Van Duyn is an important postwar poet who, though exposed to poetic such movements as beat, confessional, feminist, and new formalism, never sacrificed her own unique, engaging style and perspective and never succumbed to the leveling influences of various poetic schools. Van Duyn has addressed a broader range of subjects than most other contemporary poets—"She is not a confessional poet fingering her emotional sores," writes Herbert Leibowitz in the New York Times Book Review (4)—and she has experimented with a broad range of forms, both conventional and free verse (see prosody and free verse), even inventing her own poetic form, the minimalist sonnet, an abbreviated version of Gerard Manley Hopkins's 19th-century curtal sonnet (Hopkins had written "sonnets" of 10 and a half lines instead of the traditional 14).
Van Duyn was raised and educated in Iowa. She moved to St. Louis in 1950, where she taught night classes for Washington University's adult education program until 1967. Her writing career began when she was 38 years old, and she eventually became one of the most highly regarded poets in the United states and received many prizes and fellowships. At age 70 she won a Pulitzer Prize (1991) for Near Changes (1990), and in 1992 she was named the U.S. poet laureate.
Van Duyn's first book, Valentines to the Wide World (1959), introduces many themes that would remain central to her poetry: the romantic concept of the child as "father to the man," the child's inevitable loss of innocence, the possibility of restoring innocence through art, the intimate relation between nature and human nature, and the stages of love. In "Falls," a longer poem from which the title of her most recent book, Firefall, (1994), is taken, the choice that the speaker makes as a teenager during her family's visit to Niagara Falls is emblematic of the choices she later makes as a poet. She describes driving to see the American lip from Canada's side, only to find that the whole "was beyond the grasp of [her] lens and [she] snapped instead / a family of swans, a simpler sight" (77). Never comfortable with making lofty generalizations about nature, Van Duyn carefully observes and renders its particulars—on terms entirely her own.
Burns, Michael, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998. Goldensohn, Lorrie. "Mona Van Duyn and the Politics of
Love." Ploughshares 4:3 (March 1978): 31-44. Leibowitz, Herbert. Review of Merciful Disguises by Mona Van Duyn, New York Times Book Review, December 9, 1973, p. 4.
Prunty, Wyatt. Fallen From the Symboled World: Precedents for the New Formalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
VISUAL POETRY Visual poetry has long been the poor cousin of the American poetry family, barely acknowledged by academia, but not altogether absent from the work of well-known poets, including Robert creeley, Ezra pound, John Hollander, and Charles olson. Greatly overshadowed by language poetry as an experimental genre in the final decades of the 20th century, it has nevertheless persisted and seems likely to remain a potent alternative to conventional poetry indefinitely. There are probably nearly as many definitions of it as there are people making poems that include graphics; for simplicity's sake, however, the term will here mean simply poetry that includes visual elements that seem (to a consensus of informed judges) aesthetically necessary to the final meaning of its words.
A good example is E. E. cummings's famous poem "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r" (1935). Among its many small but charming typographical tricks, this work visually shows us a grasshopper's shift from lowercase incoherence ("r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r") to a sudden great, energized jumble ("PPEGoRHRAss") to something nearly recognizable, folded on itself (".gRrEaPsPhOs") to—at last—quiet identifiability (",grasshopper;"). Take away the typographical arrangement of the poem or use some word other than grasshopper, and you take away its meaning. Text and graphics are equally necessary.
A later, more sophisticated example is "Temple Bells," a minimalist haiku by Jonathan Brannen from his 1991 minibook, Sirloin Clouds, that consists, in its entirety, of the phrase a petal above the phrase a peal. Here six words, counting the title, make a pleasant picture of a petal and temple bells sounding in the background. The petal, being singular, is almost certainly adrift. The sounds of the words—the alliteration, assonance and consonance—and simple parallelism combine to give music to the picture. But there is not much to it—except when viewed on the page. Then it becomes evident that the visual appearance of "petal" and "peal" is crucially important, for it acts as an implict metaphor for what those words stand for, an actual petal and actual peal of bells. A reader sensitive to visual poetry will observe at once and viscerally thrill to a wafted, exquisitely delicate but material petals resolving itself into purely ethereal bell song, the way the word for "petal" shrinks from two syllables to one and becomes the word peal. The poem's words and visual appearance are equally essential for the poem's final effect.
