Features - April 2014
Five Chilean visual poets
Visual poetry is an odd egg: it never seems to extinguish. It continues at the periphery, way back in the corner of our literary eye. Possibly surprising is that many poets around the world have a thriving fascination with text as visual material. Perhaps vispoets stare at words longer than most, but their work is enmeshed in the design elements found in the alphabet and in symbols generally. What vispoets alter is the very conveyance of communication. Words are exchanged for letters, for markings endowed with different hierarchies of meaning.
During a recent visit to Chile, which included a launch of The Last Vispo Anthology in Santiago, I met several robust visual poets eager for community and conversation. There’s quite an excitement in meeting people doing similar work - the camaraderie was excellent.
As part of these meetings, we determined a need to create a venue by which others can follow some work coming out of Chile. Of course, what is gathered here is a very small sampling that we hope can be expanded on at a later date.
The poets collected here wield a mastery over visual poetry. The work is both exacting and loose. It roams freely and explores a variety of potentials. From Anamaría Briede’s drafting forays into word geometry to Gregorio Fontén’s visual scores and sounded mappings. From Kurt Folch’s collaged hallucinations of text to Martín Barkero’s chaotic maelstroms of excess. And finally, to Martín Gubbins’s committed precision to logic and playfulness.
So what makes this visual poetry specifically Chilean, you might ask? The answer to that lies in the question: what is visual poetry? Fidgeting with visual language is a human's propensity to merge erudition and play. As it’s a global predilection, this creating visual poetry, the answer to that question is: nothing. By nothing, I mean to say that our approaches to manipulating alphabet may be culturally different, but the impetus to create is a communal experience.
An overview of the past hundred years of Chilean visual poetry is filled with gaps. Chilean poetry, mostly lyrical, has been resistant and distrustful of visual and sound experiments. The timeline begins with Vicente Huidobro, who claims to have published his calligrammes before Apollinaire’s. Then, between the 1920s and the 1950s, a small group of surrealist poets explored the page visually. The second half of the century started with the work of Nicanor Parra, Enrique Lihn, and Alejandro Jodorowski, among others, who collaborated in the seminal publication ‘quebrantahuesos’ in the late ’50s. The ’60s saw the appearance of Guillermo Deisler and Dámaso Ogaz, followed by the poets Raúl Zurita, Juan Luis Martínez, and Gonzalo Millán in the ’80s, whose visual work most stood out. The 2000s and onward are represented here by poets following a tradition informed by both such Chilean roots and the Brazilian, English, Canadian, and Latin American concrete movements of the twentieth century.
Visual poetry, in the last few years, has enjoyed a dynamic surge. The ability to share work electronically has dealt a mighty blow to previous pockets of isolation. Our Chilean friends offer you their salutations and a glimpse into their world, as it is much like ours.