Archives for category: concrete / visual poetry

hobo magazine #13 features interviews with Michelle Williams, Tom Robbins and some of my visual poetry in a special poetry insert — look for it!

creation of Text festival Commission, April 2011 (photograph by Phil Davenport)

creation of Text festival Commission, April 2011 (photograph by Phil Davenport)

Having returned to Canada from the Text Festival in Bury, UK, I have a few new photographs of the creation of my piece (with Festival Curator Tony Trehy in the background). Courtesy of Phil Davenport, these photographs document the creation of my vinyl-letter and letraset-based visual poem on the glass doors of Bury’s Fusilier Museum.

I have spent the last week in Manchester and Bury preparing for the 3rd bi-annual Text Festival at the Bury Art Gallery. Curator and writer Tony Trehy has pulled out all the stops for what he claims will be the final iteration of the internationally acclaimed festival (barring any potential touring exhibitions currently in negotiation).
The festival includes participants from around the globe, gathered in a variety of exhibition spaces both within the Bury Art Gallery and throughout Bury. I won’t discuss every artwork in the exhibition but there are highlights (including Trehy’s curation) which deserve special comment.

The Festival’s central exhibition opens with a brief arrangement of contemporary Japanese visual poetry from the collection of Josef Lischinger. Lischinger is the world’s premiere collector of Asian visual poetry and is the author of Japanese Visual Poetry II (Ritter Verlag). Viewers access visual poetry through a discussion of the graphic and artistic possibilities of Japanese ideograms that prompts them to approach the exhibition with a consideration of both the physical appearance of language and its semantic content. The exhibition then presents a series of silkscreen prints by Eugen Gomringer which superimpose English vowels over Japanese characters, transitioning the gallery discussion from ideograms into a vocabulary of English characters, superimposition and the possibilities of the graphicism of text.

Wonder Room - Text Festival

The initial salon is the “Wonder Room” which includes an array of international visual poems. The exhibition is unconventionally hung (to say the least) with pieces arranged at both floor and ceiling level and—most controversially—overlapping each other. Meant to overwhelm the viewer with the cacophony of international directions in visual poetics (and give the viewer a crash course for the typographically unorthodox), the room also reveals a major issue in contemporary visual poetry: visual poetry today suffers from a lack of scale and a lack of editorial acumen. Trehy was inundated with digital submissions that did not consider the size of reproduction beyond the size of the computer screen. Poets submitted their work without digitally preparing it for printing and often omitted printing directions, which left the curator with the task of determining the printing threshold as the point at which the artwork became unacceptably pixellated. Too many visual poets are myopic in their output. They compose work on the screen without considering the size or scale of their final product and the work suffers from that lack of foresight. Poets should compose with an eye for both the page and the gallery, for both the reader and the viewer. A central concern in visual poetry is the materiality of language; this aesthetic concern must be coupled with an eye for the materiality of the artwork itself.

Christian Bok - The Xenotext

From the problematic din of the “Wonder Rooms,” the Text Festival presents three salons of work that more successfully investigates the poetic possibilities of the gallery. Christian Bök’s Xenotext Project presents a 7000-piece table-top maquette of the atomic structure of the poem written for implantation in the DNA of the microscopic extremophile Deinococcus radiodurans. The piece is augmented by the DNA poem (and the RNA reply), and is an exceptional example of the possibilities of visual poetry when it challenges the restrictions of the page.

Pavel Buchler - Studio Schwitters

Another highlight of the exhibition is Pavel Büchler’s “Studio Schwitters.” This monumental installation consists of dozens of antiquated military PA megaphones programmed to perform Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonata at their lowest collective volume. The megaphones are swerved from the Orwellian broadcast of state-sponsored directives to transmission of a text-to-speech computerized reproduction of Schwitter’s epic sound poem. Büchler has recently created an installation piece for a gallery in London that uses decommissioned speakers from the world’s largest stadium (the 220,000 seat Strahov Stadium in Prague) to broadcast the sound of a single bumblebee’s flight. Büchler eschews audio fidelity (which is beyond the capabilities of such monstrous antiquated equipment) in favour of a subtle and delicate misappropriation of technology in the service of ephemeral pastoral beauty.

