by Joel Lipman

Since 1976, my focus has been on a range of visual and spatial poetries with differing and shared concerns. Derivation, including incorporation of previously used and extant materials, as well as the investigation of and expansion upon visual poetries of other writers dedicated to the visual page, and a poetics generally insistent upon practical utility and function, has guided much of this work.

While much of what's discussed and investigated over these several pages concerns projects and strategies that I pursued during the closing decades of the Twentieth Century, the work's impact and potential for emerging poets and artists working in digital formats is sweeping and unmistakable. Visual literacy and its practice are of increasing cultural interest and adaptation. With each year its purposeful application expands. There's much to be learned for coming generations in the following discussion.


Active as a mail artist in the dynamic worldwide network, around 1976, while living on North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, I coined the word poeMvelope. Behind the term was the concept of rubberstamping poems on the flap side of envelopes to make what was a functional physical object, mailable internationally, impressionistic, often lyrical of language, kinetic in arrangement and composition, poetic in lexical cosmology. Interested in the physical textures of type, ink and paper and motivated by a political poetics that celebrated and respected utility and usefulness, conceiving and composing a visually tactical poem on an envelope proved a fortuitous and durable artistic act. And, quite specifically, I developed poeMvelopes out of practical need, having moved several times over a few years. In this pre-email era, I preferred to stay in contact with my network of friends, poets and editors by correspondence as opposed to telephone. I wrote many letters, not infrequently a dozen or more a day, and many of my letters included (and were frequently built around) poems—drafts seeking feedback, submissions, editorial exchange, and letterpoems to friends who were practicing poets and writers.

Using a Justrite Office Rubberstamp set and a single black ink pad, my practice was to set from one to four rows of rubber type and stamp on the verso of four envelopes (the desktop blotter pad that I worked on providing surface area to arrange up to this number of envelopes) these poems of four or fewer lines. As I worked I often had theoretical, formal or erotic objectives that invariably included attentiveness to visuality of impression and certain criteria of visual poetics. My interest extended subjectively in that I also sought to anticipate the receipt of the poeMvelope by the addressee and I wanted to produce a wrapper that would move, delight or in some way have an impact on the recipient. And, I enjoyed, indeed I marveled at, the suddenness of visual poetry's presentation of itself as I accepted or initiated opportunities of correspondence.

Before the end of The Cold War and prior to the "information revolution," Mail Art was a network of edgy and frequently politically outspoken artists and the making and mailing of poeMvelopes constituted critical and even dangerous activity. Mail censorship was not uncommon, even in countries that one might presume to be dedicated to free expression and unfettered correspondence. The daily post was a moment of arrival and what arrived was unannounced. Even now, the intimacy and discovery of meaning in the personal letter enveloped in its own wrapper carries an implicit message of singular meaning, of uniqueness of intent, a manner of action initiated from elsewhere to one's home, mailbox, hands and fingers as the words reveal themselves and accumulate. Today, when the very existence of a unified global postal system is threatened by the speed, minimal cost and economies of digital transmissions, it is easy to lose sight of personal mail's significance and desire. Some of Mail Art's inherent qualities require a sensitivity to the postal system's political, uniquely systemic global values, for example: convicts' numerical I.D.; samiszat circulation; the word's actual resiliency, perpetuity and power; uniform codes of stamps, weights and measures; and perhaps most importantly, the reality that handwritten messages were carried essentially from one hand to another's somewhere on the ultimate planet, making it past all the censors and barriers that interrupted unrestricted expression - those that were and those that are. For me, poeMvelopes expanded the poem internationally while avoiding all hierarchies and barriers of editorship. And, they enabled me to concretize poetry by the envelope's relatively confined surface requiring concentrated and essentially minimalist strategies of language.

PoeMvelopes, and the wider range of mail art in a complexly cross-medial way, investigate public/private expression and exhibition, constituting a kind of mute and disembodied performance. In this fuller context, poeMvelopes examine the common denominators of the planet's written codes and groove on letteristic wiggling of form.

Mail art, with its tacit bylaws of universal artistic democracy and quest for a borderless and post-national language, offered an alternative creative universe for visual artists disinterested in or excluded from galleries and juried exhibition. Mail art provided an option to literary publication and was an available, subtle extension of what I practiced as a poet and correspondent.

