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Our third issue of The Bleed focuses on a contemporary visual poetic strain we call typoetics. Inspired by Emmett Williams’ seminal book sweethearts, which manages to be a book of visual poetry via traditional typographic practices only, we sought out contemporary works that use the letterform in its naturally designed state, without graphic distortion or elaboration.
What is contemporary typoetics?
What we found, after calling on the Facebook community, was that contemporary typoetics takes a wholly different approach than Williams’. Instead of deploying letters across the page under rigorous formal limitations to create semi-traditional poems, contemporary workers are creating visually elaborate works that stage the letterform on dramatic backgrounds that take advantage of everything modern graphics programs have to offer.
Granted, this tendency may be a matter of subjectivity, of a limited perceptual field determined by the workers we’re familiar with and frequently see publications from. But the tendency remains fascinating nonetheless, for it shows how an art form directly descended from the ancient pattern poem has thrived, evolved, and continued to engage with human experience.
Contemporary typoetics, then, has evolved the form of the pattern poem by bringing it a step further from layout, from the careful arrangement of the scars of letterforms upon the the blank canvas of the page. In contemporary practice scale of the letterform (arrayed in more or less rhythmic progression across the page, creating an eye-music of more dynamism than the ancient pattern poems), the use of physical collage (bringing an earnest verisimilitude to the image), and the literal application of paint to the poem-inscribed surface, all push the concrete aesthetic in new(-ish) directions, at the least.
Granted, these are tactics not unimaginable to the earlier practitioners: the Simias’s, the Marinetti’s, the Williams’s. After all, “The Axe” is so-named for the place of its inscription; the missing 13th line alludes to the poem’s once–entirely concrete existence. Marinetti’s entire barbaric music depends upon the visual music of scale. And Jasper Johns, not known as a poet, generally, made the painted word his whole canvas for a time.
But to look at these precedents and deem the work in this new issue of The Bleed in any way derivative, at all not-new, would be akin to saying Caravaggio hadn’t done much different from Giotto, that Russian Futurism made Mondrian redundant. So take a look …
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