December 17, 2015 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Week 51 – A Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry: PART 2

by Amanda Earl

The bastard child of art and poetry, visual  poetry won’t get you laid. A misfit relative, neither muggle nor magic, art brut nor horror vacui, it doesn’t fit into standard mainstream categories. It’s seldom published in book form, and it’s a rare feature in literary magazines, such as fillingStation and Rampike, no longer in production, (but many rare and wonderful, current or back copies still available from publisher upon request, just send email order to:  The current issue is on newsstands all over the globe until August, 2016. 

Thank you to Kitty McKay Lewis who suggested that visual poetry should be part of Brick Books’ year-long celebration of Canadian poetry. Here are a few practitioners who have kindly accepted my invitation to the drunken party. Whether they are reacting against the tyranny of convention in the form of the left-hand side of the page, Canada’s atrocious treatment of its indigenous peoples, consumerism as foisted on us by large corporations, or are engaging with age-old rituals, the visual poets presented below offer a variety of methods, styles and aesthetics that demonstrate one thing: visual poetry refuses to be pigeon-holed.

When you read through the contributors’ lists of influences, you’ll notice that the name bpNichol comes up a lot. This celebration wouldn’t be possible without his boundary-breaking magic and whimsy with the alphabet in the form of comic strips, drawn poems, ideopoems and more.

One of the reasons I’m smitten with visual poetry is its lack of boundaries, including geography and language. Visual poets collaborate and exchange work with each other throughout the world. While they may sometimes have to rely on Google Translate to communicate with one another, their work suffers from no communication barriers. Note that Canadian visual poets have been influenced not just by fellow Canadians, but also by artists throughout the world.

What appeals to me most about visual poetry is that offers its creators and enthusiasts spark for the imagination.

I’ve been using the inclusive term “visual / concrete poetry” to describe the work here. I’m not going to go into the distinctions some folk make between the two adjectives. Nor am I going to offer a vispo 101. Take a look at the work, see what resonates for you, read the info, check out the links. Try some yourself. Join in the celebration.

The following represents PART 2 of A Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry. (Here is PART 1.)


Billy Mavreas works in comics, visual poetry, collage, zines & bookwork, found art & installation. He has been involved in mail-art & visual poetry since the late 1980s. He runs a curiosity shop in Montreal.

Title: New Value Black 5

it’s number 5 from a suite of poems called New Value Black.

Statement: This one poem is a collage of a xerox treatment of source materials (a philately handbook, religious diagrams, obscure mapping graphics) which sums up what attracts me to visual poetics – a hint of spiritual mystery via arcane graphics.

Influences:  My influences are most often the anonymous and accidental pieces of art that float through my life or are revealed to me by the folks that know exactly how to push my buttons. Odd books and pamphlets that have reached me, psychedelic posters and fantasy novels, rock and roll and crazy old men, these are my influences.

visual poetry the title is New Value Black 5 by Billy Mavreas

kevin mcpherson eckhoff recently renovated his bathroom and is still unsure whether or not it’s actually an improvement. The most recent book with his name on it is titled their biography: an organism of relationships.

Statement: At this moment, i want a poetry whose reading requires specialized tools and utensils—such as anaglyph glasses or a jackknife or magnifying glasses or a Yes&Know™ Invisible Ink pen—because such arbiters would act as physical metaphors for the blood-brain barrier that is really our taking-for-grantedness of communication. Also, i like to play. 

Influences:  bpNichol, jwcurry, Tom Phillips, M. NourbeSe Philip, Christian Bök, John Lent, Lisa Robertson, Jordan Scott, Dana Teen Lomax, John Barlow, and bff!

visual poetry by kevin mcpherson eckhoff

gustave morin has been digging deep holes for over a quarter of a century. a large volume of typewriter poems under the title clean sails was recently published through new star books in vancouver.

Title: the dead blank of the black skeleton in the blinding square

Statement: wedged between a few poetry, and language is pictures, I dig deep holes.

Influences: dom sylvestre Houédard, ian hamilton finlay, f.a. nettelbeck, frank kuenstler, willard s. bain, satty, e.m. cioran, witold gombrowicz, pierre augustin caron de Beaumarchais


visual poetry the dead blank of the black skeleton in the blinding square by Gustave Morin

Born in Montreal, michèle provost is a long-time resident of the Ottawa area, where she first studied and worked as a parliamentary translator before discovering a passion for visual arts. Her artwork, which encompasses various improvised media, is part of several private and public collections, and has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions, across Canada and abroad.

Title: Mothers  (from The Book of Species/ Reader’s Digest Cymru) 

Statement:  Still unsure of my rationale for making art, although it is feeling more and more like a security blanket against this incomprehensible world we seem to have built for ourselves.

Influences/Inspiration:  All Dadaist for opening the door. Boltanski, Kentridge, Ono, Dzama, Bjork, Bourgeois, Paula Rego, and Maria Lai, for blurring boundaries, with or without words.

visual poetry Inside by michèle provost

a rawlings is a mineral, plant, animal, person, place, or thing.

Title: Desource

Statement: Ecopoethics sourced from the visual. Filmed on Fraser Island, Australia– protected world heritage site, the largest sand island globally, and home to a sizeable dingo population. Filmed where Pacific meets land.

Influences: Roni Horn, Jenny Holzer, Rúri

DESOURCE from a rawlings on Vimeo.