Shezad Dawood’s work was also an under-discussed highlight of the exhibition. Ron Silliman used neon to construct the sentence “Poetry has been Bury, Bury good to me” —which will be on permanent exhibition in the Bury Tram Station—a construction that reflects poorly on his previous work by trading on his avant-garde reputation to submit a terrible pun. Dawood’s neon pieces, on the other hand, are a series of plinths that represent the epithets attached to Allah’s name in the Koran. On display was “The Majestic”  which entwines the eponymous phrase in neon Arabic into the thorned branches of sage bush tumbleweed. The sage bush is native to Texas (not unlike a previous US president), and the epithet is barely readable though the bush’s branched confusion.

Shezad Dawood - The Majestic

While many of those same poets who submitted work digitally without an eye for the scale and dimensions of the gallery walls also sent work in such vast numbers that they overwhelmed the curator and his staff. Trehy categorizes this impulse as “the urge to over-production” but I believe is indicative of visual poets lacking both confidence and a critical vocabulary for their chosen métier. This lack of criticality not only restricts the discourse around visual poetry but also prevents visual poetry from successfully negotiating the transition into gallery exhibitions. Christian Bök on the Harriet blog anticipates the effect the 2011 Text Festival will have on the audience. I am just as curious to see what the effect will be on the poets themselves.

I plan to continue the post with a discussion of the Text Festival’s performances and some of the other events and conversations I had in Manchester and Bury and later in York and Coxwold…

“Clearly we are beginning to get nowhere.”
—John Cage

On April 7, 2011 I sent The Bury Museum and Archives an empty box.

I purchased the box for $3.95 (£2.50) and received skeptical looks from the UPS employees when I requested to send the box—devoid of any content—to Bury.

UPS also instructed me that they would not ship an “empty box” and that they needed the contents of the box to fit within one of their predetermined categories. We agreed to enclose within the box a single sheet of blank A4 paper. With this content—as unwritten as it was—UPS could now categorize the contents of the box as “documents” and could continue to process the application for transportation.

Their consternation was compounded with my request to insure the box and its contents to a value of £25,000; the same amount as the yearly wage of an arts worker in the UK (before the current government’s arts funding cutbacks).

UPS, not unexpectedly, refused to insure the parcel for more than $2,500 (£1,500). They would not guarantee the safety of a box of “nothing” and refused to insure the safety of “artwork” (even an empty box) as it was shipped to the UK. For insurance of the amount I requested would have to seek a rider for an independent insurance provider.

I was then asked to complete a Parcel Shipping Order form that included check-boxes which inquired “Are the contents of the parcel breakable?” (Yes) and “Are the contents of the Parcel replaceable?” (No)

Upon my completion of the form, I was invoiced a shipping cost of $135.90 (£86.23) and the box was assigned a tracking number and a series of bar-codes and QR Codes to expedite the box of nothing as it cleared various processing centres and Canadian and British Customs.

These bar-codes and QR Codes are included in The Bury Museum and Archives’ exhibition The History of Tradestamps.

Tradestamps were the cotton industry’s hand printed labels used to indicate the contents of their shipping bundles in order to appeal to their (often illiterate) purchasers. The tradestamps “often depicted scenes, emblems, animals or figures” and the industry “employed hundreds of designers to create these trade marks as an early form of branding.”

The resultant bar-code is the symbol of nothing. In light of the current administration’s draconian cutbacks and their lack of willingness to insure the growth of social programs and the arts, to quote John Cage, “Nothing more than nothing may be said.”

Geof Huth has just released a limited edition broadside of 2 of my visual poems. “db” (as titled by Huth) is available for US$2 postpaid, most of which cost will be mailing costs (he’s also open to trades). More information on the work, and how to order, can be found here.


Jay Millar’s BOOKTHUG has just published my visual poem Prose of the Trans-Canada:

In 1913 Blaise Cendrars created his monumental Prose of the Trans-Siberian, a milestone in the history of artists books and visual poetry. When the intended edition of 150 copies was laid end-to-end they measured the same length as the height of the symbol of Parisian Modernity, the Eiffel Tower. Prose of the Trans-Canada responds to Cendrars’ legacy in a 16″ x 52″ visual poem. When all 150 copies of this limited edition are placed end-to-end, the resultant length is the same as the symbol of Calgarian Modernity, the Calgary Tower.