Drawing on language bits from my pocket notebooks, I'd develop the look and arrangement of the letters by inky rubber stamp noodling. Thinking more in letters than in words or ideas, I consciously built what might become a word from an initial mark or letter. In the studio I'd make an edition run of eight to twenty rubberstamped poeMvelopes, all but a few (which were kept as artist's proofs and archival copies) subsequently addressed, posted and released into that preemail grid of worldwide postal codes, box numbers and addresses to engage remote and actual or pseudonymous public/private politics, emotions and artistic motives.

In AD 2001, correspondence in general and Mail Art in particular rely upon different technologies and webs of connection than was the case not long before the millennial pivot. That's another discussion. Click here for reduced images of poeMvelopes

These poeMvelopes were quickly made on a laptop easel while on a mail art drive through northwest Ohio in 1983. I packed a compact car kit of rubberstamp type and forms, several inkpads, envelopes, postcards and postage. My spouse, Cynthia, drove. I kept notes and stamped, keeping my senses and imagination alert to opportunities and images as we stopped in the agricultural region's towns and along rural roads. I'd do a set of four, the number of envelopes I could fit on the board while retaining room for a few rubberstamp letters and an ink pad or two. As we came to post offices in the various communities I'd mail off fresh pieces to regular correspondents, mail artists and upcoming exhibitions. The work above is gestural, immediate in its active connection to time and place and produced while the car was in motion.


During the 1980's I edited three concept periodicals, Bagazine, The Sleeze Art News (SANS), and 11x30. I approached these fraglit editions as blending time-capsule reportage, infobites and newsletter gossip with my interest in unique editions and obsolete books, ephemeral language, fragments, scraps and bits (hence, "fraglit," fragments of literature), fugitive inks, discarded waste papers and founds—all manifestations of periodicity. The Sleeze Art News was textual in parodic approximation of a newspaper and laid out in ways that drew on the visuality and immediacy of a noisy front page.

Bagazine was less systematic, more loose-leaf and generally filled an envelope, poeMvelope or some other mailable bag with whatever materials I was involved with at the time - photostrips or contact sheets, aged paper gone to dust, cutups, drafts of poems, recycled junk mail, language concepts. The idea for Bagazine arose after a trip to a Detroit envelope factory where I was introduced to the vocabulary and industrial process of that niche of the paper industry. A certain kind of cheap die-cut envelope is known in the trade as a "bag."

Each edition of The Sleeze Art News was a unique product. One representative example includes eight paper items in addition to a 5&1/2 by 4&1/2 inch wrapper on which my typed newsprint note reads in full: Note//some of a larger group of postcards designed & executed while traveling across Ohio & based on familiar & impressionistic signs. ALSO CONTAINS: 2 b/w reduced photocopies of designs to appear in forthcoming ASSEMBLING (ed. Richard Kostelanetz). Submissions asked to respond to the question: IF YOU COULD APPLY FOR A GRANT OF $500,000.00 WHAT PRECISELY WOULD YOU PROPOSE TO DO?//& 2 postcards designed on data printout cards, one pink and one blue.

Above are two desk calendar pages from a prior calendar year. The concrete idea is to set two lines of rubber type, one reading "You were in" and the other reading "I was in," printing them in varied sequence. Between these lines of text, and in eccentric (what some font menus refer to as "San Francisco") type, I'd stamp names of towns drawn from the road atlas—a travel exercise that takes its particular pleasure from being conceived and made on- the-roll. A visual suite of missed opportunities and bad timing emerges from the three-dozen pages, which I arranged in pairs and groupings like the two pages from this edition of (SANS).

These projects provided structures for a range of visual language, much of it a graphic languagescape more expansive than the lesser geography explored by visual poetry. Other Sleeze Art News (SANS) and Bagazine inclusions and texts examined typography and photography, catalogues, lists and an array of paper ephemera. For example, using a portable ditto machine (yes, the hand-cranked variety that relies upon smelly purple ink) and carefully cut ditto masters, I printed out an edition of (SANS) on the backs of canceled checks from the Toledo Bath House, a longstanding neighborhood bath house that had recently closed. Each complete issue ran about twenty pages, twenty checks. On one side of the check was a text about cultural, literary, or local history matters containing some personal reflection on public baths in general and the Toledo Bath House in particular, while the other side was a cancelled check made out ten to twenty years earlier to some person or business, usually for small payments like $4.58 or $23.50. The project was conspicuously voyeuristic and erotic. It also was dependent upon and implicitly derived from a received text, structurally challenging and engaging, tactile and very much about things periodic.

Click here for a visual language cut-up from an issue of Bagazine.

