Friday, April 8, 2016

John Bennett Defines Visual Poetry in the Avant Garde

For National Poetry Month, the Ohio Poetry Association is excited to present a workshop led by John and Cathy Bennett, artists and poets whose work explores the role of language through visual poetry. One might ask: “What is visual poetry?” Indeed this medium may be unfamiliar to many poets.

To address the question, John Bennett offers the following brief examination, just in time for the exciting workshop on Saturday, April 9. The following essay is adapted from his Introduction to Visual Poetry in the Avant Writing Collection, originally published through The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at The Ohio State University Libraries.

The avant garde workshop promises to be eye-opening for all in attendance, as John and Cathy offer a number of writing exercises, word games, and a close look at a fascinating artistic and literary community to which they have contributed so much during their careers. Get details about the workshop at the OPA website: ohiopoetryassn.org.


VISUAL POETRY

by John M. Bennett

“Como de costumbre, para ser futurista solo había
que ir lo más lejos possible al pasado.”
                                                                - Augusto Monterroso

All poetry is visual poetry. This idea, along with its corollary that all poetry is also aural, has become clearer and clearer to me as I have worked as a curator, practitioner, and collaborator. Visuality in poetry starts with the simple fact that there are blank spaces at the ends of lines, which is perhaps the most consistent factor that distinguishes poetry from prose. (A prose poem is poetry in the fact that the blank spaces are present by implication; present in their absence, you might say.) That blank space then extends to an almost infinite variety of forms and procedures, from typographic variance to three-dimensional constructions, from shaped poems to “classical” concrete poems, from recognizable words and phrases arranged in patterns to asemic scrawls and letter-forms and to purely graphic elements arranged in a “poem-like” manner. With respect to orality, it is safe to say that there is not a poem in existence that could not be performed aloud in some way. Even the most illegible asemic scrawl can be used as a script for the voice, and often is by many poets in these traditions. It may well be that poetry began before writing as a mnemonic social context for stories, news, and myths and thus as an oral form, but as soon as it began to be written, it became a visual form as well.

Mitosis, by Allen Bukoff, 1974
Sweeping aside the sweeping generality above, however, it would be of some use to discuss at least some of what it is that distinguishes visual poetry from standard textual poetry. Perhaps it simply has to do with the fact that it includes strongly visual dimensions that one cannot avoid considering as an important part of the experience of reading/seeing the work in question. Whereas in the case of textual poetry, the visual dimension is to a large extent unconsciously perceived, or it is at least possible to experience the work paying little attention to its visual qualities.

There is also the question of the long and varied history of visual literature, which to a large extent forms its own tradition or subculture. That history is distinct in numerous ways from the history or subculture of more strictly textual poetry, and therefore is a distinguishing characteristic from it.

Another issue is the relationship of visual poetry to visual art, and the use of linguistic elements in what is generally considered to be visual art. At what point does such art become visual poetry? I think it is more useful and enriching to think of it as either or both, depending on the context of one’s discussion or appreciation. Just as, at the other end of the continuum, it is most useful to think of poetry and visual poetry as either or both.

Underlying these considerations is the fact that inherent in Western Civilization, and probably in the human mind itself (as in large part a creation of that civilization) is the need to categorize phenomena. This is certainly true for visual poetry, which is generally regarded as a phenomenon separate in itself. In fact, however, as suggested above, it is an aspect of all written language, and has been since written language came into existence. Being inherently visual, written language must be seen to be apprehended (or, as in the case of Braille or other technologies, in some way physically experienced—in the case of a blind person being read to, the reader must see the text) and its very nature is founded on signs and symbols referring to things in the physical or mental world, be they sounds, objects, or actions. In the case of poetry in particular, the usual modern poem, with its blank spaces either at the ends of lines or surrounding the words, requires a visual experience to be fully known.

Visual poetry calls to mind doubts about the stability of meaning in language—that is, the strict relationship between language and reality. Visual poetry, perhaps more than “normal” textual poetry, presenting or suggesting meaning on several levels and through several processes of consciousness simultaneously, mirrors that doubt. Or perhaps it is an attempt to do what language has always tried to do: capture “reality” and make it conscious. The difference is that visual poetry perceives reality—or the world—as multiple, ambiguous, shifting, polyvalent, and paradoxical. The opposites join into one total perception. The fact that different parts of the mind and/or mental processes address visual experience and linguistic experience (and within linguistic experience itself there are very different and separate processes for each functionality of language: speaking, thinking, writing, translating, etc.) means that visual poetry is especially useful for dealing with and presenting this multivalent/multiconscious experience of the world. I suspect that has something to do with why it is so often a field of endeavor that is ignored in the genre-categorizing institutions of our society: those genres (visual art, literature, music, and so on) are not only socially constructed, but present a much simpler and therefore more comforting vision of what the world is. I suggest that that simple vision is limited and illusory, however. Clemente Padín, the great Uruguayan visual and experimental poet, has discussed at some length how visual and experimental poetry stand in direct opposition to the dominant socioeconomic paradigms of our day (see his essay in Signos corrosivos, Mexico: Ediciones Literarias de Factor, 1987; translated by Harry Polkinhorn as Corrosive Signs, 1990).

