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(post by Pauline Pechakijan)
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I interviewed Kathleen Sarnelli, a senior English major, and Manvel Kapukchyan, a senior Political Science major, on their journey together as a filmmaking duo. They have recently been working on their Los Angeles Drought Documentary with a number of honorable researchers in order to investigate whether or not El Nino could affect or mediate the severity of the drought. Read on to hear what they have to say about filmmaking!

What inspired you two to delve into the world of film?

K:  Well, I always loved telling and writing stories. I was always fascinated about other people’s lives so I usually would make up stories about them. Film allows me to tell the stories I create and share them with the world.

M: I always had many interests and could never decide what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I found myself most interested in art, history, photography, computer graphics, and business, but directing was my main love. I believe directing is unique because it combines technical formal practices with art. It was this combination of technique and art which gravitated me towards film, as well as the emotional and political impact film can have on societies.

How has your work changed throughout the years? Does working with each other help inspire new ideas?

K: I learned how to develop my stories to be more in depth. Also, my stories have progressed throughout the years, as have I, and they have transformed with me through new experiences. Working with Manvel is great because he is blunt and will let me know of ways I can improve my work. His honest criticism has helped push my work to new levels of maturity.

M: It would be impossible to be where we are without each other’s support. Our work continues to improve as we learn the craft and hone in on our individual and collective skills. Kathleen comes up with the stories, and I find a method to tell that story in the best possible way.

What are you currently working on?

K: The L.A. Drought Documentary. I know this deviates from my traditional fictional story telling, but I believe there is a story board component to making a documentary. We had been hearing about the California drought and subsequently low water supply, but were not getting a clear answer as to whether or not El Nino would clear it [the drought] up. Thus, we investigated this question and decided to make a documentary.

M: Our largest project now is The L.A. Drought Documentary. It is a UCLA research project which will be presented in May at the Undergraduate Research Conference. We also hope to exhibit the documentary at various film festivals. The project explores the current water crisis in depth by looking at the past, present, and future of the drought in regards to science and politics. We are working with many experts from JPL, UCLA, the local government, and the Metropolitan Water District.

What would you say are the biggest challenges for up-and-coming filmmakers?

K: The biggest challenge is negative feedback from naysayers and the competition within the industry. Although it is highly competitive, persistency and consistency will pay off in reaching your goals.

M: The biggest challenge is staying hopeful and optimistic in the face of what may seem to be a far-fetched and outlandish goal. We always encounter people that diminish our efforts or tell us our goals are impractical, but this is what we want to do and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we reach them.

Do you have any advice for other students who would like to explore filmmaking?

K: Do not be afraid to pursue something new because, chances are, it will make you stand out.

M: My advice is to be persistent and not give up. It’s so hard to know if you are on the right path or if your work is being appreciated or noticed, but the most important thing is to keep on filming and creating, as ultimately, that’s what being a film maker is about.

Where can we find more on your current project?

K & M: For more information, you can check out our Facebook page which is the most active and up-to-date source. Also, be sure to check out our trailer for the documentary on YouTube and our Instagram page with some short clips taken directly from the project.
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(post by Winston Bribach)

About this time 52 years ago, February 28, 1964 to be exact, Rod Serling’s pioneering sci-fi show, The Twilight Zone, did something foreign. They aired an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” That, however, was not unusual, as Serling loved showing his take on short stories. The foreign element comes from the fact that the adaptation was a short film not originally intended for television and shot in France. On top of that, this version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. In any event, Serling struck a deal with the film’s director, Roberto Enrico, so it would air on The Twilight Zone.
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By virtue of such information, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already clings to a unique place in the series canon. Yet, that doesn’t even come close to explaining the massive disparity between its feel in comparison to every other episode. Sure, there is the imagination, the escape from tangible reality that was a staple of The Twilight Zone. Also, the twist ending seemed like something Rod Serling would include in the installments he personally created for the silver screen, but the similarities end there.

