visual poetry

'A sound bursts out of me'

An interview with Paul Dutton

Paul Dutton, soundsinging with CCMC at 416 Festival, Toronto, 2012. Photo by Rob Allen.

Editorial note: Fellow Canadians Paul Dutton and W. Mark Sutherland ply the field of unconventional poetic practice in this interview, conducted by Sutherland in December 2009 and January 2010. Sutherland, an intermedia artist perhaps as heavily invested in language as Dutton (with whom he has collaborated artistically in the past), explores his colleague’s vast array of poetic practices, including visual poetry, sound poetry, and improvisational soundsinging. Dutton has released five books and four recordings of his solo work (recent examples include the CDs Mouth Pieces and Oralizations), but is widely recognized for his ensemble work as well, namely his participation in the Four Horsemen with bpNichol, Rafael Barreto-Rivera, and Steve McCaffery. Below this interview, you will find six poems by Paul Dutton. — Kenna O’Rourke

Page, don't cage me

The visual poetry of Amaranth Borsuk & Brad Bouse (in) between page and screen.

reading from Between Page and Screen
reading from Between Page and Screen

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.

Squaring the vowels

On the visual poetry of Judith Copithorne

Square Vowels by Judith Copithorne
Square Vowels

A reading journal: 

Letterforms turned to smoke or swirl. Letters become flame. Fire. Perhaps the almost image of a face?

Vowels: a hoop, an O. The water-shimmer of another O, like a tree reflected in a  lake. Perhaps a Hebraic glyph.

Blue flame in the centre. An O, a droplet, a throat, a thought cave. The rippling of water is the flicker of fire. An O and an O and an O: round vowels enclosed in this squared frame.

Eye plus eye equals H

Temporal Flux in the visual poetry of Karl Jirgens

Heraclitus by Karl Jirgens

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.

Writing social plastics

Cultural polymers in the visual poems of Adam Dickinson

from The Polymers by Adam Dickinson
from The Polymers

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.

Ecstacist of the pwoermd

Geof Huth, wreading and the single word poem

 ffjordffloess by Geof Huth
ffjordffloess by Geof Huth

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.

Translation 2.0

Eric Zboya’s At the Heart of a Shipwreck

At the Heart of a Shipwreck
At the Heart of a Shipwreck


Birdlike, a poem lifts off from the page, leaves words behind, ascends beyond ink.

But then it flies into a window.

Talking doesn't always make things clearer

Christopher Willes' visible Negotiation with the invisible

Screen Shot: Negotiation by Christopher Willes
Screen Shot: Negotiation

Click here to view the video of Negotiation.

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? 

Copy/pasting the physical world

The bookworks of Ragnhildur Jóhanns

Ragnhildur Jóhanns: Book II - Vulcano
Book II - Vulcano


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.

The Re(a)d Yarn

Narrative in the visual poetry of Satu Kaikkonen

The Red Yarn
The Red Yarn

Satu Kaikkonen is a prolific and protean poet from Finland. She writes that “I'm a storymaker and this is seen in the narrative aspects of my vispos. Each series is like [one] continuing poem and the individual vispos are its verses.”

In this commentary, I’d like to focus on two ‘verses’ from her Grey and Yellow Series:  “Sisters” and “A Grandmother.”

Sisters by Satu Kaikkonen

The images are two vignettes or mises-en-scène. Chekovian tableaux in abstract space. A subdued grey background. A chair or two.  One chair remains in the identical place. One is added or removed.

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