RECEIVED: Mail-Art Visual Poetry Book "Will Language Hold Up (?)" from Cheryl Penn (Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa)


Mail-art by IUOMA member Cheryl Penn (Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa)


February 12, 2011 - The interest in creating mail-art books started here at the IUOMA is opening new fields for many mail-artists. Anyone can make them. They are inexpensive, limited edition, and hold tremendous potential for collaboration. Cheryl Penn's "Will Language Hold Up" is an extraordinary example of a mail-art book. I am overjoyed to have it, simply the most remarkable one I have ever received. I do not have a background in the book arts, so I can only respond to "Will Language Hold Up" bringing the perspective I have. I am not even sure if I have the pages sequenced correctly. Looking at the book, I found myself naturally inclined to focus on page (image) pairings:

A mail-art book can be about any subject the artist chooses. Cheryl Penn is interested in language, its relation to visual images, the book, and the future of all these things. Without straying into the ether, "Will Language Hold Up" is language about language and a book about books. It is not meta-language, but it is highly self-referential in the same way as much postmodern literature, only we have the play of images intermixed with words. The page above is one of my favorites. I believe it is about structure and form. The image on the left with its geometric precision is a wonderful representation of the abstract notion of structure. Somehow coolness and precision are balanced with warmth and the organic. Yet it expresses the coldness of formalism PERFECTLY.

With smaller pages inserted (above right) Cheryl Penn has actually created books inside of books - sort of Borges' labyrinth. I found this pairing to be compelling. It suggests technology and methodology. Language systems have often been compared to the workings and processes of a machine. Does the orderly mechanization of signs represent the death of the true nature of language? I fear my ordering of these pages is completely askew. I recently saw a vispo series by David-Baptiste Chirot that is pages from imaginary novels playing illustration against text, always on two pages side by side. So I am using that model here with Cheryl Penn's work. It works for me because placing one image next to another is something of fundamental interest:

The smaller pages open up to this amazing spread of dense, dark overlays. Extending the self-referential, I see Cheryl Penn citing an earlier mail-art book project, "The Crimson Giant," that had artists from many countries exploring language and meaning. She has always been interested in Babel and the confusion of tongues, and it works perfectly here. Note the straight lines and geometry. There is much going on with this in "Will Language Hold Up," I think.

The reds on the right hand side of the Babel pages move us into gorgeous sequences of true visual poetry. The reds, blacks, textures, and overlays must certainly be stunning to anyone who appreciates vispo. Word and image are moving toward integration. Note that systems of geometry and hard edges are giving way to something far more organic and fluid in the above. I did use a different pairing to get this scan of what I think is the most beautiful visual poetry in the book:

It's the organic quality that stands out. Most vispo is essentially formalist and drifting further in that direction. I'm starting to think Cheryl and Chirot are the only two working on the organic side (there's an old term - organic) and actually making it work. Litsa Spathi's poetry is as dynamic and vibrant, but she is coming from another place and another direction. I cannot stress enough that it is the organic quality that makes this work so unusual. 

Now (above) "Will Language Survive" moves into a sequence that explores (questions) who (if anyone) processes and controls that vast system of signs and images that engulf us. Who determines meaning? Who determines what is excluded? Who determines what systems are official and therefore valid? Everything is working in this book. The use of screen, screening and filters, is excellent commentary.

(Above) . Who ascribes meaning? I know that old riddle, but it doesn't mean it's not still relevant. A spread using smaller pages, more outstanding visual poetry. These pages are very similar to earlier work in Cheryl Penn's chapter for "The Crimson Giant" mail-art book project. They were my earliest introduction to her work. Yet here, they have been refined and deepened. The black and dazzling touches of red produce maximum impact. The layering creates an extraordinary depth-of-field that weaves everything together. The elemental symbols are timeless and suggest a vast sweep of history and prehistory.