Some scholars have traced visual poetry back to ancient Egypt. Examples can be found from just about all eras and parts of the world, notably China and pre-Columbian America. In the West, Christian-era poets occasionally printed words or phrases honoring their God in circles, in other geometric shapes, or as simple crosswords. Pre-20th-century visual poetry peaked, in the view of most observers, in the 1600s, with the "shaped" or "pattern" poems of George Herbert, whose lines, at appropriate times, are indented or cut short in such a way as to make pictures of them. Thus Herbert's most famous shaped poem, "Easter Wings" (1633), looks like a pair of wings.
The earliest widely discussed modern visual poems were published in Calligrammes, a book by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in 1918, the year Apollinaire died in World War I. Its most famous visual poem includes words about rain printed not across the page but down it, in lines resembling streams of rain. A few years prior to this, the visual artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque had begun to include textual elements in their work, but the collages resulting from their experiments and those of others did not incorporate words and typography in any semantically meaningful way: They did not verbalize their pictures; they merely increased those pictures' store of visual subject matter. Around the same time, various dadaists (see surrealism) and Russian futurists (see european poetic influences) were doing interesting things with cut-up texts but with similarly small regard for the poetic meaning of what they were doing. Pound was actively using graphic elements then, too—in the Chinese ideogrammatic passages of his CANTOS (1930-70) and in "In a Station of the Metro" (1913), which when printed as Pound originally intended it to be, has two large blocks of space interrupting each of its two lines.
A major pioneer in the art was Cummings, who was exposed to Apollinaire and much else that was going on in European modernism early in the century. He was writing full-blown visual poems as early as the 1920s. By 1935 he had achieved the combined visual and conceptual sophistication of such poems as "poem #70" from his collection no thanks. The subject of the poem is an awe-inspiringly brilliant star. In the poem Cummings (among other actions) takes the word bright and, by repeating it, each time with a different letter capitalized, then with question marks replacing letters, moves it from "bright" to "????T" to convey the word's growing mysteriousness. At the same time, he carries out similar operations on the words star and yes, thus grouping "bright," "star," and the sense of affirma-tion—glitteringly, via the unexpected capitalizations— as interconnected essences, or the same essence. Simultaneously extremely simple and extremely subtle, his poem monitors—and "visio-metaphorically" re-creates—a star's slow evolution from undifferentiated brightness into final ascendant, affirmative mystery.
Less well known and a little later than Cummings, Kenneth patchen contributed (in the view of many current visual poets) equally to American visual poetry from the late 1930s through the 1940s and 1950s, experimenting with different font styles and the addition of purely graphic elements, eventually integrating his own vividly full-colored paintings with his texts, in a way that Cummings, entirely a typewriter poet (although, appropriately, also an excellent painter), did not.
Among the other lesser figures who combined graphic elements with words in poems prior to the 1950s were Harry Crosby, best known for a poem consisting of a rectangle made up of the word black, set in bold type to emphasize its blackness, and repeated over and over with the word SUN in uppercase letters, printed only once in the center of the rectangle ("Photoheliograph" ); Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, who made visual poems of herself by dadaistically wearing clothes to which she had pinned—along with assorted tin cans, spoons, and shovels—painted or col-laged texts; Bob Brown, whose visual poems included found writings and texts worked out in freehand drawings; Abraham Lincoln Gillespie, whose scores for vocalization and performance have sufficient extralexical devices, including dingbats and arrows, to qualify, for some, as visual poems; Walter Conrad Arensberg, an adherent of dada at one time, who specialized in the visio-poetic device of "word fracture," one of his poems beginning, with "Ing? Is it possible to mean ing?," then going on to discuss the syllable; Marsden Hartley, who included textual matter prominently in some of his paintings and who also wrote poems that deployed punctuation and different fonts in a manner that hints of later visual poetry; Wallace Berman, who wrote poetry for the page and for rock paintings that could be arranged to make different combinations of words along with Hebrew characters related to Kabbalistic mysticism and who also as created collages, assemblages, and sculptures containing textual elements; and Kenneth rexroth, whose little-known "cubist poems" are reminsicent of Cummings's most unorthodox works, as in a poem that contains four lines consisting of nothing but "vvvvvvvvvvvv," "vvvvvvvvvv," "vvvvvvvv" and "v," respectively, and a later line in which six longish words are jammed together ("Fundamental Disagreement with Two Contemporaries" ).