Most visual poets have worked in a variety of other modes and genres, as textual poets and writers, media artists, and in other formats. Their work as visual poets, then, does not exist in a completely separate category, a “compartment” in which the artist/writer works in isolation from his or her other work, but functions on a continuum with all that other work. Many of these works, for example, have also been treated as performance texts. As Michael Basinski has stated, “A function of visuality is performance...a visual poem should be interpreted as a literary score...visual poets should consider their pieces to be literary scores rather than purely literary, visual images” (in CORE: A Symposium on Contemporary Visual Poetry, ed. By John Byrum & Crag Hill, Mentor, OH/Mill Valley, CA: Generator Press, c1993). (Another excellent recent source and anthology is The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998–2008, ed. by Crag Hill & Nico Vassilakis, Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2012.)

Visual poetry is a field of endeavor that is expanding exponentially just now, helped immeasurably by the ease of distributing it through the Internet: web sites, blogs, e-mail, social networking sites, and so on. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Exciting Opportunity to Visit the Ohioana Book Festival and Become More Involved with OPA



OPA is looking for 2-3 member volunteers to help staff its table at the Ohioana Book Festival on April 23, 2016, from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm at the Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square. Duties would include:

-         
           - Helping to set up and tear down the OPA table

-          - Greeting visitors who stop by the OPA table

-          - Talking to people about the benefits of joining OPA

-          - Passing out OPA literature

-          - Selling OPA publications

-          - Keeping the table presentable

-          - Enjoying yourself



The Ohioana Book Festival is an annual event which boasts more than 3,000 visitors who come to meet writers and poets from across Ohio. It is a fun-filled day with more than 120 Ohio writers onsite (including ten featured authors), panel discussions, special activities for children and teens, a book fair, and more! The book festival offers something for every reader of every age—and it’s FREE! Visit the Ohioana website to learn more. 


We are hoping to get enough volunteers so that those who staff the table can trade off duties so that everyone can check out all the books, and attend readings, panel discussions, and book signing. It’s a great opportunity to meet other writers from Ohio, to become involved with OPA, and to learn more about the art and craft of writing.



If interested in learning more about this exciting opportunity, please contact Chuck Salmons, President, at Charles@ohiopoetryassn.org by no later than April 15. 


***



© 2016 Ohio Poetry Association

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Brief Look at Ohio Poet of the Year

Nominations Now Being Accepted

Since 1976, the Ohio Poetry Day Association (founded in 1937 by authorization of the Ohio Legislature) has been naming annually an Ohio Poet of the Year, basing its choice on a book published in the previous one to two years. The award is based on the one book and not on an aggregation of work published over some time.

During the first several years, selection was made by the Poetry Day Board, acting as a committee of the whole. In the past 20 or so years, there has been a coordinator and a group of (lately) four judges, different each year, who are chosen to represent academic and non-academic outlooks, and to include generally an equal number of male and female judges, one of whom is a former Poet of the Year.

One variation is that in the 50th and 75th years of Poetry Day (the competition had not existed at the 25th year), instead of honoring an already-published book, the OPD Association has offered a contest for a chapbook manuscript and has published the winner, thus giving the award to a brand new book rather than one already extant.

Several rules govern for the poet and the book to qualify. First is that poets may not self-nominate, but their books can be offered by others: a publisher or editor, a college faculty or member thereof, a writers' or poets' organization, any other person of poetic standing in the state, or from the lists of books newly published that are put out by the Ohioana Library several times a year. The poet must be a native or a resident of Ohio, or if neither, must have lived in Ohio long enough to have formed serious ties to the state. (A list of former winners of Poet of the Year follows.)

