Interview with Geof Huth by Crag Hill and Ron Silliman
Geof Huth, “ojojo” (2001)
Ron & Crag: Some would argue your work leans more to the concrete side of the concrete poetry-visual poetry continuum, that your work draws more from the seminal Emmett Williams’ Anthology of Concrete Poetry than the visual poetry being produced by Michael Basinski, mIEKAL aND, Andrew Topel & John M. Bennett, Susan Bee & Charles Bernstein, and others whose poems include drawings, collage, photography and other visual, extra-textual elements. How would you respond to this? Where do you place your poetry on the concrete poetry-visual poetry continuum?
Geof: This is a more complicated question for me than you might imagine, so it will take me a while to answer it adequately.
I can’t place an individual visual poem at a particular point upon a single continuum. A visual poem requires evaluation from a number of perspectives at once. If I were to design a structure to quantify the defining characteristics of a visual poem, it would be similar to a mixing board and include at least three input channels working in concert with and in opposition to each other.
The left-hand bar would measure the visual aspect of the poem: the top of this bar would indicate a fully visual poem, and the bottom would designate a barely visual poem. At the top end, we might have a poem by mIEKAL aND wherein an image (a photograph or a drawing, say) dominates the mise en page; there will certainly be textual content, but it is fully encased in an image. Poems at the low end might include very simple concrete poems that depend on a single visual effect, such as the hollow block of text that makes up Eugen Gomringer’s “silencio.”
On the right-hand bar, we would measure the verbal content of the poem, which would move from the fully verbal to the barely textual. At the top end, we would have work like George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” which consists of perfectly syntactic lines of traditional poetic language. At the bottom end, we would have works like the later copy art poems of Bob Cobbing in which textual content is so diminished that the poems don’t even suggest a word and might include only a portion of an individual letter, itself almost totally obscured.
The middle bar would measure the degree of integration of the visual and the verbal. A knob resting at the top of this line would indicate perfect integration; in such a case, there would be no way to separate the visual from the verbal: the text of the poem would also be the visual element of the poem. Counterintuitively enough, I believe that the simplest concrete poems are always fully integrated because their verbal elements are also their only visual elements. Visual poems that use the structure of comics (panels, tiers, captions, word balloons, etc.) generally isolate the visual from the verbal. We see a similar pattern of separation in poems that emulate ancient emblem poems, presenting a superior image upon a spatially inferior text. Each part of the poem interacts with the other, yet each remains in its distinct region of the page.
The poets you mention in your question require us to slide the knobs of the mixing board into different configurations. Basinski usually creates fully visual, fully verbal works that are totally integrated. The current work of aND and Topel tends to be fully integrated and visual but only minimally textual. Bennett’s work is always fully textual (though intentionally difficult to read), but the visual element varies over the continuum as does the integration of the two aspects. The work of Bee and Bernstein—taking, for instance, their joint Log Rhythms—includes unmistakable visual elements, but the works are so insistently verbal, and the visual and verbal elements so unintegrated (to my eye), that some people would consider these illustrated poems rather than visual poems. Bernstein’s solo work in the verbo-visual arena tends to continue the verbal preeminence seen in his collaborative work with Bee, but it is also more fully integrated—even as (or, probably, because) it generally eschews the inclusion of separable images.
So where does my work fall within the sliding knobs of this mixing board? I hope everywhere; I hope in as many combinations as possible. I have certainly never abandoned the practice of concrete poetry, which is a less intensely visual form of visual poetry. But most of my current work is not at all concrete in structure. The majority of my output these days is fidgetglyphs, small handwrought visual poems that often include my own drawings (as in “mouse”). I enjoy the visual aspect of text itself, so I create typographic poems where the text is the only visual element but is insistently so (as in textured, full-color, and textually manipulated poems like “The Drunken e” or “o’face”). Many of my poems, especially my calligraphic poems, are essentially averbal though fully textual, including “The Roots of Yggdrasil within the River Styx.” Sometimes, I do include images in my poems: in collage poems (“not Bronx”), poster poems (my anti-war poem, “My death is just”), or haiga (“a pebble drops”). Many of my poems are physical entities, like my geospatial poems (the snowglyph “fis sure” and the sandglyph “Wreed”) or my semiobject collections (like the woords, in which the text decorates pieces of bark and the whole collection appears within a Petri dish).
