Singular Vispo :: First Encounters Part 5

Was there an experience, a specific interaction with visual poetry that infected your brain, made you see language differently or drew you toward exploring vispo further? Is there a vispoem that captured your imagination. What piece first awakened in you the possibility of a visual alphabet/language alternative? That was the general question posed and here are the results. Though this query is overly reductive, the poets were kind enough to choose, for the most part, a singular vispoem as example of this phenomenon. The over forty posts will be rolled out in groups of five each. Enjoy!


Francesco Aprile /on Francesco Saverio Dòdaro

 Francesco Saverio Dòdaro, “Fra spazio e suono”, 1984, cm 50×70 in Parola fra spazio e suono. Situazione italiana, Viareggio, 1984

Right: Francesco Saverio Dòdaro, “Fra spazio e suono”, 1984, cm 50×70 in Parola fra spazio e suono. Situazione italiana, Viareggio, 1984

Genetic perspective. About Francesco Saverio Dòdaro

Francesco Saverio Dòdaro (Bari, ITA, 1930) is a poet, visual poet, essayist, writer, literary and arts theorist. In 1976, Dòdaro founded the Genetic Movement that is located in Lecce, Rome and Toronto, based on the Mukarovsky-Lacan-Bowlby-Fonagy co-ordinates. He placed the poetic condition in the mourning processes, which are caused by amniotic separation. The matrix of the Dòdaro’s theory is a language considered as a conjunction – Language is a conjunction. Language is an ‘and’ (Dòdaro, Dichiarazione onomatopeica, Lecce, Ghen Arte, 1979) – owing to a lacanian manque à être, that is the primary cause of the separation of the subject from the maternal complement (Dòdaro, Codice Yem, Lecce, Ghen Arte, 1979). All human languages have a sound. Dòdaro found that sound in pre-natal heart-beats (of both mother and foetus). Francesco Saverio Dòdaro theorized the rhythmical archetype of poetical languages. According to the Genetic theory, mother and foetus were the archetype dual-principle and language was a link to the dual-unity.



Luc Fierens /on Sarenco


– when i started writing experimental poetry, after some try-outs at school because of an inspiring flemish teacher who taught about the surrealists & paul van ostayen, i wrote my experimental poetry in a “brouillon”(scrap)book and later i took out the best to be published.

Already in the bouillon i put newspaper photo’s in collage in this book , see examples on YouTube (0.49) and when i made my first magazine Parallel i had contacts with Lotta Poetica & Sarenco and i recognized the same research of poesia visiva.

poesia visiva : c’est une guérilla des images et des signes. Le passant détourne le message et ouvre un nouvel espace de liberté.

Poesia Visiva movement in Italy came out when gruppo 70 (with Umberto Eco, Lamberto Pignotti etc..) changed the literature in Italy and connected with the contemporary art scene where the Arte Povera & Conceptual art practices started. But the market decided to make Conceptual Art big and Poesia Visiva became a niche but still inspiring young artists world wide also Concrete Poetry now has been re-used for new experiments.

I think these (political & social) times have many similarities (see Pasolini) with the 70’s so it is no surprise that poets and artists attack the images & texts of the mass media to comment on situations.

Sarenco (pseudonym of Isaia Mabellini) is an Italian critic and visual artist. In the 70s, as a member of the collective Gruppo 70, he actively participated in the development and diffusion of the artistic movement called “Visual Poetry” (Poesia Visiva). Among many other things, he was cofounder of the magazine Lotta Poetica (Poetic WarorPoetic Struggle), along with Belgian artist and poet Paul de Vree. The first issue of the polemical magazine appeared in June 1971. From the beginning, the objective was to assign poetry in particular, and art in general, with a concrete political function, “bonding visual poetry with Marxism and political activism” (Images and Imagery, New York: Peter Lang, 2005, p. 81). In a text published in 1972 in the anthology Poesia e/o poesia, Sarenco wrote:

[W]hat we demand is the unity between politics and art, the unity of content and form, the unity of a political revolutionary content and artistic form as perfect as possible… our avant-garde “poetic” position cannot but be a fundamentaly avant-garde “political” position: the awareness of the absolute value of class struggle for the triumph of the dictatorship of the proletariat. (quoted in Ibid.: 86; original Italian version quoted in The New Avant-garde in Italy: Theoretical Debate and Poetic Practices by John Picchione, University of Toronto Press, 2004, p. 189)

For this reason, “Visual Poetry” (also sometimes labelled “concrete poetry”) often took aim at what was identified as “conceptual art”:

It is perhaps against this spectacularization of the artist as commercial rather than social figure that Sarenco, the Italian visual poet, critic, and publisher, launched a serial attack on conceptual art in his journal Lotta Poetica at the beginning of the seventies. In several articles printed between 1971 and 1972, all titled “Poesia visiva e conceptual art / un plagio ben organizzato [Visual Poetry and Conceptual Art / A Well-Organized Plagiarism],” he attacks language-based conceptual work produced by figures like Kosuth, Andre (in his poetry), and Richard Artschwager. Sarenco largely avoids examples of their work, however, instead opting to disqualify the entire conceptual art movement as derivative and socially corrupt. (“Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Art: A Misunderstanding” by Jamie Hilder, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 54, No. 3, Fall 2013, 608)


Miguel Jimenez /on Mikel JáureguiBrisa-Mikel-Jauregui

Brisa (Breeze) by Mikel Jáuregui 

As my arrival in visual poetry occurred in a progressive way, there wasn’t actually a specific poem that made me feel attracted to it, but was it a fuller, more general, attraction to this area of arts.

This admired work I hereby present, brings together many of the principles that, in my opinion, any work should contain to be classified as a visual poem:

Simplicity, understood as economy of means, as a way of touching directly the heart and mind of the viewer.

Absoluteness, because everything is there, at once, all of a sudden.

Clarity, understandable at first glance, without further explanation.

Delicacy, softness, caress of the soul, which takes us back to the soft blow, to the gentle breeze.


Joel Chace /on Robert Grenier

robert grenier

Four words in each of two sentences that occupy, roughly, the same physical space, that are entwined in, nested within each other.

My heart is beating.
I am a beast.

In order to distinguish letters, words, a reader must gaze intently through undergrowth of calligraphy.

I am a beast.
My heart is beating.

 If someone were to ask me to explain the visual, intellectual, and emotive powers of this creation, my best response should be, “Well, just look.”

I am a beating.
My am is beast.

Well, just keep looking.
And feeling.


Amanda Earl /on Mary Ellen Solt


Amana Earl - Solt_Zinnia_1964
Zinnia (1964) by Mary Ellen Solt

From her Flowers in Concrete series. Not the first visual poem, I’d ever seen, but most likely the first series that left me gobsmacked, made me want to create visual poetry myself. And also made me interested in the idea of the series in visual poetry. These pieces are fanciful, delicate and minimal. They have life and movement, they imply music. The typeface chosen seems to suit the philosophy of the work. There’s something personal about the series, which is a study of flowers from Solt’s own garden. I have been fascinated with working with the circle, its occurrence in nature ever since. There’s something celebratory about “Flowers in Concrete,” something that says life exists despite all this.

As Solt wrote in her essay “Words and Spaces:”

“Concrete poetry asks us to look at the word: at its esthetic properties as a composition of letters, each of which is a beautiful object in its own right…Concrete poetry asks us to contemplate the relationship of words to each other and the space they occupy. We must be prepared to contemplate poems as constellations of words, as ideograms, as word pictures, as permutational systems. By discovering the meaning of the poem as it emerges from the method of its composition, the reader becomes in some sense the poet.”