Final Illustration Project

(screenshot from Google Docs to preserve formatting)

Critical Appendix

Process

For my final project, I decided to make a Flarf poem, because using the results from online seemed like an interesting way to create found poetry without some of the restrictions of found poetry in the real world. In “Search: student loans,” I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, so I decided that I’d only be using google, I’d only find phrases from the search pages (i.e. I couldn’t click into the articles and websites that popped up), and I’d only use results from one keyword which was “student loans.” I was surprised contrast between the results that advertised student loans, which were very positive, and those that discussed news related them, which were not so positive. I decided to arrange the contrasting messages and enlarge the more positive ones (which seemed more common in my search results) and keep the more negative ones their original size (I’ll get into meanings related to this later on). Making this poem was surprisingly enjoyable, and I found myself arranging phrases much like I would an illustration or collage with respect to size, placement, etc. I think that poetry, especially found and visual poetry shares much more with the visual arts than most would assume.

Persona

To me, the persona seems more like a dialogue than a single speaker. The first speaker, who brings up the effects of student loans or talks of them neutrally, uses full sentences and a standard font size. At the start of the poem, the neutral narrator says:

“For many students, the only way to stay atop this rising tide

has been by taking on an increasing amount of student loans

The result has been skyrocketing”

And then, they are  enjambed with (or interrupted by) the second speaker, who I will be calling “the advertiser.” This speaker is very different from the neutral narrator in that they use variable font sizes and much shorter, clipped phrases, like “Save your money” and “Free help.” The advertiser seems to be talking over the neutral narrator, with “louder” fonts and shorter, easily digestible phrases. Not only that, but they are extremely positive towards student loans and seem to be advertising for them. They emphasize how easy the process is and how few fees there are, but at the end, in small font, they say “Read rates and terms,” which implies that there is something that they are not revealing to the reader.

Interpretation

As was discussed a bit in the persona section, the poem is an argument of sorts between two speakers. One is very much a fan of student loans and wants people to get them, while the other tries to report on news items related to them, which may not be quite as positive. Through the use of rhetorical devices like irony and repetition, the positive speaker, or “advertiser,” who is a stand in for loan marketers, shows that they do not care for the economic struggles of students in college and that the speaker is not entirely transparent about the nature of the loans.

The poem begins with a few lines on an increase in people seeking student loans (see above), but before we can see the results of this, the neutral narrator is interrupted by “Great Rates & Cash Rewards for Good Grades.” This transition seems quite ironic, since the result of more people going into debt isn’t normally a good thing. Historically, it’s been a predecessor for some of the worst economic downturns like the Great Depression or the 2008 Recession. This speaker continues by saying, “No Payments During School. No Application Fees.” The capitalized letters here are very interesting, since look more like titles or slogans than statements in a poem, as if they are meant to grab your attention. The anaphora of these lines also emphasizes the lack of payments that the borrower has to make and avoiding the potentially massive amounts of debt that the borrower would accrue. It seems as though this speaker is invested in getting the reader to consider getting a loan, since they interrupt the other speaker, use short, slogan-like phrases, and want to downplay any potential pitfalls of the loan industry. Because of the very general nature of the slogans, it’s easy to see the advertiser as an analogy for how loans companies market themselves by trying to make going into debt seem as pleasant as possible.

The first narrator does eventually re-emerge, beginning with “To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency,” before it is again interrupted by the advertiser with “No Commitment. Compare Multiple Options. Fixed and Variable Rates.” Unlike the first enjambment, this one doesn’t even make grammatical sense, solidifying the image of one speaker talking over the other. The advertiser goes on with these short sentences until they start to repeat themselves, saying “No Commitment” and “Fixed and Variable Rates.” This sticks out to me, though there is some ambiguity as to why it repeats. It could be that the speaker is becoming desperate for the attention of the reader and so begins repeating talking points, or it could be that it is a deliberate marketing strategy to woo customers. Due to what happens later in the poem, I would go with the first option.

