mostly up-tempo pieces that included all of the above influences, a touch of mariachi, the requisite Townes Van Zandt song (“Tecumseh Valley”) & even Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind.”

I came away from New York with a sense that Cynthia Miller’s show at the CUE Art Foundation was the best show I saw in New York. Two other shows that were well worth viewing were Ian Baguskas photographs at Jen Bekman on Spring Street & Paul Chan’s exhibition “The 7 Lights” at the New Museum (that strikethrough is part of the title). I have to sit with my reaction to the New Museum itself – I immediately liked the light inside, and the galleries felt appropriately sized, but I’m not at all sure about the wildly fluctuating “maximum occupancy” limitations from floor to floor. Also the fact that an eight-story building only proves capable of having three active galleries suggests that the whizbang architecture will have a long-term impact compromising curatorial impulses.

One show that I found somewhat disappointing, mostly because it was so Spartan, was the exhibition of Joe Brainard’s “Nancy” works (mostly, I think, from the volume If) at Tibor de Nagy, which was crowded into the gallery’s smaller alcove in order to leave the larger one to Ben Aronson’s lumbering & unwatchable urban ‘scapes. This is one of those cases where the book, which the Nancy show is intended to celebrate, is unquestionably greater than the exhibition. Aronson made me want to go view some Diebenkorn, Thiebaud or David Park.

But the real train wreck was the Whitney & its lingering Biennale, even tho there were works there by people I like such as John Baldessari. Baldessari, who provided the cover for the first edition of my book Tjanting, has many virtues, but when he comes across looking like the master craftsperson in the building, something’s amiss. The theme appears to have been rubble (which would explain why the show includes Spike Lee’s magnificent HBO miniseries on New Orleans), but I felt for the most part like I had been sent to art school hell.

I missed the Poetry Society of America’s 98th annual awards ceremony earlier last week, due almost entirely to my pneumonia (which hangs on as I write) and its impact on my day job, plus my desire to be at the CUE opening. In addition to Aram Saroyan winning the William Carlos Williams Award, with Roberta Beary & Eileen Myles a finalists, the other winners (and judges) include:

Michael S. Harper, The Frost Medal (presumably given by the PSA board of governors)

Ed Roberson, The Shelley Memorial Award (judged by Lyn Hejinian & C.D. Wright)

Joanie Mackowski, The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award (judged by Donald Revell)

Brian Henry, Cecil Hemley Memorial Award (judged by Norma Cole)

Wayne Miller, Lyric Poetry Award (judged by Elizabeth Macklin)

Christina Pugh, Lucille Medwick Memorial Award (judged by Timothy Donnelly); finalist Sally Ball

Natasha Sajé, Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award (judged by Dean Young); finalists Kevin Prufer & James Richardson

Carey Powers, Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Poetry Award (judged by David Roderick); finalists Willa Granger & Philip Sparks

Theresa Sotto, George Bogin Memorial Award (judged by Prageeta Sharma)

Jocelyn Emerson, Robert Winner Memorial Award (judged by Annie Finch); finalists Rachel Conrad & Marsha Pomerantz

Catherine Imbriglio for Parts of the Mass, published by Burning Deck, Norma Farber First Book Award (judged by Thylias Moss); finalist Alena Hairston for The Logan Topographies, published by Persea.

What one notices first, or at least what I notice first, is the diversity. From Annie Finch & Dean Young to myself, C.D Wright, Norma Cole & Prageeta Sharma among the judges – that’s the broadest range I’ve seen for a set of awards. Last year’s judges (Thomas Sayers Ellis, Matthea Harvey, Tony Hoagland, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer, Srikanth Reddy, Eleni Sikelianos, Tracy K. Smith, Rosmarie Waldrop, and Eleanor Wilner) weren’t bad either. Whatever one thinks about awards, or these award winners, the fact that the PSA is making a concerted effort to reach a broader range of what poetry actually is can only be commended.

Which is not to say that it’s perfect. I made a point of recommending a specific work for inclusion in the program for the evening:

What I actually find in the program, which just arrived in the mail, is the following:

a man stands
on his
head one
minute –

then he
down all

My original suggestion stresses what is unique about Saroyan’s volume. The poem actually used stresses the ways in which his writing in the 1960s might be seen as continuous with the lyric tradition. Both aspects, as I noted here, are present in Saroyan’s writing. But, especially given the ongoing ghettoization of vispo, which do you think is the more important message?

One final note: readers of this blog clicked on over 5,000 links on Monday, a first.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I shouldn’t whine. Whenever I complain that the School of Quietude has held something close to a monopoly position on American poetry’s institutional awards, in spite of just being one scene among many – and an insistently derivative & conservative one at that – I have to at least admit that there have been breakthroughs, particularly over the last decade, poets who have won awards (Nate Mackey, say) or been on notable shortlists (Alice Notley, Harryette Mullen), gotten teaching jobs at significant schools from Mills & UC San Diego & Berkeley to Ivy League bastions Penn & Brown. The walls may once have seemed impregnable but now surely they’re coming down. Indeed, that seems to be precisely what has Charlie Simic’s knickers in such a twist.