The book nominated must be longer than a chapbook (i.e., more than 48 pages) and not a "collected" or "complete" works—the former because it gives too few poems to consider, and the latter because it is generally uneven in quality. The book may be from a commercial or university press or self-published, but it may not come from a vanity press. Books nominated will be screened for quality and to ensure that there are not too many of them for judges to consider. For example, one year there were eight nominations, and the judges complained at so many. Generally, the list is three to five books.

Nominations must be in to the coordinator by May 1 and can be sent to:

Amy Jo Zook
3520 State Route 56
Mechanicsburg, OH 43044

Previous awards or honors to the book are allowed. Poets who have previously been nominated may be so again, for a different book, but no one will be chosen a second time as Poet of the Year. Only one book is required to accompany the nomination, for all the books will be sent to the judges in a round-robin fashion and eventually returned to the coordinator when all votes have been submitted.

The person chosen as poet of the year will be notified in the late summer and invited to be the luncheon speaker at Ohio Poetry Day weekend in October. The award consists of $200 and a commemorative plaque, with one poem for the chosen book also being published in the year's BEST OF collection of general contest winners.

Ohio poets are writing and publishing great collections of poems. I encourage readers to submit their nominations soon.
- Amy Jo Zook

Previous Ohio Poets of the Year

1976
 
1977
1978
 
1979
1980
 
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
 
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
 
 
1993
1994
Hallie Cramer
Muriel de Chambrun
Virginia Moran Evans
Cecil Hale Hartzell
Celia Dimmette
Novella Humphrey Davis
Daisy Lee Donaldson
Mary Oliver
James Magner, Jr.
James C. Kilgore
no award given
Charlotte Mann
Richard Hague
Michael J. Rosen
J. A. Totts
Timothy Russell
Amy Jo Schoonover
Robert Wallace
Bonnie Jacobson
David Baker
Debra Allbery
Grace Butcher
Frankie Paino
David Citino
Tom Andrews
Michael J. Bugeja
A Sprig of Bittersweet
Sudden Soring
To Seek the Sun
Song on the Anvil
Ocean Carry Us Far
There Was This Place
Surface Fragments
Twelve Moons
Till No Light Leaps
African Violet
    ---
Grape Pitcher
Ripening
A Drink at the Mirage
Outside the Dream
The Possibility of Turning to Salt
New & Used Poems
The Common Summer
Stopping for Time
Sweet Home, Saturday Night
Walking Distance
Child, House, World
The Rapture of Matter
The Discipline
The Hemophiliac's Motorcycle
After Oz
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
 
2006
2007
2008
2009
 
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
 
2015
Alberta Turner
Lou Suarez
William Matthews
James Cummins
Susan Grimm
Miriam Vermilya
Myrna Stone
Pauletta Hansel
Deanna Packard
Elton Glaser
Cathryn Essinger
Herbert W. Martin
David Hassler
Martha Collins
William Heyen
Stephen Haven
Terry Hermsen
Will Wells
George Looney
Linda Ann Schofield
Lianne Spidel
Dzvinia Orlowsky
David Lee Garrison
Jeff Gundy
Beginning With And
Losses of Moment
Time & Money
Portrait in a Spoon
Almost Home
Heartwood
The Art of Loss
Divining
ln Dreams We Kiss Ourselves Goodbye
Pelican Talks
My Dog Does Not Read Plato
Escape to the Promised Land
Red Kimono, Yellow Barn
Blue Front
The Confessions of Doc Williams
Dust and Bread
The River's Daughter
Unsettled Accounts
Open Between Us
Psalms of the Hood
What to Tell Joseme
Silvertone
Playing Bach in the D.C. Metro
Somewhere Near Defiance
 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Becca Lachman shares her Desert Island Books

After leading a terrific workshop in early January, poet Becca Lachman has sent us her list of desert-island poetry books—those must-haves that shape her life in many ways. She writes:

"To me, ‘desert island’ books means keeping my finger on the pulse of those poems and collections I need to look into my own life in order to encourage change, forgiveness, and transformation—basically, those major things that I often ache to see and read about in the larger world."

Not surprisingly, Lachman's list is emblematic of her respect and admiration for William Stafford. But all of the works here will strike chords deep within any reader.