The neutral narrator appears for the last time towards the final stanzas, saying “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is denying huge batches of / relief requests from students whose schools defrauded them.” The advertiser immediately disregards this and begins shouting in a much larger font, repeating “Free help./ Free help./ Free help.” Here, we see that the problems of students are disregarded by the advertiser, who actively tries to suppress them with a volley of slogans. There is more than a touch of irony in the specific responses, since the first narrator talked about scamming colleges, while the advertiser blasts the reader with “Save your money” and “Free help,” in spite of the fact that the audience would know that getting a loan is not free, nor does it save money. The juxtaposition of these two voices shows the reader that one wants to keep college students in the dark about what happens with their money. This is made extremely obvious by the last line of the poem, which is written in the smallest font: “Read rates and terms.” The advertiser practically whispers this part, because the terms and conditions are the actual facts of the loans, not the pretty marketing. They are trying to hide the terms and conditions up until they absolutely have to, placing it at the very end of the pitch like true marketers. It’s literally the fine print.

 

Found Poetry Recap Post

This week’s poetry discussion was really engaging, since not only did I get to be creative, but also got to see what everyone else took from the same basic information. The word limit was also very nice, since the restriction helped me from feeling overwhelmed, while forcing me to be as concise as possible.

Saiara’s was very rich in imagery, which attracted me to it from the start:

“The persona of my poem depicts a playful character imagining herself in outer space, dancing, living a fantasy of bliss in her mind.”

This poem just feels very beautiful. The simplicity of the wording and the scattering of the words gives a very hazy, but light mood. We don’t know who “she” is, and the only information we have about the speaker is that they are observing her, but nevertheless it manages to illustrate a very otherworldly scene.

KAT’s was also very interesting in terms of arrangement. They described the persona as:

“The persona of my poem is a young person who is having thoughts about how “adults”  prefer to compromise in order to stay in their comfort zone.”

Here, the commentary is split in two sections, the top being more focused on the younger perspective, the bottom on the older perspective. There is also a divide in the diction used, since the top uses words like “provocative” and “never extinguishing”, while the bottom describes the adult as “unscathed” but also “unhappy.” I think that this helps to emphasize the meaning of the poem and the differences between the two perspectives.

I feel like Iyana’s took advantage of the fragmented and sparse nature of the medium. She described the piece as: “the persona that I attached to this poem is someone who’s has heavy conspiracy vines but also technological like an analyst. Who goes to the facts of things instead of human emotion. This was interesting and I tried many forms but this one stuck.” 

The technical, analytical tone is almost entirely due to the conciseness of the text and the word choice. When I read it, I took it as a reflection on one’s childhood. The speaker seems to be reflecting on how the “downloaded data” of their childhood was “broken by likes.” I think that this could be a metaphor for memory and how our experiences are shaped by the reactions of those around us.

 

Visual Poetry vs. Graphic Design

When looking at Graphic Design and Visual Poetry, it’s difficult to parse the difference. Even as someone going into visual arts, I’m having a difficult time. Both encompass a wide range of expression and both use a combination of text and imagery/design to express an idea. Initially, I thought that the main difference could be clarity, since graphic design is usually made for a specific message, whether it’s for an ad campaign or a tote bag. There is an amount of clarity that is necessary in order for it to be effective that may not be found in more experimental visual poems. For example, the 2008 Obama campaign’s “Hope” poster is an iconic piece of communication design that is extremely simple, yet gets its point across quickly. The colors that make up his face are enough to evoke patriotism, while the word “hope” is all that’s needed to summarize his campaign goals. But, when looking at poems like “Silencio,” it’s obvious that graphic design does not have a monopoly on clean, direct design.

You can’t even say that there is a difference in whether or not the piece is commissioned, since there are graphic artists that make design work for their own enjoyment, and it’s definitely possible for a visual poem to be paid for. In the end, the only substantial differences that I can come up with are stylistic variations between the genres, which I wouldn’t count for much. So, I think the only real difference between graphic design and visual poetry is in name.

 

Poetry Without People?

For most of human history, poetry has been an auditory medium. Think about it — the invention of written language is relatively new, and even then widespread literacy only became possible after the the invention of the movable type printing press in the 1400s. So, the traditional idea of poetry as spoken language (and the various structural assumptions that go with it) have been around for quite a while. Two of these traditional assumptions are quite basic: they assume that one or more people purposefully wrote the poem and that the poem has a persona, or “voice,” that is speaking to us. This makes a lot of sense, because they are almost always true.