My visual poetry is often—though not always—more verbal than concrete poetry (incorporating syntax into the poems) and more dynamically visual (depending on modulated color, free-form shape, etc.). In my work as a whole, though, the verbal predominates over the visual and my usual methodology is minimalist. These last two are features of classic concrete poetry and good reasons why people recognize the influence of concrete poetry in my work. My only concern with the concrete character of some of my visual poetry is that this may cause people to see my work as retrograde and unaffected by methods and trends in visual poetry since the 1970s. I consciously try to counter this view by mining the entire history of visual poetry for inspiration, but even I see my visual poetry as less insistently visual and more verbal than most work produced today.
Ron/Crag: How would you describe the process of creating a work of visual poetry—for example, “NZXT,” the JPEG file I [Ron] reposted to my own weblog awhile back. That work, as I read it, consists of four overlapping capital letters that appear to occur in sequence, so that N is on the top, T on the bottom. At what level is this piece—which is visually powerful & objectively beautiful—not just a riff on the word next? How does the letter Z function here for you? What is the role of capitalization, or color? Would you expect this poem to be substantially different—say, carry a different meaning—for a reader who was severely color-blind? What about somebody who did not/does not read English?
Geof: I create visual poems exactly as I create textual poems: by sketching. I begin with some germ of a wisp of an idea. With a textual poem, I usually start with a single word. That word then controls my imagination and I follow its tail until I’ve created a long enough string of words to justify the excursion. But I might begin a poem with a short sequence of words, or a certain set of sounds, or a slip of an idea. With a visual poem, I usually start with a letter. Given the millions of unique contexts in which we find individual letters, these letters have taken on meanings separate from the words they inhabit. Their shapes hold sway over our minds. My concept of Qage is important here. I am drawn to the unique beauty of certain letters—or, more precisely, certain letters made in certain ways. Consider the allographic variety of the capital Q; it is no accident that that is the first letter of the word “Qage.”
So I sketch out every visual poem I write, usually with no clear idea where I’m going. Sometimes, I literally sketch: I take up a pen and draw words and letters until I find something I don’t want to toss away. Often, I work with virtual letters, moving them into arrangements on the computer screen. I work by sight. My goal is to please my eye, to satisfy my desire for visual stimulation. This is how I created “NZXT.” I probably began with the Z, which is a Qageful letter; then I probably pushed the N over it to set its diagonal in opposition to that of the Z. At some point, a word suggested itself, and I wrote the poem for that word, fiddling with the colors, changing the placement of the letters, and stacking the letters in just the right order. “NTZX,” for instance, doesn’t suggest much.
Geof Huth, “NZXT” (2003)
To my mind, the poem isn’t so much an examination of the word “next” as an examination of nextness. The poem merely refers to itself. The poem begins with a dark N and recedes—counterintuitively enough—into slightly brighter colors. The changing palette itself insinuates movement through a series of steps, and the anabasis towards brightness suggests something hopeful, as does the fact that the T cannot be fully obscured by the darker forms preceding it. Also, even in this form, a T is a cross. In this case, an Old Testament cross. And even if I didn’t consciously intend any Christian reading of this poem, one is unavoidable, especially given the hopeful blue at the end of the poem.
The Z functions as a cipher, a source of confusion, and as a twin of the letter N, but it also provides stability. The crossed diagonals of the N and the Z—even though they merge only at their extremes—provide support for the poem and echo the cross we see in the X (coincidentally, a symbol of Christ), which transforms into a modified cruciform by the end. The Z, of course, is omega, the second part of Christ, the end of the line. The poem, though not meant to be read in strictly or exclusively religious terms, is a poem of Christian eschatology. Whether I’m Christian or not, these symbols (embedded in the letters themselves) make their presence known.
The letters in this poem must be capitals because otherwise their Qage is all wrong. NZXT bears insufficient resemblance to nzxt. The minuscule letters lack the insistence or the steadiness of the majuscules. And each of these capitals carries a set of simple tendencies—horizontal, vertical, or diagonal—which are emphasized by the serifs adorning their extremities.