The third journalistic visual poetry project in the late 1980's and early 1990's was the considerably more elegant and formal offset periodical 11x30. 11x30, the title reflecting the dimensions, in inches, of this broadside publication that I edited and designed with the assistance of Sandy Koepke, staff artist at the University of Toledo Publications Office, was composed and printed using considerably higher production values than either Bagazine or The Sleeze Art News. 11x30's production reflected Sandy's professional design skills and featured paper stock that differed in color and ink from issue to issue. It always included visual and lexical poetry by some of my correspondents and friends, among them the poets Howard McCord, Christy Sheffield Sanford, Michael Kasper, Bern Porter, John Brandi, Paul Hoover, Geof Huth and Richard Kostelanetz, and each issue also served as a flier announcing upcoming performances and readings I'd booked in my capacity as Director of the Toledo Poets Center. I had the printer punch a hole center- top so the broadside could be neatly pinned up, kept and displayed. 11x30 was showy, of unusual proportions and provided an excellent field for the publication of visual poetry, in that it spaciously arrayed and distinctively printed visual and lexical texts on a long sheet of high quality (though not archival) paper.

There was a mail art subset of values built into the editing and production of 11x30. I had gradually become more intrigued by personal networks of affection, friendship and taste, and I consciously wanted 11x30 to demonstrate how so- called "schools" or literary movements relied upon, though often were reluctant to objectively admit, that they built their status and excellence by recognizing and valuing literary, romantic and personal affinities. By 1990 I'd sat on enough grant panels and fellowship juries, read enough you-for-me-me-for-you jacket blurbs, been to the requisite conferences, readings and confabs, read the litmags and culture rags enough to recognize the friendships that brought certain groups of writers together in performance or print. Perhaps because I've enjoyed benefits as a poet through the blended personal-and-anonymous network of mail artists, I generally support and respect friendship as the basis for an artistic project or inclusion, and while at its menial worst it yields cronyism and schmoozy praise, when personal friendship encourages the creative product of talented and otherwise overlooked artists it offers an opportunity for exciting breakthroughs, generosity and opportunities. I know where I stand on this frequently contentious matter and as Toledo Poets Center director I dispensed an annual presenting budget of four or five thousand dollars a year, bringing in writers, poets and literary ensembles that I valued or knew about and wanted to sponsor at community venues. Friendship and artistic merit can be intrinsically rewarding interconnected values.

11x30 used a poster format to announce upcoming readings and present a glimpse of the poet's art, accompanied by the work of other writers and artists I was in contact with and whose work I respected and sought to promote. I viewed the broadside as a chance to create a public for my interesting private correspondence. 11x30 was rather widely and always appreciatively reviewed. Poetry archives ordered it for their collections and a number of individuals subscribed, though I'm sure I was a less-than-reliable managing editor. Had 11x30 been a CD, it would have been considered a crossover product, as it straddled that literary market line between ephemera and archival. The issue announcing one year's performance of an annual Jack Kerouac reader's theatre production, "Back To Jack," featured the full publication of Kerouac's "I Had A Slouch Hat Too" and 11x30's premier issue republished d.a. levy's "Tombstone As A Lonely Charm" along with two of levy's concrete cut-ups in what I would argue is the finest presentation of these texts to date. The wheaty papers and rich brown inks used for these issues displayed the work clearly and with an antique tone suitable to a broadside rendering of postmodern masters, each prematurely dead.

Periodical literature is invasively nostalgic, instantly extending into and inspiring memory. These projects all accepted and noodled this emotional key. Perhaps, in my appreciation of the opportunities nostalgia (and its deprecated partner, sentiment), I reveal an inexact understanding of one of my graduate school mentors, the late poet James Wright, a man quite masterful at locating the opportunistic edge of memory and infusing nostalgic recollection with bite, energy and depth.


As has been my practice for thirty years, I write poems lexical and linear as well as those composed by actively plosive visual strategies and concrete poetics. Spatial poetries, field poetics and visual literatures iconic histories and prehistories are fundamental to their reading and pleasures. Writing poems is habitual activity, its requisite tools little but notebook and pen, and I always have both in my pocket or pack. The typographic spatialities have become gestural and almost go unscripted in my notebooks, with breaks, white fields, lateral and vertical pauses and alignments generally adjusted at the drafting table, typewriter or computer, all of which I use along with pencil and pen. Though I briefly flirted with one, I do not compose using a laptop. Elsewhere than in office or studio I write by hand and use the arguably obsolete or inefficient technologies of handwriting.

The pleasures of mark and smudge and the shaky legibilities of my hasty cursive are more gratifying to compose than the crisp registrations of keyboard and printer. The typewriter, so obviously archaic and incapable of state-of-the-art visual specificities in a digitized world, becomes obsoletely pertinent at this technological juncture and the visual meaning of typed poetry is thus imbued with fresh opportunities and replete with noir registries and signification.

Brian Richards, publisher of Bloody Twin Press, in 1984 printed a lovely letterpress broadside of "My love is," a spatial poem previously published in the journal of erotic poetry, Yellow Silk, and subsequently in the Toledo Poets Center Press anthology, Glass Will. During 1986, Richards invited me down to his shop in the Ohio River town of Blue Creek to collaborate on the typesetting and printing of unique covers for the subsequent Bloody Twin Press edition of my small book of translitics, Provocateur.

The tangible activities of holding type and setting it, damping and pulling weighty rag sheets, the smell of ink and solvents - these are sensual pleasures that have their impact on the patina and patterning of visual poetry. Letterpress printers not infrequently possess an appreciation and understanding of spatial and typographically open field poetry well beyond that of writers lacking the experience of the print shop. Many of the finest visual poets and masters of the overall page have been practicing printers and engravers.

Lester Dore, during a season of work in 1988 at Walter Hamady's Perishable Press, set and printed a broadside edition of my poem "What Do You Do With Mountains." Dore's composition included his intricate geological rendering of Wisconsin's unglaciated southwest as part of an expansively conceived Ocooch Mountain Press bioregional packet. Alphabets emerge from drawing. The cartographic clarities and symbolic details of mapping, in this case Dore's cutaway sketches of drumlins and moraines, echo certain prealphabetic signs, simplified representations and repetitions of line. Tim Ely, in his several artist's books exploring imaginary maps, inventive geographies and gibberish gazettes, takes this relationship between spatial language and the presumptive geographies of mapping to a particularly interesting place.

The textures and impress of letterpress, with its almost Braille- like code of fingertips and invitation to touch, adds measurably to the language and referential relief of visual poetry. The codes and history of gouge, smudge and scrim, of stylus mark, etch and embraded rock is retained in the bite of the printer's press. In my studio practice it is difficult to separate the use of materials derived from letterpress printing from those designed for use as rubberstamps. My visual poetry, as well as my studio environment, mixes implements from both technologies.

And, specific to Dore's geological rendering of southwest Wisconsin's landforms that shares space with "What Do You Do With Mountains" on the softly textured paper he chose for the broadside's printing, using language cartographically or in gazettelike proximity to such artwork reaffirms the genesis of writing in drawing, helpfully articulating the birth of letterforms in the line's ascending and descending variations and extensions.


For an Ann Arbor gallery, calligrapher Susan Skarsgard created a series of 30X48-inch ceiling hung, translucent Mylar panels of my conventional linear poem "The Beautiful Letters." The manifestations of physical language Skarsgard explored in her calligraphic rendering were challenging to encounter. Her calligraphy is freewheeling, at once both powerful and graceful of stroke. She is an inventive, brave practitioner. Ambient light filtered through five sculpturally hanging sheets on which she'd enlarged and reduced portions of lines and words from the poem. The background and foregrounded letters were of contrasting frosted translucence.

While it is an extraordinary gift to have another artist locate her possibilities in the visual and spatial suggestions of one's work, Skarsgard's work posed for me the arch problem found in the calligrapher's aesthetic presumption—that s/he can appropriate and refabricate the shaping design and lyricism of another's text. This is a large and complicated question for the entire arts community, one driven by many interlocking technologies and cultural assumptions which make the reuse (sampling, copying, versioning, collaging, reprinting, etc.) of another artist's creative product materially feasible and artistically interesting. It raises an increasing range of issues for visual language artists.

"The Beautiful Letters" was originally dedicated to Skarsgard after I heard her discuss her work during a slide/lecture at a suburban Detroit library. This is important to understand and respect, because visual poetries routinely draw upon and derive from extant texts and available visual materials. Calligraphy has historically represented, explored and exploited existing texts and fields of language, transforming common print into "beautiful letters." Visual poetry's ideas, tropes and imagery reside in the physical letterforms and concretions that are also the poem's words. A certain common impulse and perhaps parasitism unites poetry and calligraphy.

I rebuilt language from Skarsgard's lecture and slide show, which had previously lifted ideas, images and materials from its sources. Bits of her words and the rhythms of her lecture's spoken arrangements were appropriated by me, becoming part of the text and texture of "The Beautiful Letters." She, next, reappropriated my poem, a version of her earlier lecture and dedicated to her. Skarsgard's responding version then became five translucent Mylar sheets exhibited sculpturally and suspended from ceiling threads, one sheet printed full text and the other four with enlarged details of line clusters, words and letters, exquisitely designed and professionally etched, lightly moving in the gallery air while viewers walked around and between the artwork, those bits of what had in a prior generation of artlife been the so-called poem "The Beautiful Letters." And, in all, it was a memorable execution of visual poetry, off the page while retaining the idea of the page, surprising in its grace, calligraphic play and rhythm.

A subsequent project with Iowa City calligrapher Glen Epstein never matured into a finished collaboration. Still, it was energizing and exciting as a lesson in visual poetry, due to Epstein's wild, splattery, freehand calligraphic style that stretches legibility beyond alphabetically accessible reading. With Epstein's sprays of ink and the movement of his letters into representational forms, a wildly charged verbo-visual poetics of the total page begins to emerge. Perhaps some day we'll complete the project.


During the early 1980's, I began to systematically examine, research and make artist's books, an area of polyart and poetics I only slowly was beginning to adequately understand. Supported by a University of Toledo faculty felowship, I spent a summer in the archive of the Molly and Walter Bareiss Collection of Modern Illustrated Books under the knowledgeable and watchful eye of Marilyn Syms, who at that time held the position of Curator of Books, Prints and Photography at the Toledo Museum of Art. Nuances of paper and structure, the achievements of visual and lexical coordination and the zany freedom and obsessive passions of artists' books increasingly attracted me in my studio and in work that I brought into the university classroom. In this visual and tactile book arts nirvana, I felt as if I'd been granted literary citizenship in my own Fredonia, a niche state essentially ignored by the bigshots and committees that canonized literary and poetic merit. The materials I now kept fellowship with ranged across genres, media and formalities. I better understood, or sought to understand, that visuality, textuality and texture were co- inhabitants and kin. And, artist's books were "priceless" after a fashion that had long tweaked my interest, in that they were valued from the lowest point of the price scale to cost's pinnacle—some of the books had giveaway origins while others, such as those published by the Arion Press, were supposedly high-end products with extraordinarily expensive list prices.

For a variety of reasons rooted in what I perceived to be a necessity to guard my privacy and creative subjectivities, I'd generally avoided teaching visual poetry in the classroom. But commencing in the late-1980's, I began to develop undergraduate courses, first in Visual Language and then in Artist's Books. The necessity of developing a syllabus and term's worth of lessons was an opportunity to systematize the understandings about those historical points and literary genres where visual art and writing coalesced. Of course, I was looking back and across the long history of writing, printing and literature at the very moment that my students were growing up with the Internet and increasingly fluent and inventive explorers of the expanding software programs and creatively applicable Web technologies under their fingertips.

Robert Creeley, whose student I'd been at SUNY-Buffalo during the early 1970's, collaborated with painters R.B. Kitaj and Robert Indiana on significant artist's book editions of his poem cycles A Day Book and Numbers. Viewing Indiana's interleaved prints and reading the sequential poems of Numbers in the German Graphis Press edition takes Creeley's poems written in response to Indiana's ten paintings to an elegant, visually signified level of meaning and recognition. Reading the sexually aggrieved screeds of A Day Book in an oversized, unpaginated, unbound folio where each daily sheet is composed using a different typeface utterly rearranges and reorients one's sense of this day-by-day poet's journal. All elements of each edition add to its artistic quotient. The bookstore trade's thoughtlessly standardized editions, when compared to artist's books or livre' d'artistes, are such viciously industrial products.

Courses I taught were cross-listed in the departments of Art and English and the classes met at the University of Toledo's Center for the Visual Arts, a beautiful Frank Gerhy designed building attached to the Toledo Museum of Art, whose Stevens and Bareiss book collections form an impressive archive and library of historical and contemporary examples of the art of the book. The University and Museum staffs were supportive and this enabled classrooms to extend to galleries and special collections. Lessons in the development of ancient scripts took the class to the Antiquities Gallery, where etched bellies of Egyptian lapis scarab pins, painted funerary objects and Grecian urns became a basis for exercises and discussion. Medieval manuscripts were deeply represented in the slide resource library and supplemented with pages and texts from the archives. Periodically there was a stimulating book exhibition on display. I constructed lessons around examples of visual language, including such materials as playing cards, game boards, Victorian type design, book jackets and spines, cartoons, concrete poetry, livre' d'artiste and contemporary artist's journals language fragments, inscription and ritual objects. This process of course development cemented my attention to the visual page and provided unique access and proximity to a great museum's particularly pertinent collections.