Except for in cases like posthuman and visual poetry. Posthumanism is a way of analyzing a poem where the people — the author and the reader — can be taken out of the equation. When looking at a traditional poem, it makes almost no sense, because this frame of thought takes out almost any intent or agency from the author that clearly wrote the poem. No, it’s best applied to newer forms of poetry, such as found or computer generated poetry. These genres blur the lines of authorship. The found poem “Sometimes I Tease Animals” is an excellent example, since each line seems to have been taken from a report. This makes authorship a more difficult question, since yes, one person did find and arrange these lines, but countless people wrote/said them. Are they also authors?

Persona becomes another interesting topic when it comes to visual poetry. When a poem’s language is so abstracted that it becomes an image, can there be a speaker? For example, this is the poem”Creation of Adam”:

The words Adam and Eve are used, but the rest is nearly illegible. It’s obvious that the arrangemet of the letters and words are far more important than any concrete statement. So, since there are no phrases or intelligible statements, can this poem have a speaker? I would argue that it does not — at least, not in the traditional sense of the word. And that’s the beauty of these types of poetry. They can make readers rethink what they thought was possible with language and art, expanding their minds for new possibilities and ideas.

 

Keats and Decreation

So, no one really loves to think of death, but we all have questions. What happens after? What will I miss most? Is it better or worse to be dead than alive?

A number of poems this week deal with these questions, chief among them being John Keats’ “When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be.” This sonnet has many standard qualities of an elegy, save for the fact that it is about the poet himself. It begins with the title: “When I have fears that I may cease to be/ Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,/ Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,” Here, the speaker has brought us into his world a bit; he is a poet who fears his death, and uses writing to process (or at least distract) his thoughts and feelings on the matter. I hesitate to call this section a part of the dirge, since it isn’t lamenting so much as dreading, but it does reveal some of his character.

The real lamentation begins towards the middle of the poem, when he reflects upon the night sky:

“And think that I may never live to trace

Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,

That I shall never look upon thee more,”

Now this is most definitely the lament. Here, he is beginning to grieve the parts of life that he will leave behind (particularly the otherworldly beauty of the night sky). Now, the poem does leave out the praise for the dead, but being that it is about the poet himself, it is been omitted. Perhaps the speaker didn’t see himself or his character as particularly important, but rather it was the world, and the experiences within it, as more fulfilling. Next is the apotheosis, which begins at the “turn” of the sonnet. He imagines himself then “…on the shore/Of the wide world I stand alone, and think/Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.” The afterlife he imagines is not a particularly happy one, since he sees himself as just beyond the boundaries of the world, standing and thinking alone for all eternity.

Again, this is a deviation from the traditional form, since elegies usually portray the dead as in a better place. Rather, the speaker sees himself as inhabiting what I would think is a hellish existence for a poet. Like a painter deprived of brushes, he is torn from the world and the inspiration he finds in it, yet he can still form thoughts and has a consciousness. So, unlike a traditional elegy, he is using the poem not to comfort himself, but as a way to express his own fears and dread of death.

 

“SOS” Consensus

This week’s discussion of “SOS” was definitely one of my favorites, since we got to experience a very visual poem in a multimedia context. A lot of people (including myself) noted having very different experiences reading the poem versus watching the video. In his post,, Ruben describes this very well:

““SOS” by Haroldo de Campos (here on slack you said “Augusto” but on vizpoem it says “Haroldo”) is an eerie poem which has a COMPLETELY different feel when the audio and video aspect is added to it. I mean when I first read the regular version of it, it didn’t register as creepy whatsoever, just eerie. But the audio amplified the subject matter that is being discussed in the poem, which seems to be about the unknown of the afterlife maybe. The audio itself doesn’t point to anything specific either, just robotic beeping which can be very directionless since it sounds like a mess that doesn’t pertain to anything. However, we normally attribute that type of sounds to some sort of 70s or 80s sci-fi idea of space and the future which is kind of what this seems like it does as a poem too. The poem is probably pretty old so it might be in that era, but I couldn’t find when it was written. The visual aspect only adds to this feeling though, with the trippy way that the words first appear all scattered and then they disappear, and reappear one by one from the outer rim to the inner “SOS” as it’s conclusion. Overall, I enjoy this poetic approach and I would like to see more of these types of poems that explore different mediums.” — Ruben

This discussion of differences between the versions led some to make comparisons between the video and kinetic art. KAT points that out here:

“If someone just randomly sends me the link to this poem, in a dramatic context I will likely believe I am looking at a piece of sound/ kinetic art. Perhaps something that was purposely made and it requires the audience to have a certain knowledge and awareness to understand the content it delivers. Imagine this poem’s setting got to be displayed on the giant screen of the ICA Richmond with sound and all; since Augusto de Campos is a visual artist and poetry is considered art, this could be extended into an installation! … The SOS version by Augusto de Campos is creepy but impressive in terms of extending the idea of concretism. This class made me realize poetry is not just about verse and rhyme on the paper but mind-blown visual and sound effects. About the poem itself, The concretist poem is a great “example of meaningful interaction between form and function” This poem is so cool! I found myself watching it again and again..The persona which Raven mentioned got me thinking. It seems like the speaker of the poem is trapped and pretty hopeless (from the translate professor Coats has kindly provided) the unusual visual of the poem definitely add the extreme effect. Despite the trapped vibe, the sound effects make the poem does not seem so urgent, to me the persona is likely decide to sit in the dark of their room and accept the situation.” — KAT

I especially like the that KAT brought in the idea of “form and function,” since it is still applicable to the video version. I hadn’t really thought of it outside of the context of text on a page, so having someone bring it up when talking about a multimodal work was eyeopening. It made me think of the work not only as a poem, but also as a piece of video art that has its own forms and tools that enhance the piece. Amanda Berg agrees with KAT on seeing the video as more akin to kinetic art in her post and adds some of her thoughts:

“When the computerized version of “SOS” started I wasn’t sure what was happening or what to expect was going to happen. The music and voices were very Erie and fit well with the poem. I agree with @KAT I definitely think this is more of a kinetic art type of piece and for sure would have thought it was if I didn’t know the poem prior to reading it. The poem however is a very creepy poem in itself and the computerized piece is a perfect reflection of it. I think this piece really helps show that poems are much more than just words on a page, they are stories and visuals and ideas. This helps bring such another creative element into it to help portray the story. The tone that this poem and computerized version was kind of loneliness and the feeling of being all alone. This being accompanied by the eerieness of the music and everything is such a scary combination and gave me an uncomfortable feeling but honestly that made it even more interesting.” — Amelia Berg

Overall, I think this discussion has helped us see, as a class, that poetry is more than words on a page or lyrics to a song, but rather the framework around which many different types of art can be created.

 

Ekphrastic vs Concretist

Ekphrastic and Concretist poems feel like cousins. They both involve a certain amount of self-reflectivity as works of art/literature, but they do it in very different ways. For an Ekphrastic poem like “The Shield of Achilles” by WH Auden, the poem is reflecting on an outside existing image (the shield of Achilles) in order to make a statement about the nature of modern warfare. Within the writing itself though, there is little exploration of the poem itself as a visual medium. I believe it was Auden himself who wrote of experiencing the poem as an auditory medium, so it makes sense that the visual effects of the lines on the page were not taken into account.

Concretist poems, on the other hand, are hyperaware of how the arrangement of words on the page can add interest and new meaning to the piece. Take Eugen Gomringer’s “Silencio” for example — it, unlike “The Shield of Achilles,” is not referring to an outside image, but is rather using the poem as an image to make a point. “Silencio” is a very simple poem about the power of silence, but rather than describing through metaphor and meter the effect of silence, he uses the arrangement of the words. The repetition of silence both gives the reader the main topic but also a feeling of noise (ironically) which is broken by the middle space. This negative space contrasts sharply with the busy lines of letters, giving the reader an experience of visual silence. That is why it is my favorite concretist poem from this week. It is so simple and well designed that it seems like a graphic artist made it, rather than a poet.

