(Post by Dylan Karlsson)

Visual poetry communicates itself through the materiality of the word, often exploring words as signs and symbols rather than a collection of sounds. One glance at a visual poem and you may be puzzled, bereft of words, for sometimes there is no telling what a visual poem says. But their message lies in their construction, which is often process driven, falling more in line with the practicum of design, mathematics or computer science than it does poetry.

For instance, take the art/visual poetry of Cornelis Vleeskens. The Australian poet borrows influence from Dadaism in his hectic and collage-like designs. He plays with language and characters, font and typography, manipulating the artifice of language and disregarding the customary medium of poetry: speech. Yet the poet is still in full control of language. Vleeskens’ animated and interpretive visual poems communicate without saying a word. Here are two selections from his book “A H !”:


Another visual poet is bpNichol, whose work in translations of a poem by Apollinaire led to new experimentations in the realm of visual poetics. His translations on a typewriter led to interpretations of the poem as a machine that generates lines, and arranged letters in varying formations. bpNichols used the process of xerography to explore the frailty of language and perhaps to meta-articulate the degenerative process of translation. He copied the Apollinaire poem on a Xerox machine until the words devolved into unintelligible markings.


The beauty of visual poetry lies in its potential, being able to convey meaning and employ creativity through text, images, graphics, or diagrams. Today, contemporary visual poets like Derek Beaulieu and Geof Huth are continuing to experiment with text, finding new ways to explore the visual medium of poetry.