Shane Rhodes is the author of five books of poetry including his most recent X: poems and anti-poems (2013, Nightwood Editions) and Err (2011, Nightwood Editions). Shane’s awards include an Alberta Book Award for poetry, two Lampman-Scott Awards, the National Magazine Gold Award for poetry, the P. K. Page Founder’s Award for Poetry and a nomination for the Ottawa Book Award.

Title: His X Mark. This X is taken from a Government of Canada photograph of the 1877 Treaty 7.

Statement: I use visual poetry to take me into places where poetry breaks down and doesn’t work. In no place is it more appropriate than in looking at the history and present of Canada’s continuing colonization.

Influences: Influences for this piece would include The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7 as well as the visual work of the Australian artist Richard Bell.

visual poetry by His X Mark by Shane Rhodes

Eric Schmaltz is a language artist, writer, researcher, and curator. Born in Welland, Ontario he now lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. His work has been featured online and in print across Canada and internationally including Lemon Hound, The Capilano Review, Rampike, CTRL+ALT+DEL, Open Letter, and Poetry is Dead among other places. His visual work has been featured in various galleries including Havana Gallery (Vancouver), Rodman Hall (St. Catharines), and Niagara Artist Centre (St. Catharines).

Title: “Desire — an extract from The Assembly Line Babel”

Statement: For us, writing opens at two realizations: writing is machinic & writing is an assemblage. Each language component is a block of data that we couple to another, formulating a machinic enterprise of (a)signifying potentiality. (adapted from On Writing upcoming on the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter 

Influences: Ikea, Lego, General Motors

visual poetry Desire — an extract from The Assembly Line Babel by Eric Schmaltz

Chris Turnbull lives outside of Ottawa, Ontario and writes from many places. Chaudiere Books recently published her multi-voice poem, continua( 2015) and her visual poetic sequence, [untitled]was published in o w n (CUE Books 2015) alongside a poetic sequence by Heather Hermant and a play by angela rawlings. [ untitled ] is also on vimeo. Recent poetry pieces can be found at mosmodern, Empty Mirror (parenthetical), Spiral Orb, and Nerve Lantern. She publishes poems on trails through her footpress.

Title: I,ecotone

Statement and Influences: I read, listen, and view varying styles of writing simultaneously and slowly. Piled and scattered. Influences are tangential and brewed. In the way of devising one loose category of writing that has generated thought or collision, as recent as yesterday, and as old as a couple of decades or more, some that come to mind (among others) are: Nico Vassilakis, Ian Hamilton Findlay, Judith Copithorne, jwcurry, bruno neiva, ana hatherly (by way of bruno), carl andre, Daniel Van Klei, Satu Kaikkonen, Roy Kiyooka , , , ,

visual poetry I,ecotone by Chris Turnbull

Eric Zboya is an experimental poet and visual artist who lives in Cochrane, AB. Zboya’s works have been published and exhibited in a wide variety of literary journals, magazines, anthologies, art galleries, and museums throughout North America and Europe.

Statement: Anarchism, by its very nature, aims to replace structures of domination with forms of liberty, which is why visual poetry, and the very act of manufacturing visual poetry, illustrates a kind of literary act of anarchism. Visual poetry aims to sabotage language erroneousness; visual poetry aims to disrupt language banality; visual poetry aims to liberate both the author and reader from linguistic repression. In visual poetry there is nothing to read; there are no grammatical errors to hinder or confuse; there are no structural rules to control and to restrict. Instead, the reader remains free and unbounded; only the visual act of observation facilitates in the interpretation of the image’s meaning. My manufacturing process incorporates graphic editors to sabotage and deconstruct a text into pure visual form.

Influences:  derek beaulieu, Jorg Piringer, bpNichol, Nico Vassilakis, and Anatol Knotek.

visual poetry by Eric Zboya


Further sources

Barwin, Gary, !Languageye: (close <reading [the v{is}ual] poem>*)^ in Jacket2.
Borkent, Mike, “Poetic Visuality and Experimentation: A Brief Guide to English-Canadian Poetry” in CanLit Guides.
Hill, Crag and Nico Vassilakis, eds. The Last Vispo: Visual Poetry 1998-2008. (Fantagraphics, 2012).
Kempton, Karl “VISUAL POETRY: A Brief History of Ancestral Roots and Modern Traditions.” in


AreaSneaks,  Otoliths, Digital Salon, Tip of the Knife, Kaldron On Line, UnlikelyStories, Renegade, Jacket2, UbuWeb, Visual Poetry Renegade, ffOOOm and Coldfront Magazine.  There are also FaceBook groups you can join, such as Asemic Writing: the New Post Literate, Vispo, Spidertangle and Expoesia Visual Experimental


Amanda Earl is a Canadian poet, small press publisher, smut writer and  visual poet whose visual poetry has appeared in the Last Vispo Anthology with exhibits in Russia & Windsor, Ontario. Her visual poetry has also appeared in special editions of & the Volta, with commentary by Gary Barwin on Jacket2, & on the blogs, Tip of the Knife, the New Post Literate, our teeth & the Bleed. She has four visual poetry chapbooks published via Dan Waber’s this is visual poetry series, avantacular press, Puddles of Sky Press & AngelHousePress & a collaborative vispo chapbook published with Gary Barwin via AngelHousePress. AngelHousePress puts out two on line magazines annually that feature visual poetry from around the world: (April) and (November). 

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