In essence, the main difference in the self-reflectivity of these two genres is whether it looks outside or inside of the medium. Ekphrastic poems reflect on images outside of the poem, while concretist poems are reflective in that they manipulate the poem itself.

 

Ekphrastic Poem: The Shield of Achilles

(Note for Netvibes– for some reason netvibes is only showing the very early draft of my Fakepoets 2 post. To see the actual post, go directly to my blog)

As an Ekphrastic poem, “The Shield of Achilles” really stands out because it contradicts its related image. Instead of tThetis, the mother of Achilles, seeing dances or religious ceremonies on the shield (that are described in the Iliad), she sees “A plain without a feature, bare and brown, / No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,/Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down.” This plain is also populated by ranks of soldiers and seemingly endless scenes of death and war. That is essentially the pattern — a description of what the shield should look like versus the grim reality that is seen within it.

The deviation from the expected image is, of course, deliberate and shield’s reflection is a metaphor for the reality of war, while the expected description is the romanticized version. War in stories is glorious, right, and brings greatness to the victors, while in reality it is cruel, dehumanizing, and destructive. That is why the soldiers are always described in synecdoche:  They are “An unintelligible multitude,/A million eyes, a million boots in line,/Without expression, waiting for a sign.” They are not individuals or heroes, they are simply another machine of war. The destruction caused by war is reflected in the society that is described as so uncaring;

   “That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,

Were axioms to him, who’d never heard

Of any world where promises were kept,

Or one could weep because another wept.”

Here, the reflection shows a world without empathy, where violence is the norm.

So, while it’s obvious that the poem is meant to dispel the notion of war as romantic or good, I think it could have a more specific target. The poem uses details that are anachronistic to the Iliad. For example, the sky reflected in the shield is said to be “like lead.” Lead is an unusual metal to reference when looking at a bronze age shield, especially when considering how heavy it would be, so the use of “lead” is likely referencing bullets. That narrows down  conflicts to the modern era, especially when considering some of the phrases used; causes are backed by “statistics” and areas are “enclosed with barbed wire.” So, the poem is about not just war but modern warfare. There could be a specific conflict that this alludes to (WWII, The Cold War, or the Vietnam War based on the publication date) or a more general analogy, but without more detailed analysis of the details of those conflicts, I will have to assume that it is more general. The analogy itself is interesting, since it means that this poem is both Ekphrastic and self-reflective. The poem refers to the image of the shield as a means to reflect on the indiscriminate and violent nature of modern war.


EB’s post on the same poem really added some perspective to the analogy of the poem. It turns out that the poem was written shortly after the end of WWII, which narrows down inspiration for the piece. In addition, it makes sense that this poem would come from that time, since while Auden didn’t fight, he did do some work towards the end of the war researching morale of Germans under heavy bombing. It would be far too restrictive to say that the poem is about WWII over any other conflict, but it does eliminate some readings. If it were written in the height of the Cold War, for instance, one may be able to postulate that the horror that Thetis experiences when she realizes the terrible power of the shield could be an allegory for the horror of nature at the creation of nuclear weaponry. It’s an interesting reading, but due to the timeline, it’s extremely unlikely.

 

Fakepoets 2

For this Fakepoets activity, it was really interesting to see how people thought of their characters. I’ll admit that I had a really hard time with my animal (the buck from “The Most of It”), since I couldn’t find many human traits associated with it, but nonetheless it was really fun to see what others said.

I think that Noelle’s was good, and it really got to the point of the cat’s “characteristics.” It almost felt like an ice-breaker or a blurb on a dating profile, which felt very direct. Also, all of the qualities are spot-on.

Noelle:

“@channel Here is an opening prompt–> Some of my absolute best qualities: Im super clean (I hate when my paws are dirty and dull), I am kind to the ladies, I am God fearing, and I give everyone a chance. “

Orizo’s post was amazing, especially since they used verse. I think that the use of “stealthy” and “fire” really evoke the imagery of the original poem.

