‘Why Visual Poetry?’ by Reed Altemus

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So one might ask “Why visual poetry? We know the rules of poetry. We know its forms. Why explore beyond these boundaries? Is an expansion of the forms of poetry really necessary? Isn’t that just opening up poetry to chaos and arbitrariness to disregard traditional forms? Why experiment with mis-en-page, typography, visual design etc. why create new forms?” For me there is an answer to these questions and it is that the traditional forms have failed us: they produce the same kinds of social situations as have ever been: we have poverty, wars, corporate imperialism, neocolonialism, racism, religious clashes of all kinds, homophobia, etc. etc what we are talking about when we speak of visual poetry is new forms for a new content. Beethovan and Mahler have not solved the problem of violence in society, Tennyson and Poe have not given us answers to the problem of fascist dictatorships in the world. It is obvious to me that to change the world as a poet one must subvert entrenched assumptions which underlie oppressive or coercive discourses. The attitudes on which a global networked media-rich society is based call for the arts to be the locus of a social experiment. The basic premise here is that art wants to be a channel for human freedom, something which has always been central to the arts. To say that traditional forms are not worth practicing is not the point, it is more accurate to say that the line-by-line with its blocks of text are not enough because that is not where the possibilities for change exist. In my opinion the possibilities for change reside in an experimental and holistic approach to language art and this includes changing the well-worn habits of reading and admitting that looking at language is equally as important as reading and often more important.

Reed Altemus 2013


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Reed Altemus was born Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1961, musician turned polyartist, works in visual poetry, performance art, noise music and small press publishing. Lives with his cat, Clyde, in Portland Maine.