"These are books that have changed me, have asked me to laugh more, and have asked me to look hard at my voice, privilege, and possibility," she says. "They are also books I keep going back to when I want to re-learn how to tell a story that matters through verse, a poem series, or even a table of contents."
  • Ask Me: Selected Poems, by William Stafford
  • Early Morning: Remembering my Father, William Stafford, by Kim Stafford
  • Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford, eds. Wixon and Merchant
  • Kyrie: Poems, by Ellen Bryant Voigt
  • Selected Rumi, Coleman Barks, translator
  • Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine
  • New & Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver
  • Dearest Creature, by Amy Gerstler
  • Ariel, by Sylvia Plath
  • The Dead and the Living, by Sharon Olds
  • Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, by Donald Hall (essays about poets and writers)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bibliography is Great Resource for Teaching Poetry to Young Writers


The deadline for the OPA Student Poetry Contests is just over a month away—January 15, 2016—and we hope our members and non-members will encourage their teenage children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and any high-school students in their lives to submit their poems to this free contest. But perhaps you’re unsure of how to get started.

Thanks to OPA members Sandy Feen and Rikki Santer, we can offer an annotated bibliography of some of their terrific books for inspiring the writing of poetry. If you know Sandy and Rikki, or have heard them read their work at any number of poetry venues and open-mics, then you know that they’re wonderful poets.

Both are also public high school teachers and creative writing instructors who are dedicated to the teaching of poetry in their own classrooms. And they’ve assembled the following annotated bibliography to aid others—such as teachers, parents, mentors—in working with young poets in creating their own poems.

We think you’ll find the bibliography to be an invaluable resource. Click here to download the bibliography [pdf].

For complete details on the student contests, click here. If you are interested in a poetry workshop geared for teachers of writing, please contact OPA for scheduling; email us at team@ohiopoetryassn.org.

Many thanks to Rikki and Sandy for taking the time to compile and share the bibliography.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Get Ready for a Great Year of OPA Events in 2016


As another year comes to an end, we reflect on events of the past twelve months but also on the year to come. And OPA has an exciting year of programming planned for 2016.

Our quarterly workshops will cover a wide range of poetry styles and topics. Becca Lachman will work with attendees to explore how poetry plays a role in our pursuit of peace, community, and social justice. And renowned artists John and Cathy Bennett will lead an exploration of the avant garde.

We also have a great slate of special events lined up. In February, we’ll continue our series of ekphrastic poetry workshops at the Toledo Museum with Cindy Bosley. And in the mid-June, riding the tide of a successful reading this past September, you can join OPA as it takes part in the Summer Solstice Celebration at Serpent Mound in Adams County, where we’ll again feature some of Ohio’s top poets and honor voices of the past.

Our writers’ retreats at Malabar Farm will feature two respected poets and educators. In May, we welcome Charlene Fix, professor emeritus at Columbus College of Art & Design. And in September, we welcome David Baker, professor at Denison University and poetry editor of The Kenyon Review. We highly recommend you join us in the beautiful surroundings of Pleasant Valley for a weekend of great poetry, food, and camaraderie.

As always, we’ll gather in July for our annual picnic featuring food and poetry. And when it comes to contests and submissions, members are encouraged to get those submissions in for our Ides of March Contest and Common Threads. Ohio students are encouraged to submit to our annual High School Poetry Contests as well. Finally, we encourage all Ohio poets and OPA members alike to submit to the forthcoming ekphrasticpoetry anthology.

A dedicated team of OPA leaders and volunteers are working hard to bring these dynamic programs to the community in 2016. In addition to hard work, it takes membership dues, small grants thanks to The Columbus Foundation (TCF), and additional donations from all of you who love poetry and want to see it thrive in Ohio.

As we approach Giving Tuesday on December 1, please consider the good work that OPA does to promote the art of poetry throughout Ohio and give what you can. No amount is too small. Most OPA events are offered free to the public, including our high school contests, and your donations help to make this possible.

So, in this season of giving, help OPA continue to grow and provide these great programs. To donate to OPA, you can send a check to:
Rinda Sansom
OPA Treasurer
1258 Scott Road
Mansfield, OH 44903

Or visit theTCF PowerPhilanthropy website here and search “Ohio Poetry Association” to donate.

The OPA leadership team thanks all its members and donors and The Columbus Foundation for continuing to help us bring great poetry events to Ohio. For full details on our programs, visit the OPA events page on our website. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

More photos from the Serpent Mound Reading, September 26, 2015

On September 26, 2015, The Ohio Poetry Association sponsored the “Voices from the Past,” reading at Serpent Mound State Memorial in conjunction with the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System (AAPS). You can read all about it by clicking this link. Here are some additional photos from that event taken by Kari Gunter-Seymour.


David and Guilda LaClerc Altman

Kimberlee Medicine Horn Jackson

Kari Gunter-Seymour

Connie Willett Everett


Steve Abbott

Kathleen Burgess

Jack Burgess

Mark Hersman


Kerry Trautman

Chuck Salmons