The "Meaning" section is also very nice visual poetry. We have again a bit of screen to suggest meaning is determined primarily through the exclusion of possibilities. You could not chose a better concept than exploring color and words that denote color in visual poetry; it is a paradox at the cenbter of language. The blue and green earth tones are beautiful. These pages make me think of the Rimbaud poem that assigns colors to vowels. Of course, there are other words here that widen the exploration: "SAID" - we have not even touched upon the role of the spoken word in all this. In my totally chopped up and non-linear reading of "Will Languge Hold Up," here is a final panel reminding of the function of the book in the life of language:

Impressive work for sure. I am very thrilled to have this book, which I will always treasure. But, like, is this the only one? That might be a problem with mail-art books. People need to SEE this and hold it in their hands. Anyway, thank you very much CP-SA. Lot of links to this these days:



Tormented? Whipsawed by confusion? Allow others to make those decisions for you. This full moon could surface a secret you did not want know about "Pollock" star Harris because you can't run away from your feet. I would not want to be in your shoes but pants at the barking dogs. Lucky numbers: 13, 16, 35, 38, 42, 46


Mail-Art Colors for the Day: The Red and the Black


Mail-art Word for the Day: insomnia



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Comment by De Villo Sloan on February 14, 2011 at 9:44pm

I meant Smithson. When you get into earthworks ancient & modern, geography & environment as loci(?) of art then, you are traveling on some interesting terrain too. Yes, Smithson should be noted for the record. Spiral Jetty:

Comment by cheryl penn on February 14, 2011 at 10:06am
There may have been a rocker? He certainly used MANY to create his land art eg Spiral Jetty 1970? Garcon Lueur  - my binding offer stands for you too :-) Dont vaporize DW-CLP - he's The Negotiator!!!
Comment by Marie Wintzer on February 14, 2011 at 8:16am

A heap of language, and calibrated! cool...

CP-SA-GG-FL, would you do this for me? That would be great, thanks! I haven't received two of the chapters, maybe that's the reason why I was reluctant to bind them in the first place. DVS-GB-GL, I'm sure Cheryl will help you out of your stitches any time.

Too bad DW-CLP's butt has been vaporized, I started to like him. I think he'll be back though...

Comment by De Villo Sloan on February 14, 2011 at 7:17am
Garcon Lueur reporting for duty. The DW exchanges were amusing. I think the W stands for weasel. This blog is too good for him and his lame butt has already been vaporized, although the pic he posted was funny. Should I let him? Robert Smithson? Wasn't he a rockn roller? A mover and shaker? He could pile it on, yet foundational. MW, CP-SA will help you out of a bind. I'm in stitches.
Comment by cheryl penn on February 14, 2011 at 6:07am

Marie - if you need help with the binding send it here I will do it :-) and send it back. Do we need a similar group back together??? Just by the way the phrase A Heap of Language is Robert Simthson's (1966) - a small drawing reminiscent of earthworks which invites speculation about the relationship between form, language and the physical world

Comment by Marie Wintzer on February 14, 2011 at 4:26am
I'm a bit nostalgic of the Crimson times too. Good times. But I have to confess, I yet have to bind all the chapters, I hope la Fille Lueur doesn't read this (well, she will).
Comment by De Villo Sloan on February 14, 2011 at 1:48am

You! You're making me nostalgic! MW can do vispo too. My FAV page from TCG by Marie.

Comment by Marie Wintzer on February 14, 2011 at 1:13am
Oh that's nice!
Comment by De Villo Sloan on February 14, 2011 at 12:58am
Awash in vispo, sandpo, Tokyo nights, and "Will Language Hold Up" - it is a pleasure to be such good friends with such talented and wonderful folks - isn't the eternal network just the coolest thing? magic for sure
Comment by Marie Wintzer on February 13, 2011 at 11:42pm
What a great job both of you. This is so rich I wouldn't know where to start describing it. My favorite one is the double page with WHO.



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