“A towering moment in beaulieu’s on-going exploration of letraset as a medium for concrete poetry, Prose of the Trans-Canada, issued as Moments Cafe No. 8, is published in a strictly limited edition of 150 copies printed on matte polypro film and available for order here.”

In a column for Sina Queyras’ Lemon Hound blog I discussed poets and novelists who used previously published texts as palimpsests for new writing. These books—as exemplified by Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow, Jen Bervin’s Nets, Elizabeth Tonnard’s Let us go then, you and I and Janet Holmes’ The ms of m y kin—treat other writers’ texts as the raw material for their own work. Each of those books—and the key texts in this genre, Tom Phillip’s A Humument and Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os—look to “compose the holes” and create a new text from the already present. They suggest that embedded within any text is a myriad of latent texts.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes (London: Visual Editions, 2010) is the latest entry in this sub-genre and has become an Internet sensation. Foer has executed the logical extension of these projects by literally excising unwanted from his source text leaving each page a lattice-work. The book is visually stunning—when I’ve shown my copy to friends it has elicited gasps of surprise (first by its incongruous lack of weight considering its page count, then by the pages themselves)—and the production values are exceptional.

The publisher, London’s Visual Editions, has released only one other title, a beautiful new edition of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and has seemingly spared no expense in the preparation of Tree of Codes.

As radical as Tree of Codes may look on the surface, it belies a traditional sensibility which undermines the project as a whole. Foer has chosen as his source text Bruno Schultz’s short story collection Street of Crocodiles, his “favorite book.” This selection reflects not upon a latent text within Street of Crocodiles, nor upon a potential commentary upon Schultz’s biography or bibliography, but rather simply upon Foer’s own personal aesthetic. Tree of Codes is, then, Foer’s love letter to Schultz’s oeuvre. An excision text like Tree of Codes is based entirely on the quality of the writer’s choices: her ability to choose an initial text and style of writing / creation which is both uncanny and self-contained. In the best examples in this genre the resultant text is dictated by, and comments upon, the source text. There should be some awareness, some commentary, some self-reflection, on the process of moving the source text into the recombinant resultant text. Tree of Codes, sadly, is not an example of (as Craig Dworkin defines Conceptual writing) “a writing in which the idea cannot be separated from the writing itself: in which the instance of writing is inextricably intertwined with the idea of Writing: the material practice of écriture.” Foer has merely mined one straight-forward narrative for yet another straight-forward narrative.

The litmus test for writing is, as Craig Dworkin argues, “no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.” Tree of Codes has claimed this form of excision writing as squarely its own and prevents other writers from undertaking a project with similar execution; sadly it does so without engaging with the content as solidly as it has the form of the novel. The entirety of the first page of text in Tree of Codes reads “The passerby / had their eyes half-closed / . Everyone / wore his / mask . / children greeted each other with masks painted / on their faces; they smiled at each other’s / smiles” [8] and while the excisions and textual absences does create a sense of foreboding and melancholy, they do not meaningfully add to the story itself. Tree of Codes is not explicitly tied to its means of creation; there is no reason that the book was composed in this manner instead of a more traditional means of composition.

No press is proud to announce the publication of SIX PANELS by Gary Barwin.

A beautiful visual poem, this visual poem is presented as 6-panel suite combining typography and anatomy…

Published in an edition of 50 copies (25 of which are for sale), this leaflet sells for $1.50

To order, please contact derek beaulieu.

Avenue Magazine has an article on my work in the January 2011 issue. The article focuses on my Letraset visual poetry, and can be accessed here.

No press is proud to announce the publication of FOR KURT SCHWITTERS by Andrei Molotiu

Two great tastes that taste great together — Molotui’s abstract comic interpretation of Schwitter’s asemic sound poem!

Published in an edition of 50 copies (25 of which are for sale), this leaflet sells for $1.50

To order, please contact derek beaulieu.