Orizo:

“Opening prompt ( @channel ) :

I am stealthy as I am fearless

In my eyes, you see a fire

I am the king of the jungle and the beast among men

Get close to me, and you’ll regret it

For I am stealthy as I am fearless.

Personal traits:People fear me and wouldn’t dare getting close to me. I am strong and I know it, I proudly hunt my prey and I run the jungle. “

Alyssa’s is probably my favorite, since it feels so obsessive. The way she uses enjambment makes the speaker sound hurried and erratic, much like the sandpiper. The line “They are my only concern” is especially accurate to the portrayal of the bird.

Alyssa:

[speaker of “Sandpiper”] @channelHere’s an opening prompt:

I am quick on my feet which

are constantly sinking in sand.

There is so much of it and

it moves so fast! There are greater things

surrounding me

But I am mesmerized

by each shiny, unique grain

that envelops my toes.

They are my only concern.

 

Midterm Practice; The Black Swan

In James Merrill’s “The Black Swan,” the speaker notices the startlingly ironic blackness of a swan (which normally is white) within a particularly beautiful setting as a sublime example of nature’s ability to push back against human expectations. But even in recognizing the alienation of the swan among its peers, the speaker is drawn to it strongly, signalling a feeling of kinship between the swan and him that verges on its becoming a metaphor for his own self-conscious isolation.

The poem begins by introducing the subject of the black swan and the boy on the shore watching it. The swan is described as almost otherworldly and as “Assuming, like a fourth dimension, splendor.” The reference to a “fourth dimension” implies that its effect is entirely outside of our human understanding, since we experience the world in only three. This use of the sublime is meant to highlight the swan’s beauty and mystery to the reader, since its effect is described as being near incomprehensible. The boy, a third-person stand-in for the speaker, is surprised by the swan, but also drawn to it. He sees the irony of its color as a facet of nature and goes closer to the lake where “every paradox means wonder.”

The piece goes on and continues to use the sublime in order to challenge the reader’s understanding of what nature can be. Lines 10 and 11 read “The swan outlaws all easy questioning:/A thing in its self, equivocal, foreknown,” which stipulates that the forces of nature are mysterious and can never be fully known. Rather than there being strict boundaries and predictable rules, there is ambiguity and random variation that create new and surprising outcomes. What is also crucial is that these mysterious ways of nature confound our expectations. In the third stanza, the narrator uses a metaphor to describe this:

“Illusion: the black swan knows how to break

Through expectation, beak

Aimed now at its own breast, now at its image,

And move across our lives, if the lake is life,”

I believe that there are two possible readings here. Just looking at the last line, the swan and the lake seem to be stand-ins for how variation in nature (the swan) can cause ripples and disrupt the our lives (the lake). The other reading takes into account the lines before it, which explicitly discuss how the swan destroys illusions, beak even pointed “at its image.” In this interpretation, the swan is not disrupting life in general, but rather shattering any illusions that humans have about how they believe the world works. Both readings have merit, and were likely designed to coexist, but ultimately the most important part is how we will always be disrupted by new discoveries and phenomena in nature.

Despite the power and mystery that it represents, the swan is still described as incredibly lonely. The speaker understands it as having withstood much hardship and even says that it has found the heart of sorrow “Where, like a May fete, separate tragedies/Are wound in ribbons round the pole to share.” The personification here should not be missed, since it tells more about the speaker than the swan. There is no textual evidence, other than the speaker’s description of its emotional state, to assume that it is lonely or sad. It is not described as being ostracized by other swans, nor does it seem to be seeking out company. It is just different. Rather, it seems that these emotions, like the earlier discussions of nature, were probably projected onto the swan by the speaker. This means that it is the speaker that feels like an outcast as well; a freak of nature.

The speaker comes to terms with these feelings by the end of the poem. Through his experience with the swan, he comes to understand that not all parts of nature are understood or accounted for by humans and that such an outcast creature can still have value. Since he is so drawn to the bird and sees some of himself in it, he takes these lessons and applies them to himself as he stands on the shore “Now in bliss, now in doubt.” Since the swan and the speaker have become to closely interwoven by the end, I read the last line as a sort of self-acceptance; he says “I love the black swan.”

 
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