RECEIVED: Visual Poetry Anthology (#1) from Cheryl Penn (South Africa), Reed Altemus & Fluxpo (USA), Nancy Bell Scott (USA)

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


April 14, 2012 - Continuing the documentation of the two visual poetry editions that resulted from the collaborative mail-art book project headquartered here at the IUOMA, I am blogging selected chapters together in what I think of as an anthology format. First is Cheryl Penn's homage to Vincent Van Gogh, which appears in the second edition.


Cheryl subdues her organic approach here to focus more on linear and compartmentalized geometric shapes. For me, these reference framing and perspective in painting. This is not a complete surprise because she has created earlier concrete poetry-based work with grids. I see a connection to that here.


The left-hand page suggests poetry and in particular it reminds me of Michael McClure's center-justified verse that I recently read is considered concrete poetry by the Sackner Archive. Cheryl also uses many different font styles and sizes to emphasize the visual aspects of poetry.


The right-hand page introduces the central concept: A series of altered photos that provide a theme and variation exploration beginning with an iconic Van Gogh image. Of great importance to my understanding of the piece are the language-frames surrounding the images. I think this opens many possibilities for both understanding and questioning traditional boundaries between text-image, artwork-environment, artwork-context, culture-life and other relevant pairings.



 I like the theme and variations pattern that holds the work together. The approach is a departure for Cheryl from much of her work which is essentially narrative, albeit sometimes non-linear. The collage-like changes to the photos, I think, can summon responses ranging from mild fright to laughter at their playfulness. Yet the changes in the images are only a continuation of the undulating changes in the text that surround and overlay them; it's cohesion that provides an antidote to the dominant compartmentalization.


An anti-art sentiment is present, and I think probably thoughtfully related to Cheryl's recent "Desecration of the Innocent Image" work. Any ideas Cheryl has about anti-art and its role in/connection to the desecration of art I expect are likely to be very reasoned and different than the positions we assume someone might hold concerning such matters.



Between textual framing as well as overlays in relation to the image, I think the piece questions and violates boundaries between word and image - an issue central to visual poetry itself. You can also see the postmodern tendency, often present in Cheryl's work, that relentlessly keeps the reader aware of medium and process, so as not to be lulled into what is considered by some an illusion and ultimately a deception.


As many have heard probably in many places more than 10,000x in various phrasing something similar to this: "This is a CONSTRUCT. Best to consider how it was constructed, how it got here, and whose interests does it serve being here?"


Cheryl Penn's work does not strike me as being political in the way that postmodernism can be an interrogation of ideologies buried in "the text." Yet her work shows a keen interest in form, material, and process; it seeks to find small tears and contradictions in existing systems that can lead to new and different kinds of expression - both those that we have somehow managed to lose and those not yet known.



 Personally, I admire this piece most for its structure. Lacking formal elements that can lead to the creation of a crown of sonnets or something similar, Cheryl manages to take the elements available to visual poetry and build a balanced, even classical, structure that enhances content. This seems unique to me, and I deeply appreciate having this chapter.


Cheryl Penn has a great blog with mail-art, books, and more:


Reed Altemus - The Vispo Lyric and/or Poetry Cycle in Fluxpo


 Mail-art by Reed Altemus (Portland, Maine, USA)


Reed Altemus is a Fluxus artist who works in intermedia. His contributions thus far cover an astonishingly wide range, including performance scores, events, and Flux Kits. He is a xerography scholar of sorts and has done fine work in asemics, concrete poetry, and visual poetry.


His chapter (from Edition #2) begins with a reference to Alice in Wonderland, suggesting a unifying narrative or theme (to some degree a ruse), but quickly shifts to discrete, page-measured visual poems that work like a sequence of short lyric poems in a chapbook where the relation between poems is, at best, non-linear.



The pages above is one of my favorites. This extreme play on altered text is, for me, visually striking. Without being minimalist in composition, it supports a minimalist stance - a reduction in signification that arrives at the simplest communication, devoid of metaphor or ambiguity, as much as is possible. 


Notice the lack of figurative language, thought to be poetry's lifeblood. The remaining words in this Reed Altemus poem serve as a statement of a Fluxus concept: the re-integration of art (culture) and life. For those seeking to understand Fluxus, this Reed Altemus statement captures the essence, at least based on my understanding. 