But I’m looking at all this from a particular perspective, a position that can be historically located along the long arc of generative poetics that stretch from Wordsworth, Blake & Baudelaire to the present. The marginality that characterized Walt Whitman & Emily Dickinson, the first two American poets to completely abandon the Anglophile notions of the School of Q, are completely behind us. We have moved beyond even the tokenism that allowed Pound (with the Bollingen) and Williams (with his posthumous Pulitzer & even an invitation to be what was then called the Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress) to receive accolades while Gertrude Stein was treated like a joke & the Objectivists were permitted to disappear for some 15 years, not to mention the obscurity that greeted the likes, say, of Mina Loy. That sort of neglect is so over. At least from the view on my particular mountaintop.

Consider then this same literary history from the vantage of visual poetry. From that perspective, it still must feel like 1940. There are major practitioners, a significant and growing critical discourse & the institutions of poetry have thus far paid almost zero attention. No volume of vispo has ever made a major prize shortlist. No visual poets sit as chancellors at the Academy of American Poets, as do Mackey, Lyn Hejinian & Gary Snyder. Are Crag Hill & Mary Ellen Solt the only visual poets ever to get hired by a university based on their writing? Is the closest thing to vispo on the Poetry Foundation website George Starbuck’s “Sonnet in the Shape of a Potted Christmas Tree,” part of that organization’s pantheon of works in printable PDF files explicitly designed “for the fridge”? The record of neglect here is so much deeper than anything even the Objectivists had to contend with that it’s worth noting.

I’m sure that from some neophobe perspective, the deeper question might be what makes vispo poetry? As if one pass through the works of William Blake doesn’t silence that dubious line of argument forever. When I gave my talk on recognizability at the University of Windsor the other night, among the images I actually employed were works by Ed Ruscha and Jenny Holzer, noting that both of these text workers adamantly self-identify not as writers but as visual artists, a context distinction that has profound financial implications. Is a visual poet really just an artist who has taken a vow of poverty? This reminds me of the crack Charles Bernstein likes to make about a poem being a unique phenomenon that, when it is printed on a piece of paper, lowers the economic value of that otherwise blank page.

I’ve been looking for the past two weeks at the breath-taking work of Peter Ciccariello in his book Uncommon Vision, which I heartily & unreservedly recommend to anyone who has even the slightest doubt as to the potential value of vispo. The image at the top of this note, Language as Authority, actually doesn’t appear in the book itself, but it’s representative of Ciccariello’s best work and what you will find in those pages. Uncommon Vision divides Ciccariello’s work into two groups, images that don’t incorporate texts and those that do, the latter section (appropriately designated “Word”) headed off with a one-page appreciation by Geof Huth, tracing writing back to the very idea of drawing letters¹ and talking about the experience of confronting these as texts without actually discussing in any great detail how Ciccariello does all this & only starting to suggest its implications for the process we think of as reading.

The Digital ImageMaker, where Ciccariello won a photography contest for one of the non-text works, Bird in a Basket, that does appear in Uncommon Vision², describes Language as Authority as

a digital collage containing a number of photographs and fragments of text all merged with an underlying structure of geometric forms texture mapped with additional photographs and rendered in Bryce. Postwork is done in Photoshop and Painter.

Don’t you just know this is how Charlie Simic characterizes his writing process also? Not likely. But then again, me neither. I’m still drawing words in notebooks, but they don’t especially look any different once I type them up from other text-ridden (or written) poetry.

What you read when you read a visual poem differs markedly from poet to poet, poem to poem, just as with any other genre of verse. What you’re not going to get, here or most other places (George Starbuck & the shaped poems of John Hollander excepted perhaps), is persona or the old, cold verse form conformities of an earlier century. In fact Ciccariello’s work is not that far from the scrawl texts of Robert Grenier where the task of the reader is ultimately to fathom out what it says. Where Grenier gives you nothing but the hand of the poet, using marker or even crayon, Ciccariello offers landscapes that recall the works of Dali or sci-fi book jackets across which texts are stretched & folded much as they are on the figure above. Letters are discernable, words less so, themes – well, themes are really a balance between what the landscape itself tells us and what few words come across, or even what font. There are, for example, multiple layers to the text above with its image of a ghost warrior & giant lower-case g foregrounded as it is. Both Language as Authority and the landscapes of Uncommon Vision remind me of passages of Claude Levi-Strauss’ great Tristes Tropique where Levi-Strauss compares reading to the visual inspection of a field, whether that of a contemporary geologist’s or a pre-modern hunter. Where does reading begin works like this beg of us. How do we even think to make sense of the visual field? Grenier and Ciccariello have very different responses to this – I can’t imagine Grenier engaging the concept of depth perception as part of his project, while it feels close to central to Cicciarello’s – I’m tempted to say that his work is all about seeing depth on a two-dimensional plane, tho I know that’s an overstatement. And where Grenier deploys fairly rudimentary colors to distinguish word from overlapping word (thus this reads “I saw it where is it”), the real process of Greier’s poem the coming to recognition of the word, Cicciarello is far more about effects that are at the edge of language, one of which is his obsession with the color brown (it can’t just be that he lives in Providence, home to a university by that name), which is “off the charts” on the old color wheel & which brings forth a whole terrain’s worth of connotation – in most of his works, the text is lighter than its background. What changes when you read it like that? Is that, or is that not, a mode of meaning? And which meaning is that?