A second generation of American visual poets rose in the late 1950s, part of a worldwide wave of interest in the field due, in large part, to the influence of Eugen Gomringer of Switzerland and the two de Campos brothers of Brazil, who drastically deemphasized the verbal content of their poems, producing work sometimes limited to a single word, as when Gomringer used the word silence eight times to construct a rectangle around a blank area to create another order of silence. They termed what they did "concrete poetry," a near-synonym for "visual poetry" still frequently used. Among the American concrete poets were Aram Saroyan, Jonathan williams, Ronald johnson, Mary Ellen Solt, and Emmett Williams (these latter two were the editors responsible for the two main 20th-century anthologies of visual poetry published in the United States, Concrete Poetry: A World View (1968) and An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967), respectively). At about the same time, May swenson was making more traditional visual poems, Hollander was following in the footsteps of George Herbert as a maker of shaped poems, and d. a. levy was prolifically pioneering in visio-textual collage and various experiments in the aesthetically expressive damaging of texts via erasure, smearing, wholesale obliteration with layers of ink, and similar tactics.
Levy died a suicide at the age of 26; Swenson and Hollander never treated their modest ventures into visual poetry as more than secondary to their unvisual poetry, and the others mentioned went on, for the most part, to other sorts of writing after the 1960s, leaving the field to a third generation still active, which includes Karl Kempton (a pioneer in the use of op art in poetry and the editor of the longest-running American periodical devoted to visual poetry, Kaldron), Richard kostelanetz (unquestionably the most prolific and best-known visual poet in the United States), Karl Young (a noted converter of Asian and pre-Columbian American materials into visual poetry and Web-master of a Web site for visual poetry, light & dust), K. S. Ernst (who has been a leader in the use of ceramic and other kinds of solid letters in visio-poetic sculptures), Marilyn Rosenberg (who is particularly well known for her bookworks, a major, though little-noted, form of visual poetry), Scott Helmes (a major innovator in mathematical poetry, an offshoot of visual poetry), Bill Keith (who has come closer than anyone else to capturing the flavor and beat of jazz in his visual poetry), Joel Lipman (a master of satirical but also lyrically resonant visio-poetic collages), Carol Stetser (the premier mixer of such sciences as archaeology and astronomy with words to form visual poems), Harry Polkinhorn (who was among the first to use computers to give his visual poetry a "techno-now" ambience), and Guy Beining (the content of his visio-poetic collages ranges from the crudest men's magazine images to drawings of his own that have a Matisse-like delicacy), who were fairly quickly followed by another generation that includes Crag Hill, G. Huth, Jonathan Brannen, Mike Basinski, Stephen-Paul Martin, Jake Berry, Miekal And, Liz Was, Bob Grumman, John Byrum, and John M. Bennett (some of whom are older than members of the previous generation but started later as visual poets)—with a side-generation consisting of such poets as Alan Sondheim, Ted Warnell, Jennifer Ley, and Chris Funkhouser doing intriguing things visually in cyberpoetry.
