from "Pictographs" by Bill Keith
Selected Openings from Pictographs
by Bill Keith

Bill Keith's work ranges widely. In visual poetry, running from spontaneous collage for the mail art network to Op Art to Lettrisme and Spatialism to pieces using traditional motifs. Cognate activities include founding and directing the Malcolm X Art Center and curating shows of visual poetry and other arts. We have a special affinity for his work as co-curator with Karl Kempton of Visualog IV, but other projects expand in different directions.

To me, the poems in his Pictographs series make a great synthesis of genres and forms. Here we present poems in pairs, as they appear in Keith's collection of pictographs, to emphasize Keith's versatiltity and add greater depth to individual images. Starting from a solid base in African iconography, Keith works through other forms, including the collective store of images from many primary cultures and from our own. Textile patterns make up part of the African base of many poems, and this can be seen in poems where Egyptian papyrus becomes something like a cloth when enlarged, and in poems where a series of exclamation points become a fabric that rhymes precisely with a zebra's markings. An abstract photocopied distortion from an unknown, and perhaps unknowable, source can in similar manner make a provocative answer to a collage strongly influenced by Lettrisme.

Keith isn't an easy poet to pin down. We hope the glances at several openings of Pictographs presented here will give the reader something solid to go on. For me, they're Keith's best work to date, but I say this in hopes that he'll surprise me with something even better.

- Karl Young

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Pictographs was published by Left Hand Books in 1996

This is a cooperative presentation
by Kaldron On-Line and
Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry.