I don’t usually wake to find myself without a clue about where I am. I generally have some sense of how my location relates to the broader world and the larger story of how I got there. Similarly, my first reading of a section from a larger work is usually preceded by an examination of the entire poem and a reading of any contextualizing text — back cover copy, introduction and afterword, perhaps even other discussions of the poem, including “First Readings.”
Dear Reader, open the pages of Between Page and Screen. Nothing but elegantly simple AR (augmented reality) codes. But then you point your browser (and here, Reader, I think of you, too, as browser) at the book’s website and hold the book within range of your computer’s webcam.
Where is the text? The text is a (g)host.
In Amaranth Borsuk & Brad Bouse's Between Page and Screen, the text literally hovers between page and screen. But of course, this, too, isn’t quite true. It only appears to appear in the virtual air between the reader and the website.
OK, let’s keep this moving. I want to discuss the traditions of visual poetry with Karl Jirgens as well as his own work, and his poem, Heraclitus, seems a perfect place to start. Everything flows.
What is here? How should we read? Let’s start from the top.
I + I = H
Visually, two I’s joined together with a plus sign become an H. The ‘I,’ the subjective self, becomes H, the Heraclitean changeable self. I is another: I is a river and the self is the ever-flowing water. Or vice versa: The self is a river and “I” i-dentifies with the flow. “I me a river.” Eau-de-vie.
But language shifts. Signs shift. The flow of the name: Heraclitus and the French form of this Greek, Heraclite, skid through time, down the page, become liquid: rivers which are both I’s (I-lands) and the vertical arms of H. The H which begins Heraclitus. The movement of names Mesmer I’s our two eyes. Motion on the page is time. Time is a blur of objects, names, or signs.
Gliding over crystals, deking around the cool surface. The sibilant shriek of skate blades: SSS. A choreography of improvised play. Sidthetic molecules, bonded by a fan's-eye view of hockey sticks, fond frond-shadows Family-Circling over the ice-white page.
Open rink poetics. Not the path of the breath, but the darting, deking movement of thought, culture, NHLanguage. Meme will rock you. We shinny through refereeing referents, referencing the nervous (plas)tics of culture, the polymurmurs of process, pro sports, Prospero's magicking and puckish hex-agonists. Language's ludic overtime. The lingual powerplay where there seems to always be one missing.
There’s a kind of tickling that language does, that letters do, somewhere in the brain. That reading does. Looking and the mind have a special relationship. As with faces.
In Geof Huth’s visual pwoermd, ffjordffloess, the letters and the ligatures that love them are Loki-like tricksters tickling. Trickatures. It’s a lavamelt, a slow glacial movement of f’s to merge together, to flow.
The f’s are doubled, duplicitous.
We have to ffjord the river of our usual alphabetic reading. The f-floes together. They melt, they mar, they merge with each other and with what’s next: a j or an l. It’s a music of ascender and descender. Fjords are made from that: mountainsides and waterffilled valleys. Mountain peak reflected in water.
And then at the end, there’s what seems like a half f, sliced vertically, maybe cut from a whole f, f-ed off, an anti-ligature, sliced. One arm gone. Only half a foot. And the arm that’s there, stumpy wing that it is, is different than the other f’s.
What happens when 'talking' happens? It doesn't always make things clearer. But what else happens? Is there another kind of exchange, another kind of dance? How are we changed by listening, by looking?
Pleasure in viewing is a pleasure to think freely, visually, without destroying it with interior chatter. (from Notes 3: for Martín Gubbins)
What can you say about seeing? It’s wonderful, well, that’s not nearly enough. Try as you might, and thousands have, to describe the joyous nature of seeing...It’s a passage from the thing through the eye into the brain. Seems like a fantastically long journey where anything can happen. And it does. And no one ever seems to really be there. No one ever gets it right, so we continue to look, to stare. (fromStaring Poetics Appendix One.)
A conversation with Nico Vassilakis about reading, looking, and visual poetry where my questions are invisible.
Perhaps I state the obvious when I write of staring at the alphabet and watching letters dislocate. Few vispoets write about what they do, even fewer about how they see.
The alphabet has a tendency to transmogrify when stared at long enough. It unravels and informs the viewer/reader of its simultaneous realities, that is, the housing of both visual and verbal elements.
Icelandic artist Ragnhildur Jóhanns’ work exists in the liminal space between book and art, between reading and looking, but perhaps, most significantly, because much of her work is so tactile, between looking and touching.
But doesn’t the experience of reading books always involve touching? We touch with our eyes. We look with our fingers. Books are also anthologies of touch. Their bindings, pages, paper, print. Holding a book. Turning its pages. We feel the paper – its texture and thickness. As my niece once exclaimed, “Wow! Its pages are paper thin.”
When we engage with written language, we feel each curve or angle of letter. Some books are the size of a sparrow, some are eagle-sized.