To suggest the value of visual poets, one can start by pointing to such efforts at epic visual poems as Berry's ongoing, multivolume Brambu Drezi (Vol. 1, 1994), which draws on just about every subject that can be put on paper, from alchemy to calculus, and Martin's unceasingly innovative satire on the Reagan years, The Flood (1992). Great strides are beginning to be made in the use of color in visual poetry, too, such as in Ernst's "weavings" (2000). A particularly charming specimen of these consists of the sentence, "I feel so nice, like thousands of tiny boats," printed 22 times right to left and 22 times sideways and perpendicular to (and on top of) the right-to-left lines. Most of the lines are in shades of blue, but five are in red. So what do we have?
A silly, banal-seeming, but absolutely just-right expression of contentment: the warmth of a woven blanket, childhood delight (from the tiny boats, whether toy or real), harbored security (since you rarely see many boats except in harbors), sea-gentleness (from the colors and the rhythm of the printing), energetic cheerfulness (from the colors), and, finally, fun (due to the overprinted text's needing to be figured out).
Not much of note has yet been done with animated visual poetry (except by Kostelanetz and a few others), but the increasing use of sophisticated computer software and the ever-increasing use of the Internet for experimentation promise an explosion in that and related areas before long. In short, at the start of the 21st century, the future for American visual poetry looks to be as innovative as its past.
Grumman, Bob. Of Manywhere-at-Once. Port Charlotte, Fla.:
Runaway Spoon Press, 1998, pp. 112-172. Kostelanetz, Richard. A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes. New
York: Schirmer Books, 2000, pp. 22, 47, 143, 648. Young, Karl. "Notation and the Art of Reading." Open Letter 5.7 (spring 1984): 5-32.
WAGONER, DAVID (1926- ) David Wagoner is a regional poet of the Northwest. The influence of Theodore roethke can be felt throughout his early works. Although his poetry ranges from the lyric and elegiac to the satiric and the visionary, he has been most renowned for his poetic rendering of the landscape of the Northwest. A versatile writer, he has published various collections of poetry as well as novels.
Wagoner was born in Massillon, ohio, and grew up in Whiting, Indiana. He received an A.B. from Pennsylvania State University in 1946 and an M.A. from Indiana University in 1949. His first collection of poetry, Dry Sun, Dry Wind, was published in 1953, followed by his first novel, The Man in the Middle, in 1954. The Escape Artist (1965) was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola in 1982. Wagoner's many awards and honors include an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1974) and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1991). A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he has been the editor of Poetry Northwest since 1966 and has taught at the University of Washington.
Despite the versatility of his later works, Wagoner is best known for his regional and landscape poems. Critics have emphasised the importance of his "naturalist eye," pointing out the "unsentimental, animistic acceptance of and reverence for the natural world" as the prevalent life-view that informs his works, according to Sara McAulay (93). This "transmogrifying [of] landscape into language," Sanford Pinsker points out, has been seen as testifying to Roethke's influence (2). Wagoner's later works are not so much tied to a specific landscape. New and Selected Poems (1969) introduced magic as a recurring motif in his poetry.
"The Apotheosis of the Garbagemen," published in Collected Poems, 1956-76 (1976) and included in Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (1999), shows the mixture of the visionary and the satiric, the magic and the mundane, and the urban and the natural so characteristic of Wagoner's work. From the comical "slambang of their coming" and an elegiac invocation of the "sea of decay where our founding fathers / Rubbled their lives" to the concluding lines that conjure a celebration of nature within urban waste, the poem adroitly intermingles contrasting moods and tones. This recurrence of the magical mundane becomes most acute in his urban poems. Wagoner's poetry is grounded in the landscape of the Northwest, deriving enchantment and transcendence from the minute detailing of material objects.
McAulay, Sara. "'Getting There' and Going Beyond: David Wagoner's Journey without Regret." Literary Review 28.1 (1984): 93-98.
McFarland, Ron. The World of David Wagoner. Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1997. Pinsker, Sanford. Three Pacific Norwest Poets: William Stafford, Richard Hugo, and David Wagoner. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1987.
Tamara S. Wagner
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