From the first shot to the last it is absolutely clear that the film has none of early television’s earmarks. Perhaps this can be attributed to the lack of pressure to get an episode completed within a very short time frame, which ultimately resulted in a static arrangement and virtually no artistic license for directors (in a way, this is still a trademark of non-cable TV Shows). The camera captures the scene from every conceivable angle—high in the trees, close-up, medium length, and even underwater. Although it is black and white, nature plays a huge part. Branches, bushes, leaves, and water all provide obstacles for the camera, creating a dynamic atmosphere.
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Another thing missing from the episode is an abundance of dialogue. The Twilight Zone was well-known for its use of dialogue, and sometimes highly poetic philosophical monologues. This is even true in episodes where there’s only one character involved. In other words, the show (like all early TV shows) borrowed a page from Broadway’s book and focused on the characters’ spoken offerings. Roberto Enrico’s take on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” does the opposite. Whenever there is dialogue, it is short; a few words tops. This keeps the focus on the very artistic and carefully conceived use of the camera, which brings the audience into the main character’s point of view.

And finally, there’s the music. Instead of the show’s simple, yet eerie and ominous opening tune, a song plays from time to time. It underscores the story’s main point—how beautiful life seems when death is closing in and how much a person suddenly wants to go on living amidst such a circumstances.

In the end, the film provides proof of the gulf between classic television filming conventions and a true work of the motion picture art. The former uses the camera as essentially an idle observer watching a play unfold, where everything is reliant on the dialogue. The latter abounds in action and an active use of the camera, making dialogue only one aspect of the process and not the only aspect. Of course, there are further differences, but the list is much too long for our purposes here.

(post by Melissa Villalon)

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(The radio personnel and hosts of Alma del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Alma del Barrio, or soul of the neighborhood, persists as one of the most successful Hispanic radio programs in the country, lasting for over forty years in Los Angeles. Two Loyola Marymount University students, Enrique Soto and Raul Villa, sought to present an eclectic assortment of the many aspects of Hispanic culture, starting the radio program in 1973 as a one-hour segment on KXLU, promoting not only talented artists like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente but also new, less renowned musicians, film directors, poets, authors and painters. With increasing prominence and popularity, the station was eventually scheduled from 6 am – 6 pm every Saturday and Sunday, which is still the time slot today.

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[Francisco Aguabella (center), a former UCLA professor, played the batá drums and is an artist frequently discussed on Alma del Barrio. Still image from YouTube]

Radio DJs and hosts are bilingual. Spanish flows into English, and English melds to Spanish again. Both languages are inseparable, a testament to the assimilation and blending of cultures. Alma del Barrio features a weekly calendar of imminent, local Latino cultural events in live music performances, art exhibitions, poetry readings, and film previews. When you’re stuck in traffic on the dreaded 405 or when you want to listen to something new, try 88.9 FM! Alma del Barrio is a spiritual home in Los Angeles where any person can learn, listen, and discuss the dynamic Hispanic culture.

(post by Pauline Pechakjian)
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Lana Del Rey has built her career off of beautiful melodies paired with her delicately haunting voice that evoke rich, nostalgic sensory images and memories existing in the imagination of her musical persona. To date, the songstress, whose real name is Elizabeth Grant, has released four studio albums over the past four years and has reached tremendous amounts of success with her fans. Throughout her time on the public radar, there have been many debates that have questioned Del Rey’s authenticity – although she is marketed as being an alternative musician when compared to the likes of more mainstream artists that stream bubblegum-pop music, many claim that she is essentially just as “pop” as her contemporaries, only marketed differently. An aspect of this debate that I think doesn’t garner much attention is her use of literary icons and frequent references peppered throughout her songs.