If Grenier then offers us a poetry of coming into language, of recognition, Cicciarello seems far more a poet going in the other direction, concerned instead with the moment things pass into unintelligibility, the instant of rupture. Several of the texts in Uncommon Vision speak to this in their titles as well: Our own vestigial language shuddering toward obscurity or Proposed monument to the language of rupture.

All of which is to note that I’m persuaded, completely, by this work. Ciccariello would seem to me to be a perfectly reasonable candidate for any major book award you might think of, and would certainly be far less of an embarrassment as PLOTUS than that position’s current appointee. So, let me ask you again, why the total exclusion of visual poetry?


¹ Anyone who has ever tried to make their way through my own pathetic penmanship will recognize that drawing letters is exactly what I do and no amount of Palmer method script training ever has been able to break me of this primal habit.

² Bird in a Basket also won first prize in the Donnie 2007 Award of the Museum of Computer Art.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ian Hamilton Finlay

1925 – 2006

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Bob Perelman was thumbing through my copy of Ed Ruscha’s They Call Her Styrene (Phaidon, 2000) the other evening, which raises the question of intermedia from another angle. Ruscha, if you don’t know his work, is a painter and photographer associated with the 1960s Los Angeles scene that proved to be an intersection between Pop, Funk and Conceptual art. His work takes different forms, but Styrene is representative of the works that have most attracted me: prints, drawings and watercolors involving anything from a single word to short phrases, often against backgrounds that are close to monochromatic but which may suggest a picturesque element. Styrene collects some 600 of these works into a single, affordable volume – I’ve seen individual paintings priced as high as $45,000. My question is this: fine as they are as visual works of art, are Ed Ruscha’s text pieces also writing?

Ruscha himself has a cryptic, but intriguing comment right at the end of the book: “Sometimes found words are the most pure because they have nothing to do with you. I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.” End of comment.

So far as I know, Ruscha has not undertaken to publish these works as writing, nor in the context of writing. As visual art, these works inhabit that territory that utilizes language for its own purposes. Its closest kin in that vein may be the signage of Jenny Holzer, the paintings of Lawrence Weiner, or the poster paintings of Barbara Krueger, but the more densely textual pseudo-philosophical musings of Joseph Kosuth and Art Language aren’t entirely unrelated either. Ruscha’s prints and paintings make use of color and the illusions of depth and texture in ways that Holzer’s do not and his works often lack the overt political commentary one finds in her work and in that of Krueger’s. At its most plain, a Ruscha work might consist of white sans serif letters centered against a black background:






While Holzer has executed some pieces etched into benches, a form that has to recall the (literally) concrete poems of Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ruscha’s droll texts strike me in many ways being better writing. If, that is, they are writing at all. The last text above, for example, makes great use of the recurrence of the a, r and m sounds (not to mention the echo of the w one hears in the two instances of the u), an attention to the smallest of details that might be more apt to associate with the poetry of Robert Grenier. Microwriting such as this can invoke every pleasure one expects from the best of poetry. The first two pieces above aren’t bad either – both use the same strategy of invoking a single term that is “out of context” in its phrase (screws and musical), which functions to set the language around it into a kind of relief, classic demonstrations of what the Russian formalists called ostrananie, Brecht “the alienation effect,” and which Pound characterized as “making it new.”

In addition to reminding me at moments of Grenier, some of the more visually complex of Ruscha’s pieces, where richly textured “3D” words float in idealized pastel skies, remind me of how Hannah Weiner used to describe her visual hallucinations, words that would appear on people’s foreheads that to her seemed to be composed in “dog fur” or similar materials. Weiner used these messages to create her “clairvoyant” works, although that aspect of such found language is not carried through her writing – the closest she gets is to occasionally “erase” some lines of certain letters.

All of which makes Ed Ruscha’s texts function as an intriguing test of the boundaries of writing – how can a lone word such as “fud,” written in what looks like white ribbon on an intense red surface (onto which the letters cast shadows) function as a poem? It can / It can’t / It can / It can’t – like a Necker cube or other optical illusions, the text strobes in and out of the realm of literature (though it always remains within the realm of the visual). It may be that this flicker effect is precisely Ed Ruscha’s contribution to writing.

Some of Ruscha’s word works can be sampled on the web at the following sites:
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Golden Words
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>The Mountain
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>News, Brews, Mews, Stews, Pews and Dues
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Street Meets Avenue
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Now
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Mud
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Selected Works
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Miracle
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Angel
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Evil
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Waves of Advancing Technology