Color I have explained, but only partly. The colors in this poem imply seriousness and somberness—until the sudden but reserved brightness of the blue. But the main point of the colors is to indicate differing planes in space. In some ways, color is not essential to this poem. By converting the poem to shades of grey, the tones of the different layers of the poem are still distinguishable from one another—though the X is now the brightest color, which suggests a slightly different reading the poem. The colors do have additional meaning: black equals death, purple is the color used in priestly vestments to suggest penance (or, in this case, a reexamination of one’s life); green equals growth and rebirth; blue is the color of the sky, the color of heaven. All of this is strange for me to explain, because I am not religious in the least, but I carry that heavy cultural baggage, and that baggage helps explain the poem.
With a little help, someone who could not read English could easily figure out this poem. It is a simple code. The lack of English is not what would hold back comprehension the most. But the poem makes most sense in a particular cultural milieu. The reader of the poem must understand, at least to some degree, those cultural inclinations.
A common complaint about visual poetry is that it has insufficient consequence. Not enough happens; there is too little space for greatness. The usual (or expected) repartee from the visual poet is that each individual reader must create the poem, that the poem requires much of the reader. And my response is that it is enough for a visual poem to be a small space of little consequence that allows the opportunity to contemplate the vagaries of meaning.
Ron/Crag: Qage is a huthification if ever there was one. For our readers, can you give us a fuller definition, say, than appears in your Essential Vocabulary 3.0? Beyond this, what is the role you see of and for neologisms in a critical vocabulary?
Geof: My favorite letters in the Latin alphabet are those four that appear in the word “Qage,” so one day I fiddled around with those lettershapes until I had discovered I had created Qage. On that same day, I explained Qage in a rather florid and cryptic blog posting—one the Noigandres poets could have written, if so inclined.
Essentially, Qage defines that aspect of experience that is of particular interest to the visual poet. The painter is interested in the visual; the poet, enthralled by the word; the visual poet, entranced by the visual word (and its parts). The concept of Qage ranges probably a bit too widely. Qage is both the entrancing visual shape of individual letters and the attraction people feel towards those visual expressions. Qage is the particular beauty of different allographs (different forms) of individual letters, and Qage is the experience of joy at the sight of particularly beautiful swatches of text. Qage is that part of the world where language and image are one and inseparable: the printed form of the word or letter. The visual poet is interested in the interface between word and image, so that perfect bond holding both together is the realm set aside for the visual poet in particular. A painter might insert written words into a painting, a poet might add visual effects to a poem, but only the visual poet creates art with Qage.
“Qage” is only one of the words in my critical vocabulary. As I deal with ideas in visual poetry that have no specific word or phrase attached to them, I often create and introduce new vocabulary as a form of shorthand that supports the purposes of my discussion. And I’m wary whenever I do it. New vocabulary often leads to confusion. A specialized term can become a monk’s cowl—an object that identifies someone as a person with special knowledge—without truly revealing anything new, or anything at all, to the apprentice.
My concern here is that words are a mania for me, and the creation of words is a productive subset of that mania. My one-word poems, or pwoermds, are simply coinages. My family itself is so burdened with its own unique vocabulary that I privately printed a 303-page dictionary of words peculiar to us in 1996. The risers of the stairs in my house serve as pages for vinyl letters that spell out (that yell out) a few of our family words. I’ve filled Rolodexes with new word coinages, so I can flip through them and see my creations. To me, word-coinage is more a neglected form of art than a valuable activity in the realm of criticism.
Yet I see a need for a richer critical vocabulary for visual poetry, so I have created one, and I’ve continued to add to it. I try to create words that either sound natural in English or phrases that I have created out of existing words. For a vocabulary to work, I believe that the users must perceive it to be natural and accessible. My vocabulary dilemma of the moment is what to call poetry that is not visual poetry, what to call “regular” poetry. Visual poets sometimes use the term “textual poetry” or “lexical poetry,” but I find neither particularly transparent or right. Visual poetry is often more obviously textual than regular poetry, and visual poetry often contains obvious lexemes (though usually in lower concentrations than we find in regular poetry).
