Constraint in Visual Poetry

For me, visual pieces or, maybe I would prefer to say (still haven’t figured out what, exactly I’m doing), poems with a visual element are freeing as much as they are constricting.

I would like to say that anything is possible, children! Anything you can dream, you can create!

To an extent, that’s true. You want to write a poem that looks like a flower (Mary Ellen Solt’s “Forsythia” is a prime example of many)? Do it! You want to write a poem that appears like constellations in a clear, open air, night sky? Go for it! You want to write a self-portrait? Yup, you should definitely do that. After all, Frank O’Hara wrote one.

But as much a reality as being free with visual aspects of poems is, even our dreams are restricted by what we experience. I might dream about something I’ve never actually seen before, like a winged tiger, or a liger, but that image is composited of two things I am familiar with: tigers and wings.

As a poet, I really want to be able to reach beyond what is known to find something new. No sentences will be truly unique, and it seems like there is a consensus about artists and writers simply stealing from other artists and writers (not plagiarizing or forging, of course, but you know—more on this later?). When I meditate on the spiritual, I can only access those things through the lens of earthly experience. And those things I can’t describe or find a concept for, remain beyond my nature.

So, what is there to be made that isn’t restricted or previously contained by something or someone else?

Nothing, that’s what.

In terms of originality, life can be a huge let down (am I entering pre-mid-life crisis here?).

Every visual poem is constrained by human sense of what is real, whether physical laws or metaphors of abstract concepts.

So, that’s kind of a bummer.

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