These two poems rely on collage and cut-up. The work on the left-hand side has the appearance of a lyric poem written in measured lines and is asemic to a high degree - creating new symbols through the decomposition of the familiar. I like the eye in the right-hand poem that suggests the poem looking back at the reader, a reminder of interative process.





Here we have a negative space view of the asemic-cut-up lyric. The right-hand, among other things, can be viewed as glyph or ideogram or can be dissected and words extricated.


I believe the work of many current Fluxus artists reveals a strong connection to the work of previous generations. In addition to Reed Altemus, I see it in the work of Litsa Spathi (Netherlands and Greece), JF Chapelle (France), Cecil Touchon (USA), and Ginny Lloyd (USA), among other.


The lineage and evolution from Emmet Williams and the work of others, especially those associated with Dick Higgins' Something Else Press, appears remarkably intact. (David-Baptiste Chirot (USA) is an exception in this case, IMHO; Chirot is the product of other influences as well as Fluxus or from different roots of that great tree.) Indeed, Fluxus has such a literary presence that I think it is very possible to identify not one but several strains of Fluxus poetry (Fluxpo).


The vispo tends to be "clean," relatively devoid of overlaying and often language-centered; exceptions abound but reflect other aspects of the multi-faceted Fluxus. Vispo and concrete poetry have been so inherently connected to Fluxus for so long that it is not surprising that artists working in this area have exposure and an intimate knowledge. It is second-nature to many of them. I think it does make much of the Fluxus work distinctive in the vispo tide. 



Both Cheryl Penn and I were very pleased to have Reed Altemus in the book project. This chapter will remain a personal favorite in the archives. More about Reed Altemus can be found:


More Fluxpo via Litsa Spathi:


Nancy Bell Scott - Asemics/Vispo


Mail-art by IUOMA member Nancy Bell Scott (Old Orchard Beach, Maine, USA)


Nancy Bell Scott joined the IUOMA last year when the Asemics 16 collaborative book project was in full swing. My understanding is that she is an experienced artist but had never explored asemics.The result of her serious interest in asemics and further exposure to visual poetry and similar modes abundant in the mail-art network. This has led, in my view, to the production of consistently stunning work by Nancy that is still evolving in a dynamic way. Her book chapter is a wonderful, extended record of her talents.


She is developing a style and innovative composition methods that are making her work highly original and distinctive. Her chapter for the vispo book is dedicated to Hannelore Baron and honors not only an artist who is not well-enough known but also someone who pioneered territory that Nancy continues to explore. Nancy included a statement with the chapter that is very informative and provides context:


Here are the second and third pages of Nancy's chapter:



In a way that appears effortless, Nancy synthesizes a wide range of different genres and methods in her work that might not ordinarily seem compatible. An attempt to list or categorize it all would be futile because I think Nancy has a tremendous ability to transcend the roots from which she draws ideas and inspiration.


In the pages above I can see elements that are haptic, found, concrete, abstract, and asemic, along with many other things. Nancy is clearly drawing from a vast knowledge to create beautiful work that I don't think anyone is able yet to fully explain. I do see it as an amazing integration of language and image, making a true visual poetry.


Like Cheryl Penn, Nancy Bell Scott tends to use organic forms in her vispo, a true departure from the precise geometry of earlier concrete poetry. Interestingly, like Cheryl Penn, Nancy chose to use square and rectangular shapes (roughly) as a structural device. thus opening many similar possibilities for meaning concerning boundaries between language and image.


For me, however, the organic dominates in Nancy's work, whereas in Cheryl's it is more suppressed. Nancy's visual poetry here ( a single, extended poem?) succeeds by its fluidity, textures, and melding of one element into another. All of it is highly, highly individualistic. Even her asemic writing has a unique style that is immediately recognizable after seeing a few pieces.


Asemics 16 produced a great deal of what I will call hybrid work. Many of the artists combined visual poetry with asemic writing. I know the experience had a huge impact on the direction of my own work and it appears to me it had a similar impact on Nancy. She continues to integrate asemics with visual poetry, and there is often very little reliance on representational visual images - instead, the tendency is toward abstraction.