Crag and Ron: On your very second note on dbqp in December 2003, you suggest that your interest in the visual constitution of letters and language began at a very early age, even before you could read properly. The physicality of that confrontation with print certainly seems plausible, but toddlers generally lack the context for visual poetry. When was the moment when you realized such a genre existed? What did your writing “look like” before then, presuming of course that you may have been an adolescent poet like so many of the rest of us?
Geof: My writing is forever bound to Bolivia, historically the politically most unstable country on earth. I lived there in the middle of the 1970s, and when I was about thirteen or fourteen one of my teachers introduced us to what I sometimes saw as the three pillars of high school literature: concrete poetry, haiku, and pop song lyrics (specifically, the Beatles). Mrs Moomaugh didn’t require us to write lyrics, but we did have to write concrete poetry and haiku. None of my concrete poems of that time still exist, but my execrable haiku, tanka, and cinquains appeared in a small dittoed leaflet, so I still have evidence of those.
I don’t remember ever creating a concrete poem in Bolivia (the birthplace of famed concrete poet Eugen Gomringer) that I thought worth keeping, so concrete poetry was part of my initial movements as a writer but it was not my focus at all. What I wrote most of the time, however, what I spent most of my time working on, was a commonplace book. I filled that book with many half-formed thoughts about words and ideas. This book was my pre-blog. It allowed me to do the thinking any human needs to do, and it supported my dual (or dueling) interests in vocabulary and brevity.
Of course, I discarded that book when my family left La Paz, just as I have discarded every journal I had ever created before I reached my late twenties. As my family moved, I cleared away my possessions, my writing, and almost even my memories. Mine was a life of infinitely replaceable blank slates.
Ron and Crag: What is the relation of theory in your project as a poet, as you see it, in comparison with that, say, of Bob Grumman, another visual poet who also has worked to create a theoretical, critical space for vispo?
Geof: Bob is one of my oldest friends, but his theoretical project and mine have little in common. We share a deep interest in visual poetry, and we have plenty of agreement on many issues. Yet our ideas of what theory must do are poles apart.
Bob is the Linnaeus of hybrid literatures in particular—and the whole range of art in general. Bob is most interested in taxonomy, in dividing types of art into clear species and sub-species. Bob does have a keen ability to differentiate between different modes of art, and I believe that the gradations of visual writing he enumerates are perfectly valid. Unfortunately (from my point of view), Bob also believes that a perfect vocabulary for describing these differences is absolutely necessary, and this causes him to create a wide-ranging and ever-changing lexicon of visually complex and sometimes difficult-to-pronounce terms of art. Bob believes that we must develop a rigidly controlled technical vocabulary to conduct an intelligent conversation on art. I respect his point of view, but I don’t share it, and he has never proved it to me. I don’t see the fruits of that labor.
Of course, Bob suffers mightily for his efforts. Visual poets tend to reject categorization in general and careful definition in particular. Their interests are in creation, and they believe (strangely enough) that terminology is a shackle that restrains them, keeping them from producing transcendentally original works of art. Over the years, I’ve often found myself in the middle of virtual conversations with visual and digital poets who claim that they just call their work “stuff,” as if finer distinctions were unnecessary or even unnatural. My point of view falls between these poles: I want to determine (as a lexicographer would) the meaning of terms based on actual usage and then I want to use those terms. I accept that language is naturally and necessarily ambiguous—I even celebrate that. Bob cannot accept that people employ the term “visual poetry” to refer to works that contain only letters or only invented (and, therefore, “meaningless”) characters. I understand his point of view, and I once shared it, but I am now compelled to accept the term “visual poetry” as we generally use it—to encompass a broad range of works.
Let me add that Bob is one of the best close readers of visual poetry around. I do distinguish between criticism and theory, and I see these close reading as critical rather than theoretical writings. Yet Bob’s interest in writing careful explanations of visual poetry clearly echoes his theory, his need to divide the world into carefully categorized and labeled boxes.
My theoretical project is simply an attempt to understand this form that so intrigues me. I am once again fourteen, and I’m writing in a small lined notebook as a way to figure out what I believe. This project is tied inextricably to a goal of mine to bring more attention to visual poetry and to teach people how to appreciate this sometimes alien form of art.
I am trying to define what separates visual poetry from other forms of art (though Bob accuses me, with some justification, of accepting everything as visual poetry). I am trying to establish what makes a visual poem succeed. To define the functions of the visual poem. To enumerate the necessary skills of the visual poet. To delineate the perfect education for a visual poet. To develop a serious methodology for discussing visual poetry. To create a system of thinking to guide visual poets into productive avenues of expression. I hope to create new visual poets, to encourage good visual poets to continue, and to expand the audience for visual poetry. My goals are serious, so I’m trying to be audacious—in my own quiet way.
Geof Huth, “during the ningth” (a fidgetglyph, 2003)
Cragron: How do you see visual poetry corresponding to other kinds of “extra-literary” or “non-linguistic” poetries? For example, sound poetry, performance poetry, the kind of conceptual projects that somebody like Kenny Goldsmith does, or to poetry slams. What is its relationship to the book as art object, a phenomenon very close in impulse to vispo?
Geof: Visual poetry is a borderland. I often use the adjective “brackish” to describe visual poetry; it exists at the mouths of rivers, at the point where a plume of fresh water folds into a large open body of salt water. Some visual poems are heavily verbal and modestly visual; others are almost completely visual, merely implying language. This brackishness is what vispo shares with the modes of poetry you catalog.
Sound poetry is both poetry and music; rather than focusing on the word solely as a carrier of meaning, sound poetry focuses on the aural qualities of the word, even if that word is an invention necessitated by the poem itself. Similarly, performance poetry combines elements of the theater with poetry; the poem exists only as a single evanescent incarnation, never to be repeated exactly the same. Conceptual poetry uses language, but it focuses upon the “concept”; sound doesn’t matter, visual elements don’t necessarily matter, because in conceptual poetry the idea alone is the point. Slam poetry is just a name for less pretentious examples of performance poetry. Artist’s books combine the visual with the verbal or the conceptual; many pieces of book art are, in my view, simply examples of visual poetry.
Cronrag: Some visual poets appear to be firmly committed to some concept of avant-gardism. And some of the most retro of School of Quietude poets have at least dipped a toe into visual poetry, for example John Hollander’s shaped verse. Before, you mentioned “my execrable haiku, tanka, and cinquains” from your youth in Bolivia. Don’t you still turn to the textual poem on occasion, perhaps even to these very forms? How does that relate to & inform (&, likewise, how is it informed by) your visual poetry?
Geof: Some days, all I write are textual poems. What I have become has something to do with what obsessions I’ve had since I was a child and something to do with the impetus the world has given me to go in certain directions.
Since my high school years, at least, I have always written in many different forms. Included in my childhood pillow book was a list of all the types of writing I knew of or could find mention of somewhere. I wrote them down so I would have a thesaurus I could use to remind myself to write a fable, or a tall tale, or a roman fleuve. Noticing that all of these are forms of prose fiction, I’ll point out that my college years were hardly any more focused. I wrote short stories and poetry all the time. I wrote newspaper articles for the student paper and personal and journalistic essays for the student glossy magazine. I wrote and published comics and visual poetry and brief bits of prose that straddled the line between criticism and fiction. The idea of form, the possibilities inherent in different forms, is what propels my imagination.
When I applied to graduate school for a Master of Arts in writing, I applied as a poet and a fiction writer, and Syracuse University decided I was a poet. That fact reduced my fiction writing to almost nil. My focus on poetry, though, included visual poetry, and some of my textual poems included obvious visual poetic tropes—something that may or may not have caused my teachers some concern. I can’t be sure because I can’t remember if I showed them any of that work.
I’ve never, however, really abandoned any form of writing. A few years ago, I was half-way through writing what I thought was a good and “poetic” children’s book for thirteen-year-olds, but I stopped the night one of my dogs was run over and killed—and I’ve never picked it back up. For years, I’ve created many dictionaries, not just as reference books, but also as works of art. One of my dictionaries has been exhibited in a couple of art shows including one at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut. I write a blog because I want to document and promote visual poetry and other forms of visual writing, and also because I want to write essays.
Words. These are my reasons for all of this: Their sounds, their shapes, and the unbelievable fact that they carry meaning across time and space—especially when placed in conjunction with one another.
For a few years, I’ve allowed my textual poetry to languish a little for a number of reasons, chief among them being that I hate the process of submitting anything to a magazine or a press. But also because I found the world of textual poetry to be inhospitable. On the other hand, the freer world of visual poetry—where experimentation is key—captured my imagination and my attention. But all forms of writing influence the others. The voice of my prose is often the sound of my poetry. The shape of my poetry is influenced by the fact that I’m a visual poet. So a line may be short to stress or isolate a set of sounds, but it is also there for visual reasons. My visual poems may include line breaks that function across vertical as well as horizontal lines of space. Even lexicography is nothing but the careful art of turning essays into textual poems before transforming them into visual poems.
And, of course, I still write haiku, but I usually think my non-visual haiku are still execrable. That form is just too hard for my Western imagination. And no-one, besides an elementary school student, should ever write a cinquain, which is more a way to learn the parts of speech than to write.
GarnorC: In addition to crossing the “borderland” of vispo into the textual, you’ve also produced one-of-a-kind works that seem in some ways antithetical to the idea of publishing, or to the kind of dissemination of work & thought that might be done via a weblog. Have you worked formally with a gallery, as Bob Grenier & Ray DiPalma have done? How do these works differ from vispo in your imagination, or do they?
Geof: Like many visual poets, I often dream that I am Joseph Cornell and when I wake up each morning I am surprised that I haven’t created any elegant wooden boxes filled with the surrealism of the sidewalk. Instead, I discover that I have created objects encrusted with words. I create unique or nearly unique object-poems (what I sometimes call semiobjects) because I love the physical nature of language, and because a poem written on a leaf or a rock is different semiotically from a poem printed on a piece of paper. These pieces are certainly visual poems. Their uniqueness and irreproducibility do not diminish this.
Although I have participated in shows in museums and galleries, and twice have worked closely on the installation of my pieces, I have never worked with galleries to any great degree. When I have, my work has always been the oddity, the stuff that didn’t fit, whatever wasn’t a painting or a handful of found dolls lain in a box. Strangely, I believe that my work has been less appreciated by curators in these cases than by the journalists who reviewed the shows, because those journalists had that necessary level of interest in the verbal dimension of my work.
And I know I’m a writer (rather than a visual artist) because I never want to sell anything I make. I never want to give it away. I don’t want my various works to be dispersed. I want everything I’ve made to live under the same roof, like a family of meanings.
AOCGNRR: This seems an obvious ancillary to the question above. How does your work as a publisher infiltrate & change what you do in your own writing? Are there specific works that have changed your thinking about your process as a result of seeing them into print?
Geof: I have been a poor publisher of late, slow and inconsiderate. But I still see my publishing as an outgrowth of my visual poetry. My goal is to create an interesting and effective visual environment for whatever pieces I publish. That environment might not be beautiful in any traditional sense, but it needs to enhance the poem’s meaning, rather than diminish or contradict it. (I have certainly not always succeeded.)
For me, the process of writing is often literally the process of publishing as well. Originally, I began the micropress dbqp to provide a means to publish the woords, a Petri dish filled with pieces of bark upon each of which I had written a different pwoermd. I “published” this “volume” in an edition of thirty-five copies. A couple of years ago, I designed a book called vision: exterpreting the phaistos disk, which I “wrote” directly into PageMaker; I created it as a book, and the cover and title page and logo on the back page are all parts of the poem (which is itself a meditation on hidden meaning, words, and sounds). My once-monthly Subtle Journal of Raw Coinage presented sets of undefined words in printed contexts so that I could turn a sequence of sometimes opaque words into something akin to visual poems.
