Some observations on derek beaulieu’s talk on Visual Poetry
March 22, 2013
Near the curb of St Paul Street, outside the Niagara Artists Centre where Vispoet derek beaulieu is giving a talk about Visual Poetry or Vispo, lies a large glove, like the ones city workers wear in mid-winter freeze-up. A right glove, with rubber fingers and palm, stiffly shaped as though a hand were still inside it. Divorced from its left compatriot, it rests palm up, as if catching a baseball, or asking for a hand-out if you will, on this roll up the sidewalk Saturday morning in St Catharines.
A print run of 500 poetry books for a nation of 35 million provides one book for 70,000 people. beaulieu’s point: No one reads poetry books.
A woman in a dark cloth coat and a beige between seasons hat stops on the sidewalk beside the glove. She doesn’t see it, but fumbles in her carry bag for something, a kleenex perhaps, yes, and adjusts herself, taking her time, there being no rush to get somewhere this barren morning. The glove does not move a finger to engage her attention.
So if no one reads poetry books, it doesn’t matter what you write. You are free to play. Try a game of Scrabble in which no words can form. Throw kitchen appliances at Fisher-Price letter magnets. Make pointilist skull drawings using hieroglyphs. Hang a calendar whose days are lettered and February the Zdth is in leap year. Put your Vispo on fb. Someone may make a tattoo of your meme and someone else may read you on his body. Maybe during sex.
A dog walking a man in a hurry glances down at the glove and decides not to piss. His master is well trained and does not look down. The dog jerks his master’s leash and they pass by. The glove seems relieved.
You can collect letters in a box of Alphabits and pin them like butterflies in a butterfly collecting cabinet to show that, proportionate to your own language usage, there are too few E’s in the box of cereal. Or maybe there aren’t and you just thought they were M’s or W’s and threw them out.
Across the street a man in a yellow traffic slicker X’d with green reflecting tape is looking for something to do. It’s eleven o’clock in the morning. The road is a man’s road. Men dig it up. Men fill it in. A man left a glove behind.
Vispoets write for Vispoets. They network. They watch each other’s pages. They choose which conventions to rupture, which reputations to bolster. They know who is ahead, who is faking, who works which corner, whose ass to kiss, whose to shun. Shunning is the death knell in this tribal culture.
The glove is grey, grimy, but not punctured, sliced, or torn. It looks perfect, a sculpted thing, the clay still damp and dark, the abrasions of wear barely visible. In the weekend’s climate of neglect, it remains supplicant, to no avail.
In the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, misfits and adventurers from the known and the undiscovered places meet travellers going and coming back. Metal, Punk, Grunge, Hip hop, began in border places like this, but then were co-opted and absorbed by trend setters and fashion producers who saw where a buck could be turned. Rolling Stone, Village Voice, and the Georgia Straight began underground, then were seduced by the mainstream market, and gave up their edge. Avant-garde, however, has stayed on the fringe for a hundred years or more, running counterpoint to the lyrical metaphor of Modernist worded poetry, both daring and fearing to be discovered.
The road at curbside is designated for angle parking. The glove lies between one space’s angled lines. Red brake and white reverse lights ease a brown compact car backwards into the space, over the glove. Now safely in the shade of the car’s undercarriage, the glove finds protection but no rescue. The driver has no idea what he has covered up.
In The Last Vispo Anthology of 2013, some Vispoets are making art similar to the visual representations in Steve McCaffery’s Sound Poetry Catalogue published in 1978.beaulieu claims that the Vispoet can write about any subject, exactly what the Imagists said a century ago. beaulieu’s preferred technique harks back to an age when small publishers used dry transfer letraset. His letter lizards roam the graphic spacial design of M. C. Escher. These links are not noted by the young among us, for whom everything is new, not new again.
The car moves off, leaving the glove unaltered in daylight, still petitioning the heavens for some raison d’etre. The city worker in the yellow slicker watches the car pull out, and sees the dark object left behind. Unhurried, but with a mission most welcome, he crosses the empty street towards it. He is carrying something. When he reaches the glove, he takes his lobby broom in one hand and sweeps the glove into the trash collector he holds pressed to the asphalt with the other hand.
What, how, why, to what purpose, these are questions the Vispoet chose not to discuss. Yet every schoolboy learns that criticism is the consideration of four questions: what is it, how is it done, how well is it done, is it worth doing.
Does emperor Vispo have no clothes? Best not tell the government, or the academy. They just might drive away. I knew where an abandoned glove could be found, until a few minutes ago. ~