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December 17, 2015 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Week 51 – A Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry: PART 1

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: jirgens@uwindsor.ca).  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 it 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 1 of A Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry. In PART 2 you can read about Billy Mavreas, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, gustave morin, michèle provost, a rawlings, Shane Rhodes, Eric Schmaltz, Chris Turnbull and Eric Zboya.


Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer from Vancouver. Abel’s work has recently been anthologized in Best Canadian Poetry 2014 (Tightrope), The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation (Arbiter Ring), and The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayword).  Abel is the author of Un/inhabited (Project Space Press/Talonbooks) and The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks) which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Injun, Abel’s third book, is forthcoming from Talonbooks in Spring 2016.

Statement: How do we read Indigenous culture? Do we read Indigenous culture as being alive, vibrant and contemporary? Or do we still read Indigenous culture as it has been historically presented to us through the spectre of anthropology? And through the popular discourse(s) surrounding Indigenous culture? As being historical, of the past, and almost forgotten? Are we still tied to the image(s) of Indigenous culture as they operate outside of (and primarily independent of) Indigenous culture itself? Are we still tied to textual representations of Indigeneity? How do those textual representations shape and influence the discourses about Indigeneity?

Influences: bill bissett, M. NourbeSe Philip and Marius Barbeau.

visual poetry by Jordan Abel

Gary Barwin is writer, composer, multimedia artist, and the author of more than 20 books of poetry and fiction and books for kids. His most recent vispo book is The Wild and Unfathomable Always (Xexoxial Editions.) He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Title: Naiad

Statement: I’m interested in seeing with the mouth, in speaking with the eye. The quantum play of signification, notation, spatial rhythms and resonance, asemantics, and semisemantics. Meaning to mean. Nearmeaning in a quantum signspace. Blurs and flickers. Signs are often mistaken for wonders because they are—even when they’re in fact not signs but wonders.

Influences: My work has been influenced by many practitioners, notably bpNichol, Steve McCaffery, Aram Saroyan, as well as several traditions: Canadian West Coast Aboriginal, and medieval Jewish and Arabic visual and calligraphic work.

visual poetry Naiad by Gary Baldwin

Derek Beaulieu is the author or editor of 16 books, the most recent of which are

Please, No more poetry: the poetry of derek beaulieu (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013) and kern (Les Figues, 2014). He is the publisher of the acclaimed no press and is the visual poetry editor at UBUWeb. Beaulieu has exhibited his work across Canada, the United States and Europe and is an award-winning instructor at the Alberta College of Art + Design. He is the 2014-2016 Poet Laureate of Calgary, Canada.

Statement:  derek beaulieu produces his work by hand using dry-transfer lettering. Each piece explores the symmetry of letterforms through balance, symmetry and delicacy.

Influences: Eugen Gomringer, bpNichol, John Riddell, Bob Cobbing, Cecilie Borgas Jordheim, Jen Bervin, Christian Bok, Kenneth Goldsmith

visual poetry by Derek Beaulieu

Michael e. Casteels has self-published over a dozen chapbooks of poetry and artwork. His poetry has recently appeared in: Arc, fillingStation, and BafterC. In 2012 he was nominated for the emerging artist award in The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. His new chapbook of minimalist and visual poetry solar-powered light bulb and the lake’s achy tooth is forthcoming from Ottawa’s Apt. 9 Press. He lives in Kingston, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

Statement:  For me, writing poetry is to play with language with visual poetry being the most liberating; the poem can begin in the centre of the page and spread in all directions, the poem can be a single letter on an otherwise blank sheet of paper, it can be a page entirely filled to its edges with punctuation, it can be anything in between.

Influences:  My first run-in with visual poetry was The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol Reader and I was immediately taken with his early typewriter work. I’ve since been heavily influenced by the work of jwcurry, Dom Sylvester Houédard, derek beaulieu, and Gary Barwin.

visual poetry by Michael e. Casteels

Judith Copithorne was born in Vancouver in 1939 & still here more or less although real estate agents seem to be trying harder all the time to run us out.

Statement: Perhaps I could say that my poetics, hopefully, is one of investigation, speculation & surprise. I generally am most interested in writing (& when I say writing that includes such forms as concrete and visual poetry) which includes or is informed by physical and mental experiment, outlandishness & imagination.  These forms of writing seem to occur when there is the support of curiosity, settlement & embrace.

Influences: Early influences include: family books, photos, magazines and paintings, Chinese calligraphy in Vancouver store windows, books on Constructivist and Dada and other art and literature, conversations with bill bissett and letters from bp nichol and David UU. Later influences have been myriad.

visual poetry by Judith Copithorne

Helen Hajnoczky is the author of Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising (Snare—Invisible Publishing, 2010), and Magyarázni (Coach House Books, forthcoming 2016). She is the winner of the 2015 John Lent Poetry-Prose Award.

Statement: For me visual poetry is a way to explore how written language works and feels, and a way to meditate on how people interact with texts that we encounter often but seldom read (this poem is made of fax spam).

Influences: My influences are Mary Ellen Solt, whose Flowers in Concrete shows how effective pictorial concrete poetry can be, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, whose book Rhapsodomancy is a gorgeous transcendental adventure, and derek beaulieu, whose fractaleconomies rifles through the recycling bin and pulls out the poetry.

visual poetry by Helen Hajnoczky

Donato Mancini makes visual and procedural poetry, bookworks, and visual art. His books and chapbooks include: Snowline (2015), Buffet World (2011) Fact ‘N’ Value (2011), Hell Passport no.22 (2008), Æthel (2007), 58 Free Coffees (2006) and Ligatures (2005).

Notable exhibitions of Mancini’s visual artworks have included exhibitions through Artspeak, Western Front, Gallery Atsui, Malaspina Printmaker’s Society, and CSA. He performed with Gabriel Saloman in their noisepoetry/noisecomedy/noisemusic ensemble in the 2013 LIVE! Biennale of performance art, and as part of Concrete Scores at Open Space. Mancini’s published critical writing includes work on the archive, time and memory in Anamnesia: Unforgetting (2011), and a discourse analysis of poetry reviews in You Must Work Harder to Write Poetry of Excellence (2012). His most recent full length book, Loitersack (2014), is a labyrinthine commonplace book where critical, theoretical and paraliterary tendencies intersect in the forms of poetry, poetics, theory, theory theatre, laugh particles and many many questions. 

Title: h positive h negative

visual poetry h positive h negative by Donato Mancini

The above represents Part 1 of A Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry. Please continue to Part 2 and read about Billy Mavreas, kevin mcpherson eckhoff, gustave morin, michèle provost, a rawlings, Shane Rhodes, Eric Schmaltz, Chris Turnbull and 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 Logalia.com.


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 DrunkenBoat.com & 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: NationalPoetryMonth.ca (April) and Experiment-O.com (November). 

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