I'd long been buying old books at estate sales and resale shops, not as a bibliophile or collector, but to disassemble, cut-up and subsequently print on with rubberstamps. I'd locate interesting aspects of the page or elements of story that in different ways inspired me. Having long made poeMvelopes, I'd developed my interest in micro-narratives where one might suggest a story in a few words, and I increasingly explored the intimate suggestiveness of color and fragmentary or visually altered language. I approached mail art and book art as proximate and sympathetic genres of an artist's practice. Though it took awhile for my ideas to clarify, I was working toward a theory positing that personal mail and the posted letter functioned as the most intimate form of the book, possessing the necessary criteria of unique editions - paper, folding and cutting, wrappers, text, writer, reader and so forth. In my studio I'd cut up books and overprint their pages using rubber stamps, a few words to the page. I began stamping geometric shapes, screens and representational images, while keeping my work language-based and poetically investigative.

Some of the long-term projects I've engaged are the open- ended and unbound folios "The Origins of Poetry," "Gibberish Entrees" and the political satire "Jesse Helms' Body." The Helms series began during the Reagan-era culture wars when the National Endowment for the Arts was the Senator's constant chosen target. Derived from medical textbook illustrations and anatomical cutaway drawings, "Jesse Helms' Body" begins with the premise "…that upon his death, Jesse Helms' body is donated to art." The work has been quite widely, but not inclusively, published. A San Francisco exhibition in 1995 at Bill Gaglioni's Stamp Art Gallery displayed the thirty-four pieces I'd at that time completed. Gagliloni published an illustrated catalogue of the exhibition.

Working with artist's books clarified for me the intentions and antecedents of visual poetry. Whether making my poems or engaging the work of others, I now "read" as well as "look at" visual literature. I'm less likely to be disoriented and confounded by letters and words composed with visual and spatial strategies.


Visual poetry by masters of the genre such as William Blake, Appolinaire, Kenneth Patchen, d.a.levy, Barry Nichol, Ian Hamilton Findlay, Bern Porter or Emmett Williams is more easily and broadly appreciated in today's visually and graphically sophisticated culture than was the case as recently as a decade ago. Such 1964 visual poetry projects as Walesse Ting's collaborative artist's book 1 Cent Life or John Furnival's construction "The Fall of the Tower of Babel," are, perhaps unfortunately, no longer peripheral to language's recognizable literary conventions. The graphic novel is now occasionally featured in the New York Times Book Review.

Among my forthcoming projects and publications is a collection to be published by Light & Dust Press that collects many of the visual poems from the "Jesse Helms' Body," "Origins of Poetry," and "Gibberish Entrees" folios. "Revisioning Webster's," a lengthy series derived from dictionaries, along with visual adaptations of pulp novels and romances will be included in the Light & Dust edition.

Clearly, commodification with all its attendant hype and compromise threatens the visual poet in a market-driven and corporatized visual culture and it is cliché to reiterate or paraphrase that which we all observe daily. Yet it is important to note that developments change perceptions. Worldwide familiarity with PC's, laptops, desktops, screen savers, software programs, the products and manifestations of global culture and a technologically-driven proliferation of actively borderless fusion across all arts' categories to the point where such a recently definitive term and once-helpful designation of "mixed media" is preciously quaint and functionally obsolete, paradoxically provides visual poetry particular opportunity. No longer viewed as weird, illegible or poetically eccentric by a culture that wears petroglyphs on t-shirts and paints by keystroke, visual poets may well overcome artistic barriers that have long limited audiences and marginalized serious consideration of their work. During March 1998 I spent a month driving around New Mexico and west Texas. My objective was to encounter pictographs and petroglyphs in their site-specific locations and, armed with some books, maps and local directions, I'd park, then hike back to private sites or along designated trails in public parks through the region's pervasive landscape of pre- and post- Columbian Anasazi, Mogollon or Chacoan ruins. Is it odd that I could sense and feel the pre-alphabetic and embryonic presence of language in the glyphic gouges, painted shards of pot and abraded chips on the cliffs' faces, markers and stones, and on the smoke smudged walls of caves?

Visual poetry is an ancient and powerful language act practiced since prehistory. The marks of antiquity articulate with a luminous power that continues through the work of history's anonymous and named practitioners. The texts and designs of tomorrow's poets will carry this long and articulate tradition into the future.

Joel Lipman Survey

Light and Dust   |   Kaldron On-Line

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Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry