Recomendation for Joel Lipman
as Distinguished Profesor at University of Toledo

by Karl Young


To the University of Toledo Academic Honors Committee:

I am exceptionally pleased to recommend Joel Lipman for the position of Distinguished Professor at your school. This is not simply because, in my opinion, he is one of the half dozen best workers in a small but essential artistic and literary genre, but because the moment seems ripe for that genre to grow. Lipman not only brings special abilities to the genre itself, but these seem particularly exemplary and important in that genre's expansion into the larger cultural framework with which the genre interacts.

Professor Lipman writes poetry for more or less conventional presentation on the page. I imagine other writers will mention this in their recommendations. More important to me, he works in the intermedium between poetry and the visual arts. Virtually all 20th Century movements in the arts, from Russian and Italian Futurism to such intensely aural literary movements as the Beats (c.f. Kenneth Patchen as one of the founders; Wallace Berman as a member during full ripeness) included this interaction, at least at the beginning. As the century wore on, it became more deeply engrained in some movements, particularly outside the United States. VOU provides an essential Japanese example; Lettrisme, an important French cognate. In the 1950s and 60s, two widely disparate groups — Fluxus, a loose association in North Atlantic cultures and Japan, and Noigandres, a Brazilian Nationalist movement — formed an alliance which produced a hybrid poetry called Concrete. In the 1970s, the intermedium between visual and verbal arts had made a break from other movements, and began to publish as a stand-alone genre most often referred to as "Visual Poetry." Lipman came of age as an artist in this period. By the turn of the millennium, computer usage and its move into cyberspace had not only given the still small and often denigrated Visual Poetry genre an enormous boost, they had also created an ideal environment for it, in which word and image had become inseparable in everything from labeled computer icons to the online inventory control systems used in commerce. Although Visual Poetry is still seen as esoteric and even suspect by some literary critics and art historians, more of them recognize Lipman's significance as a major figure as time goes by and new forms of enhanced visual and verbal literacy emerge.

Professor Lipman's backgrounds have been diverse and have each contributed to his mature work. As a young man he wrote advertising copy for his family's radio station and worked in a scrap yard. The jobs may not seem particularly nurturing for a writer and artist, but Lipman has known how to make the most of them, as he has with other seemingly unrelated types of informal or accidental training. Writing advertising copy for a small city's radio station introduced him to concision and the need to make a point swiftly, clearly, cogently. Working with scrap gave him a basic appreciation of surfaces, textures, the possibilities for treasure in trash, and perhaps most of all, different ways materials are affected by change, including their own aging and the different ways they interact with substances spilled on them, exposure to sun and cold, and other factors that alter them in ways not taught in most art classes — with a few exceptions, such as those taught by Professor Lipman himself. He apparently began using humble tools such as rubber stamps early. As a university student, he also became acutely aware of the highly sophisticated and disciplined art of traditional cold lead printing from one of North America's two great masters of the time, Walter Hamady. More or less simultaneously, he was strongly influenced by d.a.levy, a seemingly Luddic figure, but increasingly recognized as one of the most comprehensively innovative young poets of the 1960s. levy's tragic suicide in 1968 left Lipman with a full slate of raw ideas to work out and make his own. Lipman also studied law, which gave him exposure to another aspect of precise, crisp, and persuasive language. Running through most of Lipman's concerns and methods is an intensive and extensive exploration of popular iconography as it evolved through the 20th Century, from illustrations in children's books and medical diagrams from the dawn of the era to the imagery printed on the packaging of consumer goods at the end of it. In this inquiry, he began intensive study of another neglected master, Bern Porter, a Manhattan Project engineer who turned toward examination of the brash but fragile artifacts and practices of every day life after World War II.

Mastery of these elements allows Lipman to produce exquisitely complex techniques in even more complex works. Perhaps the best known is the Jesse Helmes' Body series, to me one of the most incisive satires since those of Jonathan Swift. In this series Lipman balances what initially seems a dissection of a body, presumably Senator Helmes' (even, or perhaps particularly, when the body is female) and a paean to the robust health and beauty of the human form in opposition to Helmes' contempt for the body, expressed through means ranging from racism to sexual repression to the assault on the general populations of enemy regimes through embargos on food and medical supplies. Behind the immediate impact of these images lies a strong and carefully considered belief in the potential joy of life and the powers of the human imagination similar to that in the mythology of William Blake. And like Blake, Lipman can easily move to extremes of gentle lyricism using images from children's books and simple figures on envelopes. Lipman's texts generally consist of only a few words per page. The graphic context he gives them enhances and concentrates their intensity and precision.

Once more, I will repeat that appreciation of Professor Lipman's work has increased as Visual Poetry as a discrete art has emerged and as computer usage has allowed its broader dissemination in a medium compatible with it. It is crucial to realize, however, that Lipman's work is unusual in this medium and may act as an anchor to it. Much of the work which circulates on the internet today relies too heavily on theory and tends to be limited by ignorance of the range of materials outside computer technology. At this moment, Visual Poetry on the web becomes too much a demonstration of what specific brands of software can do, too much an exploration of the limitation of pixels. Here I'm not objecting to theory or technology per se, but simply to imbalances that virtually erase relevancy and trivialize final products. Lipman's opus draws its methodology and some of its recognition from its integration of experiences of the world outside the flat, smooth rigidity of a computer screen. On more than a simply formal level, Lipman's integration and appreciation of the world's pungency and immediacy set a good example for a move away from the detachment and solipsism our current intellectual environment all too often tends to produce. I may or may not be right in assuming that Professor Lipman will emerge as one of the most important figures in a transitional period in the arts. Whether I am or not, his students can only benefit from the range of his sources and methods and his enthusiasm in sharing them.

— Karl Young

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