As a philosophy major at Fordham University, I’m sure Grant received a solid education in many literary works and probably is truly inspired by the authors and poets that she frequently quotes. However, I’m not sure if her name-dropping of these influencers throughout her songs does much to actually convey any meaning or significance of these works outside of adding a touch of “intellectual” flair. Personally, I’m torn on the issue myself. I find that certain references to some of my favorite authors and poets help provoke certain images and memories when I listen to her music, but at the same time, I find it a bit unnecessary to saturate songs with hollow references that don’t intellectually contribute much other than possibly introduce names and concepts to previously uninformed listeners.
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Let’s look at some of these examples from her catalogue of songs. Off of the Born to Die album, in “Carmen,” she quotes A Streetcar Named Desire written by playwright Tennessee Williams, singing, “Relying on the kindness of strangers.” The line in the play refers to the character of Blanche DuBois, a deeply troubled woman who shares subtle similarities with the heroine of Del Rey’s song. Another instance is in her song, “Body Electric,” off of her Paradise album, in which she croons “Whitman is my daddy” and “I sing the body electric.” It can be argued that her utilization of Whitman and the way in which she frames him is an authentic form of showing her connection and appreciation for him, maybe akin to the way Allen Ginsberg does so in his “Supermarket in California” poem, but once again, these lines do little more than name-drop the American icon. The same album holds another literary-reference packed song, (and one of my personal favorites), “Gods & Monsters,” in which she alludes to both Oscar Wilde and John Milton. She repeats Wilde’s famous declaration that “life imitates art,” and the whole song, or even whole album, strongly ties in to themes presented by Milton’s Paradise Lost on the loss of innocence. A more recent example of Lana Del Rey’s use of literature on her albums is “Burnt Norton (Interlude)” featured on Honeymoon, which was released last September. Del Rey reads out the first part of T. S. Elliot’s poem of the same name while elegant sounds are heard in the background.

Out of all of her literary references and allusions, Lana Del Rey undoubtedly gives the most attention to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous novel, Lolita. She has a song with the same name, in which she sings “Kiss me in the p-a-r-k park tonight,” possibly assuming the voice of 12-year-old Dolores Haze singing to her abuser, Humbert Humbert. In another song from Born to Die, “Off to the Races,” she describes a lover as being the “light of my life, fire of my loins,” a direct quote from Nabokov’s novel in which the narrator expresses his infatuation for his much younger object of admiration. Although Lolita is one of my favorite novels, and perhaps may be one of Elizabeth Grant’s as well, her romanticization of the relationship presented in the book is not a true and accurate representation of the story set between Humbert and Lolita, and her allusions to their “love” completely overlook the hilarity and satire that Nabokov cleverly utilizes to portray the inner workings of a delusional, ill-adapted man.
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With all being said, I am and will always be a huge fan of Lana Del Rey’s music. I love her voice, her melodies, and the nostalgic, old-world feel that conjures up specific memories, images, and experiences whenever I listen to her songs. I personally believe that her catalogue of albums can all hold their own merit without being peppered with various literary references that ultimately don’t contribute much to her music at all. I don’t question whether or not Elizabeth Grant is personally inspired by Whitman, Wilde, Milton, Williams, and Nabokov; I’m sure all of these extremely influential poets and writers have played a large role in the shaping of her as an artist and individual. However, I think that the songstress’ strengths lie in her own musical innovations rather than the name-dropping of her favorite influencers. I love Lana Del Rey, and I love literature, but feel that her music is better off focusing on her own unique experiences and ideas rather than relating blurred ideas of famous literary icons.

(post by Dylan Karlsson)
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Fred D’Aguiar is a British-Guyanese poet, novelist and playwright, and now UCLA’s Director of Creative Writing. In preparation for his reading at the Hammer Museum with Justin Torres, Assistant Professor of English, Westwind, UCLA’s Journal of the Arts, chatted with him on his writing, his plans and his process.

How do you prioritize your own work as a writer, being it poetry or prose or particular projects you’re working on?