Geof Huth, the woords (1987)
While publishing other people’s work, I’ve tried to find a way to make their work visual without damaging them or hindering the poet’s intent. I did a fairly good job with this when publishing Bob Grumman’s chapbook, Of Poem, back in 1995. The cover and overall design, I believe, enhance the meaning of the individual poems, and Bob left me responsible for spreading a set of phrases throughout the book, thereby allowing me a minor role as a quasi-co-author. With a small leaflet by Mark Rutter, a fine but little-known contemporary concrete poet, I was able to add a huge visual dimension that deepened the poem—without undermining the original poem at all (in my estimation). I see my publishing as another form of art, something more than just a method of production and distribution, and most of the serious writing about my work has focused on my publishing.
To me, micropublishing is another way to explore the possibilities for presenting text visually. Designing publications is my apprenticeship for visual poetry. Each new publication is a new textual object of contemplation.
OCGARRN: Let’s pretend for a moment that visual poetry has never existed. In such a world, what would the art of Geof Huth have become?
Geof: Lexicography, maybe. Lexicographers work all day with words trying to unmask their meanings, trying to find the perfect turn of phrase to explain a word, trying to design the perfect visible structure to make that meaning clear. I certainly have tried over the years to create a form of lexicography that is also an intentional art form.
Definitely, poetry—because what is the difference between a poet and a lexicographer?
ACGONRR: A final question. Visual poetry is one of the most vibrant genres of writing around today, which means that it is undergoing lots of innovation & change. But change always implies change toward—it’s a directional concept. What will the visual poetry of 100 years from look like & what will it do that it can’t do (or hasn’t done) yet?
Geof: We have no idea what visual poetry will become, and we know exactly what it will become. I expect it to be much different from today’s visual poetry while also duplicating the methods and practices of today. Everything that is new in today’s visual poetry has clear antecedents in the past. Certainly, visual poetry will continue its course away from the verbal, becoming more and more visual. I don’t think this tendency will ever be absolute, though. Most visual poets are also textual poets—that is our dirty secret. They come to visual poetry from the world of poetry. They can allow their imaginations to make the written word abstract for a time, but they cannot do that forever.
I also expect visual poetry to become more and more kinetic and aural. I usually lump digital poetry in with visual poetry, but I should probably admit that digital poetry is the precocious child of visual poetry. Digital poetry is poetry for the computer screen: it can combine image with word, in can include words that move in dramatic ways, it can incorporate sound into its structure, it can include a number of aleatoric features, and it can require the reader to create the poem—a poem that can be different during each viewing. I still believe that truly masterful digital poetry remains to be created, so this is an obvious area of growth.
Many visual poets are becoming more and more comfortable dealing with the visual arts world, so we might also start seeing visual poems that are more sculptural, more painterly, and more dependent on a specific installation for their effects. Already, there have been plenty of visual poetry installations (see, for instance, the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, one of the original concrete poets). And I know of at least one visual poetry installation (Stephan von Huene’s “Lexichaos”) that also depends on sequences of taped sound for its gestalt.
Finally, visual poetry may transmute into a new form of performance poetry, the new Gesamtkunstwerk. Wouldn’t the best visual poetry be a performance? Imagine a room that served as a stage, an installation of visual poetry—visual poetic sculptures and paintings placed in a pattern; the ceilings and floors as visual poetry tableaux; scattered throughout the room screens upon which kinetic poems occasionally dance. In the middle of the room stands the poet, whose movements seem to cause parts of the room to come alive—windows open in the walls; doors fall open from the ceiling, allowing banners of words to unfurl onto the floor; a trapdoor appears in the floor, and a Trajan’s column of words spirals up out of the darkness below. The poet begins to speak. The words are unclear at first but soon modulate into the stentorian. Eventually, the poet is singing, and that song is punctuated by movements within the room (a ribbon of dancers, the wide swath of a searchlight). At certain points in the performance, definite scents are released into the air: mint, coffee, iodine. As the members of the audience move through the room, they set off fans that release sheets of paper—each covered with a single bold word—into the room. What could be a better visual poem than this?
As visual poetry in the past has gained its power by combining the textual with the visual, the parallel artform of the future might be something even greater than visual poetry by incorporating increasingly diverse methods of art into its set of possibilities.
Geof Huth, “The Bowl of Her Eye” (10 Jul 2005)