Major Mistakes I’ve Made in Writing Visual Poetry

To make my point, I’ve included some things I wrote back in my undergrad days. These are pieces that ignore the main point I made in the post “What a Visual Poem “Should” Show.”

There is nothing natural about these poems.

They are abominations. Desolate letters strewn across a chaos of blank page. They are not worth the space they take up on my hard drive. Well, that’s a bit extreme.

I love looking back at things like these because I get to see how far I’ve come.

When I started with being at play on the page, I really had no idea what I was doing. And I see that my ignorance of my own actions correlated with my inability to understand visual poems that I loved.

I guess I read my first e.e. cummings and Apollonaire poems and was just like, yes! without really comprehending what was going on. It’s like I got an inch of freedom and tried to take a mile.

In the grand scheme of things, I took a few steps toward that mile and fell flat on my face. Take “To All the Unsaid” for example:

Say WHAT!?!? Not only is it mid-edit, this thing is a monster, and not in a cool way.

Something visually significant is happening, that’s for sure. But what? It really isn’t clear. Is that reverse swoop forming a smile? Probably not because there is nothing in the language of the poem to indicate a person smiling, and I don’t think I was smart enough to be ironic.

Then it drops down a vertical line? Why, Dan? Why?

An improvement I’ve made to pieces since this one has been the use of space between words that are broken up like those here. So that, whenever letters or groups of letters that ultimately make up a word hold positions of their own apart from each other, there is clearly defined space between those groups of letters, their intended words and other words in the piece. Here, there is just a moosh of letters that are very difficult to parse into distinct words. I’ve had to face it, it’s a complete mess.

Around the time this “poem” was written, a professor of mine noted how another visual poem of mine offered up a number of possible word combinations. It was like a flurry of letters splattered on the page like a Pollack painting with no discernable pattern that they could fall into. Even Pollack had gravity. My stuff was zero gravity and foreign. There were no absolutely certain words, only letters that could be built into various, unrelated words.

Since then, I’ve made the effort to have one word be one word and only one word, unless purposefully connected to another.

Making the change took backing away from the poems to see the picture they create as a whole. In writing those first pieces, even these monstrosities, I was looking so close that I could see the patterns only as I wrote them (yes, there were careful arrangements to these poems which, I admit, even I can’t decipher now).

No one knew what I was doing because there was no natural basis for their structures. They did not, and still do not exist in any known reality. The best I can hope for is that an inter-dimensional being will visit our place of space-time and be like, yes! Beyond that, those poems are learning experiences that only belong in the dark recesses of my hard drive. And here, I guess.

My disappointing children, I love you still. You ugly s.o.b.s.

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