My first love as a writer was poetry, I began as a poet. Whenever a poem comes along I do kind of herd them like sheep into a safe pen, away from the wolves. I do feel grateful for each poem. Novels take much longer, and you can leave them and come back to them in a way that that is interesting.

After I finish one, I don’t want to start another for quite a while, so doing poems and essays and radio plays are really good ways to be renewed as a novelist, and then you can come across a new project, a new tone, a new way of doing it. I like each book to be very different from the last. Novels are all different in terms of shape, content, viewpoint, location… Not just as different rooms in a building, but probably different buildings.

I understand your next novel is centered on the Virginia Tech Shooting, which happened while you were teaching there. In the past your had written a series of elegies directed toward that experience. Now that you are looking back at the experience, do you find yourself also looking back to those poems?

No. When I did the poems, I was trying to speak as a poet present at the site. The novel will be a total work of fiction, it won’t be trying to say, “Who are the dead? When did I pass them in the corridor? Who did I last see?” Those kind of questions are about grieving, and memorializing, and elegizing an event. They are products of grief.

The novel is much more of a designed thing, which is going to broaden out to ideas of catastrophe around mental illness, the availability of weapons, and some of what we do when we get angry and upset. Then the response to that by the immediate community, then the government, then the country at large. I’m interested in the fiction, and the larger questions to do with something that is no longer breathing.

I’m interested in questions that have to do with society, which the rag-bag of the novel can contain in a way that isn’t an elegy. No loyalty to people, and events… this is not a historical document anymore, it is a work of fiction and contemplation… The Virginia Tech’s Shooting is an opportunity to take something that is well-known, well documented. Google it and the records are all there, the phone calls and everything… Well after that, the psychology of the individual is still up for grabs. It’s still to be charted, and fiction is the best place for doing that. For putting together a lightly interiority based on detail, sense, memory, excavating all that stuff. So I’m looking forward to doing that.

Since you are writing and imparting this experience, as the reading at the Hammer Museum approaches, what do you look forward to when reading your work for an audience?

I’m looking forward to having a conversation across generations with my new colleague [Justin Torres]. Because I think that’s always a dialogue I’m happy to have with an audience, posing questions. So for me, outside their isolation, and quiet, and benefit from writing a novel, and growing from that process through self-discovery and surprise––after that rush when time is suspended and squandered––there is then the next most beneficial thing: having that book in conversation with a set of readers, with a fellow writer. It has an equal sense of excitement, discovery and reward. So I look forward to the Hammer, it’s the next best thing.

(post by Natalie Green)
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Justin Torres came to Los Angeles after living in New York and Paris. To put it simply, he’s adjusting.

With short fiction in The New Yorker and a best-selling debut novel currently being adapted for the big screen, Torres now spends his time reading the fiction of his students as an Assistant Professor of English at UCLA.

In anticipation of Torres’ reading with UCLA’s Director of Creative Writing Fred D’Aguiar on Tuesday, February 23rd at the Hammer Museum, Westwind, UCLA’s Journal of the Arts, chatted with Torres about his own writing and that of his favorite authors.

How and when did you begin writing?

I started taking myself seriously pretty late. I didn’t come out of the womb with the first few pages of my novel.

I wrote but didn’t know. I didn’t have that consciousness of calling myself a writer. But then in my late twenties I started writing again. It was just time. I’d been carrying the language with me for a long time.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve written recently?

I’m frantically working on a story for a magazine, where I’m in the running for a short fiction contest with a deadline.

But it’s kind of exciting to write without a moment to compose—it feels revelatory.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve read recently?

Besides my students’ stories?

I’m currently reading The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector. I’m late to the game, but she’s really a writer’s writer. It’s thrilling—she tries on so many different styles but there’s also a coherence to her own style.

If you were to have dinner with any writer, dead or alive, who would It be and why?

My first impulse is (James) Baldwin because I have watched so many videos of him speaking. But he’s kind of an obvious choice.

So Derek Jarman, who I think is a very provocative, fascinating writer.

