Feliz L. Molina: How far back does Visual Poetry go and what constitutes a visual poem? Can you talk about the Spidertangle Anthology too?
miEKAL aND: That's a question that everyone who does visual poetry is gonna answer differently. My own influences with sign, mark, symbol, gesture the earliest reaches of language and glyph creation. These early works were not consciously made as visual poems per se, but they perfectly illustrate how language, meaning and image are all intertwined.
I've spent a lot of time with enigmatic alphabets that really have not been translated, yet one can't help but gain impressions from them, and their organization, much in the same way one would listen to music or look at an abstract painting.
Classical visual poetry follow a more linear path, with people like Apollinaire, the Futurists, Lettrists, Fluxus all finding visual poetry to be communicative in their trajectories. The Mail Art network in the '70s and '80s really helped make visual poetry pervasive in publications and gallery exhibitions and had the added benefit that visual poetry most often is beyond a single language as such and was perfect for sharing with people from other cultures and other languages.
My interest in visual lit grew out of a lot of the people who I was exchanging mailart with and in 1985 started a visual poetry magazine called Xerolage which is still active to this day. Issue 50 will be out soon! The Internet changes a lot of how mail art and visual poetry was done. Black and white copiers were the standard means of production in the '80s and it was rare to see color. With the advent of the net, a lot of work started appearing in color, easily sent around or distributed with no postal costs whatsoever.
After a large-scale conference of avant-garde and visual literature at OSU in 2002, the Spidertangle list was created as a way of keeping the visual poetry folks connected via email listserv.
FLM: Xeroxlage, the xerox -- this reminds me of a passage from Chris Kraus' "Where Art Belongs." In it she writes (and its supposed to be all caps but that feels weird re-typing it in all caps) "degree xerox of culture," the transcription of everything into visual signs [...] the only aim of the image is the image, Baudrillard writes." Was/is Xerolage thinking/operating along similar lines?
ma: In some ways this outlines it perfectly, since most of the work was created on copiers, especially in the first 10 years or so. There is a very specific visioning that happens when one generates art thru the copier, often times mistakes, slips of hand, degeneration, overprinting all come into play as ways of transcribing a new reading over and older reading. It was also, in retrospect the last gasp of the technological analog as digital art was just beginning to become predominant.
FLM: I'm interested in the 'slips-of-hand.' What are some examples of accidents in experimentation with the xerox machine that created works of art that would not have otherwise occurred without the xerox machine?
ma: When Elizabeth Was and I first began our experiments in 1980 we did a lot of one of a kind book art with the copy machine. For instance we would put saran wrap on the copier, open the lid, and paint with white out as the machine was printing away. These would then be bound into one of a kind chapbooks, each page, each book completely unique. We also did a series of xerox theater pieces held in copy shops. The actors would act into the glass as the machine was running and then a person would hold up the prints for the audience to see what interactions happened under the glass. Everything was improvised and endless delightful non-intentions would occur during these events.
FLM: I love that. Where did the Xerox Theatre take place?
ma: One of the most productive 'mistakes' was when paper would get stuck inside the machine, partly printed, ink part unfused, and scrunched accordion-style between the roller. When you flattened these out, they would reveal an episode of dimensionality that one didn't think existed in 2D printing. Those events were all held in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early '80s. There was always texts which accompanied the performances, but it tended more toward poetic narratives that interacted with what the copy actors were doing.
FLM: Can I play the first ever commercial for the xerox machine for you?
ma: Sure, for the Haloid copier?
ma: And thus xerox art is born.
FLM: But not without you and Elizabeth Was and others. It seems there's a poetic thread in your work and practice first with Mail Art which led to Visual Poetry and Xerox Theatre/Art. What kind of poetry were you doing before Mail Art?
ma: Really, I encountered all the various worlds of art, music, performance, publishing all at the same time, took little fragments from so many different interesting interactions. My first interests in poetry were as diverse as Black Mountain, Concrete Poetry, Dada and early Futurism, the tradition of contemporary long poems such as Zukofsky's A, Olson's Maximus Poems, WCW's Patterson.
There was also (and continues to be) so much interesting and virtually unknown work being created in the margins, that'll never reach any sort of national exposure, or canonization, that has always been of particular interest to me. A lot of times the work was published by the poets themselves, distributed free to friends and contacts and never made it to library shelves or into bookstores.
FLM: Can you talk about the obscure mythic genius of Bern Porter? How did you discover him?
ma: Geez, I dunno the first time I ran into his work, probably in the anthologies of Richard Kostelanetz very early on. Bern was also active in the mail art network and I may have gotten things in the mail from him before really any other kind of interaction. Before long he was submitting manuscripts to my press with increasing frequency. His approach to found poetry added a whole another level to visual poetry. Our relationship was sealed tho when he sent me his poem, "The Last Acts of Saint Fuck You" to publish. It's probably one of the best-selling titles I have published and such a wonderful alliterative poetry rant.
FLM: Was Porter conscientiously traversing/bridging found poetry and visual poetry? How was he making/finding found poetry?
ma: His approach was largely conceptual, and he had a real interesting, almost anti-art aesthetic when it came to make his books. Works like the Book of Do and the Book of Don't, where page after page are filled with samples of the word 'do' found in ads or news or art. In many ways, one 'gets it' after the first page or two, but after several hundred pages of immersing in the nuance of 'do' takes the reader to a place they have not experienced. When I knew him he was pretty unconcerned about labels and categories for things, and absolutely driven to make new work endlessly. He occupied our house several times for about 10 days, and he would literally make a new work every day. We also ended up doing a lot of audio and video recording with him when he was visiting.
End of Part I.
mIEKAL aND lives outside the constraints of academia in the most lush and rural part of the unglaciated Driftless area of southwest Wisconsin. Choosing to focus on creating wilderness and abundance surrounded by the perfect setting for limitless imagination his course of action includes demonstrating alternatives to inbred aesthetics, delighting in the play of DIY culture, and making art and writing that is both anarchic and noisy.
aND is the author of numerous books, many available via Xexoxial Editions. After many years working in the realms of digital poetry and video, he has surrendered his role as author and focused exclusively on interactions that allow the author to be reconfigured by the mysteries of the collaborative process, including books with Maria Damon, Sheila Murphy and Geof Huth. Anyone wanting to tap into his stream can find him on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of mIEKAL aND