Why am I interested in this topic?
Since childhood, my most critical outlets have been visual and linguistic. My work tends to have a narrative quality, and I enjoyed illustrating my own stories from a young age. Visual art has ,of course, been my main focus and what I've developed the most, but writing poetry is an equal outlet emotionally. Learning to merge these modes of working, with or without text, is something I'm currently exploring. I've especially been thinking more about it as I research letterpress techniques and Eastern art this semester. China and Japan have a long history of merging text and image. It's impossible for me to understand all of the symbolism behind these beautiful illustrations, since I cannot read the text. However, I find them inspiring and began researching this vein of work within the Western tradition.
20th century visual poetry: Dadaism
Dada was a movement in art and literature that expressed the disillusion of society during the early 20th century. According to the Poetry Foundation, Dadaists "struck upon this essentially nonsense word to embody a simultaneously playful and nihilistic spirit alive among European visual artists and writers during and immediately after World War I". Dada inspired many subsequent movements like Surrealism and Fluxus - as well concrete poetry in the 1950's (Chaverri). Speaking to the irrationality of war and wealth disparity, Dada writers and artists juxtaposed seemingly unrelated words and images together. Often times these combinations appeared to be humorous, profound yet playful. Dada was established in Zurich in 1916, but eventually an international collective was formed through the dissemination of Dada magazines (Tate). These magazine covers use typography in a way that asks the viewer to consider the surface and form of the letter or word, rather than only reading the meaning.
Concrete poetry is quite misunderstood and commonly mistaken for pattern poems; a form of text which takes the literal shape of the poem's subject (for example, Reinhard Döhl's "Apfel".) Concrete poetry is a typographic artform that reads equally on a verbal and visual level. Artists, designers and poets began making concrete poetry in the early 20th century, inspired by "non-rational" art movements such as Dada and Surrealism (Encyclopædia Britannica). Some notable founders include Swiss designer, Max Bill, as well as Bolivian artist Eugene Gomringer (E.B.) Concrete poetry isn't meant to be read aloud, but rather to express the subject of a poem by visual means; using design elements such as arrangement, size, color, and repitition of the text create it's message. Essentially, the letters and words become the building blocks of a visual image. Concrete poetry became internationally popular in the 1950's amongst the avante-guard, particularly in countries such as Japan, Brazil and Switzerland (Rosenstock). Poems are commonly constructed on a typewriter, collaged from found letter forms, or letterpress printed.
Letterpress broadsides are another platform that merge text and imagery, and still made today. Broadsides are a large, one-sided letterpress printed poster often of an ephemeral nature (Wikipedia). Historically, from the 1500's-1900's, broadsides were used to advertise or announce an upcoming event. However, broadsides are typically printed today by small publishers and letterpress studios for artistic purposes. I haven't found many examples of non-traditional presentations of text, or where the image is not a literal illustration of the poem. However, this genre of printing could certainly be explored further and has much potential for interesting visual poetry.
Concrete poetry. (2017). Britannica Online Academic Edition, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Gabriel Rosenstock. "Silence! - A meditation of the 1950s poem ‘silencio’ by Eugen Gomringer". Poetry Ireland News. (2013). <http://www.poetryireland.ie/writers/articles/silence-a-meditation-of-the-1950s-poem-silencio-by-eugen-gomringer>.
Getty Museum. "How to Make a Visual Poem". YouTube video. (2013). <www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWpMB6gmBYA>.
Alejandra Chaverri. "Tethering among Futurist Visual Poems, Dadaist Visual Poems and Concrete Poetry." Graphic Design Talk. (ND).
"Dada". The Poetry Foundation. (2017). <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/dada>.
"Dada Movement, Artists and Major Works". Tate. (2017). <www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/dada>.