(Post by Winston Bribach)

If you’re anything like me, this is an in-between part of the year. The best part of the winter, arguably the year, has passed, and the invigorating warmth brought in by the Spring has not yet arrived. In other words, I have been suffering from Christmas withdrawal. I miss the seasonal good will, the smell of the Christmas tree, and the excuse to play my favorite songs. In fact, it might be the only time I can openly listen to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Sammy Davis Jr. without garnering a raised eyebrow or two.

Of course, I’m just being a little dramatic. I love the cool, briskness of a California winter, and the recent rains have been a welcome sight (except when I’m at the soccer field for a pick-up game). Still, I do miss Christmas, and to combat these longings I recently gave my old friend, O. Henry a look-see. I re-read “The Gift of the Magi” for the first time in a good while.
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Almost immediately, I was transported back a few years to the first time I came across the story. I felt again the driving element that finally urged me to take the plunge and start writing stories of my own—sentimentality. Although O. Henry’s classic tale about a young couple at Christmastime is in many ways a simplistic piece, it never failed to reward me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This is the feeling I wanted to grasp. Maybe not, however, in a wintery context.

If nothing else, the story captures the romantic nostalgia which has been a long-time staple of the season. After all, it’s supposed to be the “time of year when the world falls in love,” as the song (“Christmas Waltz”) goes, and O. Henry flows right along to that tune. He paints his poor young couple into a corner, where it seems like their efforts went to waste, and then ends on the most pleasant of notes. Love, indeed, conquers all. Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I listen to the dreamer in me a little too much, but I like to think that outdated maxim isn’t strictly a fantasy.
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Well, with my seasonal fix satisfied for the present moment, I should be able to truck on through until the weather warms up enough to hit the beaches. I would look forward to Valentine’s Day, but as yet the holiday remains only an extra excuse to buy a heart-shaped box of chocolates and not share them with anyone (because, yes, I love myself).

(post by Tina Lawson)

(source: Black Box)

Short stories haven’t changed very much since Edgar Allen Poe. Yes, there have been innovations, but the short story remains predictable and writers have been straining against these scaffolds for a long time; risky moves for the creatives to draw outside lines, but geniuses will do what they will, won’t they?

I don’t normally read short stories. Whenever I tune in, I feel like the stories I pick up are either too long for what they have to offer (the editor in me could cut paragraphs to pages when I feel like this), or they didn’t give enough – they acted too spare. It’s really a loser’s garden of choices with very few ready to impress. It sounds harsh because it’s true; we have a lot of choices out there to read. Besides the many classics (archaic and contemporary), unless one is in the business or pleasure to read short stories, they seem like static.

That’s why “Black Box” was revolutionary for me.

Written by Jennifer Egan from the perspective of a female spy (who then only speaks to the reader in the second-person narrative), Jennifer morphs flash fiction, poetry, and short story into a hybrid that accelerates the normal pace of a short story while giving the rich detail poetry can achieve.
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You simply must go to the New Yorker and read for yourself. It is a guaranteed fast read: Jennifer’s spare lines emulate poetry but offer the expositional detail that allows the reader to infer who the characters are, what the situation is, and what is at stake for the protagonist. Jennifer captures the tension perfectly of a spy encounter; this is better than any James Bond flick.

It is also notable because while the protagonist is female, it doesn’t involve the usual sentiment that clings to that type of character. Yes, of course, love is mentioned. Yes, sex and the potential violation in a sort of violent situation is mentioned. But this character hones herself like tool; this is part of the technique of using second-person narrative. It is distancing and intimate at the same time; that is what the character does for herself – nameless, yet entirely in touch with emotions that she keeps in check for the sake of a mission. I felt a good deal of respect for Jennifer and Black Box’s lead character; it is easy to fall on tropes, and good writing surpasses that… Jennifer achieved this.

