Visual Poetry

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Visual poetry is an offshoot of abstract poetry. Many literary commentators have described Visual poetry as a break from concrete poetry, but with the attributes of more intermedia than concrete language. It is written in the form of a movie or a work of art, and it usually involves images, sounds, and sometimes smells. It’s not really about writing poetry so much as performing the act of reading poems out loud in a meditative way. For this reason it has sometimes been called “mind imagery,” or more simply, “the mirroring of self.”

The most common type of visual poetry is a semic poem. Semic poems are collections of a single, focused word or set of words that are displayed in a still picture. In this sense they are more like a video, except that the words are placed in front of the viewer. (They are not on a screen, as in a video game) The most famous epic poem is, probably, Robert Frost’s “The Road Goes On” (which is available as a motion picture). A lot of other great works by Robert Frost can be found in libraries, and you can buy videos of some of your favorite poets performing their own works.

Another form of visual poetry is an unrecognizable shape poem. An unrecognizable shape poem is a poem that utilizes objects, colors, lines, or just about anything else to create an impression of a physical object. One very famous example is the work “Starry Night”, by Paul Gauguin. This type of work was widely popular in the nineteen-thirties and it was made into a movie as well.

Unrecognizable shape and sketch poetry are a great way to make a point with almost no language, other than maybe repetition. For example, you might write a stanza about how night falls and then draw the stars as if they were individual Asemic people moving across the sky. Or you could draw a star in the shape of an anemic person and then write the stanza over each star, in parallel to the way the stars move across the sky. The point here is not so much what the star looks like, but the effect it has on us. We may take this as visual poetry, because the act of reading it makes some sort of statement about our culture and our universe.

Of course, not all visual poetry is about the objects used. Sometimes it’s about the things we can see. Celine Dion’s famous song “Arose” describes the ways that rose roses look and then goes on to describe them in terms that are very much like Romantic poetry. Though most concrete poets are very skilled at bringing roses to life on a physical level, there are also plenty who have a very keen sense of the aesthetic beauty of color and the effect that color has on the human mind. Color can be the key to making abstract concepts and feelings tangible, and that’s why so many artists use it in their work.

When you get right down to it, all of these forms of visual poetry are ultimately about the visual aspects of objects and events. They’re not really about the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’. What makes them different from other forms of aesopoeic visual poetry is the way they make the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ part of their poetry very clear, by means of the use of visual elements. When you’re done with a poem, you don’t want to have to ask yourself, “what was the meaning of that?” Instead, you want to know what your ‘what’ and ‘why’ are, and how they tie in with the deeper realities of existence.

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