(post by Nahal Amouzadeh)
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(Source: Poetry is Not a Luxury by Audre Lorde)

Audre Lorde wrote a prose piece in the 1970’s entitled “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” which I recently read for an English class encompassing women’s writing and women authors. At first glance, I thought the piece hokey; the title and the opening paragraphs reminded me of the elementary school teachers I had, who forced students to write in journals daily for a grade. The idea was to create and allow a safe space for creative and personal discovery, but the assignment never quite achieved what it set out to do. For me, I never saw the pages as welcoming; they were, instead, a place where I needed to present a self that my teacher would approve of. But for others, it seemed foreign eyes weren’t the problem or the need to create an image for our teacher. It was simply starting.

Not everyone has found poetry, fiction, or any other form of writing to be a release. As a matter of fact, the majority of people I’ve come across find it to be an arduous process, filled with more stress and hardship that its intended to be. Therefore the stance Lorde takes in her piece, that poetry is needed for specifically women and more broadly the oppressed, seemed to me to be too exclusive. Despite being one of few who does (somewhat shamefully and sporadically) write (bad) poetry to express myself, I still saw her piece as a generalizing monologue of the artistic optimist. She was, at first glance, the poet who sought out to make the world see through her lens rather than their own perspectives, whatever form they metaphorically took.

Yet my snap judgments are hardly the ones I stick to. Of course, after reading it again and hearing my professor (briefly) lecture on Lorde’s passage citing “the white fathers,” I understood the deeper point to Lorde’s essay.

Lorde wrote, “The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom.” And I agree.

Of course, in this passage, “the white fathers” Lorde condemns are those who, during the Enlightenment era, emphasized rational thought over the expression of emotion. But I would argue that even this world of emotional expressiveness, this world of poetry has its own “white fathers,” that emphasize a problematic, validated norm.

Poetry is not a luxury for the systematically oppressed, but it is a luxury for the privileged. When poetry is used as a form of expression in the post-modern world, it is placed in this realm of exclusivity because of what canon poetry has emphasized. The canon is poetry written by poets whose expressed feelings have been validated throughout literary history. These poets and pieces of poetry are the ones we’ve been taught throughout our education and live on with the stamp of approval; think Yeats, Wordsworth, Browning, etc. What do these poets have in common? They are almost always white, straight, middle-class men who live in that privilege and consequently write from that privilege. Poetry then, written by the same people who encompass that privilege, becomes a luxury.

Poetry written by the hand of the systematically oppressed – one of a different race, gender, sexuality, etc. from the canon/privileged – is needed. Poetry is a luxury when it expresses a privileged lifestyle that alienates. Otherwise, poetry is a weapon or a vehicle meant to revolutionize. It is a tool that helps the poet discuss oppression while it helps readers understand (albeit superficially) the poet’s struggle. Poetry is not a luxury to the systematically oppressed because, when the theory of cultural study is applied to poetry, it becomes a part of history, an artifact that encompasses the epoch the poet lives in. That poetry is in itself a challenge, fight, battle against the problematic issues that arise when the literary world is still dominated by the privileged.
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This isn’t to say that the poetry that echoes the canon should be eradicated, or that those with privilege should steer clear of poetry. It is simply to say poetry is not limited to that luxurious, privileged world. Furthermore, this isn’t to say that one has to take up that elementary school journal assignment as a starting point in shedding a light on their own plight, if they don’t want to. Maybe this is where I interpret Lorde’s piece a little differently again. It is not necessary to engage in this world only by writing poetry, but it is necessary to read poetry by those who are systematically oppressed; to listen. When looked at on the surface, poetry has become a world where validity is only given to poetry that echoes the canon, a world of luxury and privilege. But it is not. It is a tool to bring awareness. And to stay aware, one should look to poetry written by someone who deviates from the canon.

Last quarter, I discussed poet Warsan Shire in a previous blog post. If anyone is looking for poetry that does not perpetuate the luxury of privilege, I would recommend her works as a jumping-off point.

(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 !”:

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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.

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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.

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