For more work by Nancy Bell Scott, make sure to visit:



Many thanks to the artist for their hard work and sending these chapters!


Ray says: "The rain in Maine falls mainly on the drain."


A flying buttress or tray-tor




Lucky Strikes


Organ grinder


Accept no substitute substitute


Lamb's mom or postal abbr.


JL, try taping your left hand to a table, Mad Max


"Picnic at Hanging Rock."


A ______ ate my _______.

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Comment by De Villo Sloan on April 14, 2012 at 3:48pm

Thanks for the new comments, observations & discussions.


Nancy I do think I write about the art, one way of being part of the process, because then I know I will spend time with the work & really interact & explore it. Time really is a factor in so many ways because I want my mind to be in the present - just me & the experience of the work rather than thinking about something else in the future or the past.

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 14, 2012 at 2:03pm

You guys were deep in discussion over asemics when I first got here, and things you'd notice about others' work (and mine after a bit) made me notice many more facets of an artwork than ever before. Since then, it's been the case with a variety of IUOMA members and groups. Endless enrichment. (And I sent you something on the fancy side the other day, Cheryl ...)

Comment by Ruud Janssen on April 14, 2012 at 8:29am

So many interesting things published here. I am only missing time to absorb it all completely. Must take more time for art....

Comment by cheryl penn on April 14, 2012 at 8:16am

Interesting reading these comments.

The influences artists make on each other IS more marked when one sees the development of interaction in blogs like this. Yesterday I put a line around a torn square and thought - thats NANCY! I was doing a Nancy :-)))! Felt good though! :-) X

Comment by De Villo Sloan on April 14, 2012 at 2:17am

Nancy, I'll let your comments stand so I don't unwittingly try to appropriate them into my own perspective. Good points well made & well taken.


Okay, that is really interesting about your assembly line experiment. We've learned a lot about people's workspaces recently but not yet a lot about how they work. Some mail-artists must use some sort of assembly line process & now I do wonder how longer things like the book chapters change the process. What happened to you speaks volumes (excuse the pun). And for me, and I've looked at it a lot lately, I can only see your chapter as one continuous piece fragmented by the physical limitations of the page - it's funny how it grows on you that way.


Rebecca said in an earlier comment how she "read" your chapter as a sequence of color relationships. For me, it would be really interesting to know how other people respond to this work - probably off the chart in terms of variance but it would reveal a lot.

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 14, 2012 at 1:54am

One of the (many) things I love about Cheryl's works is that at first they appear circular in a way, or at least contiguous, one page seemingly connected to the next even if only by implication or a narrative finding its way -- AND that they always leave you in the end with questions that defy self-containment. They lead you somewhere important and then leave you to figure out where it is and where you can take it.

The pages are in the right order, DVS, and I know what you mean by "compartmentalizing," probably especially because of the shapes I tend to use or make. It interests me that on closer reading you see the pages as a "single sustained text." Early on, upon realizing I was wanting to do quite a bit of hand work on each page, I decided to try it assembly-line style--do 15 page twos, 15 page threes, etc., focusing on one page 15 times in a row. It didn't work. At all. It only worked to do each set individually, and that seems to make your closer reading true.

About "abstract," I don't know anymore either what it means. Nor individualism. It's what comes out, and what comes out strikes me as individual and universal at the same time. Of course, that can be true only if others relate to it. 

Youtube has some far-out interesting stuff by Reed Altemus! Others no doubt already know this.

Everyone's comments here are enlightening to me too. 

Comment by De Villo Sloan on April 14, 2012 at 1:39am

Isn't it amazing that redundancy can be so poetic? Yes, that was a reference to the reference about the stamp stamp.

Comment by Marie Wintzer on April 14, 2012 at 1:34am

Accept no substitute substitute :-)))) let's see what comes after that.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on April 14, 2012 at 12:43am

I like to try to reserve value judgements, but I have to agree these are three stunning pieces. (And there are still other chapters in the project that function on this level.)


Cheryl & I were very pleased, as you can imagine, to get a contribution from Reed. He recently published books by Matt Stolte & Susanna Lackner, so I guess he's in the spirit right now. I like the altered pages very much too. In addition to being really talented, he knows vispo inside & out & I can see places where he's "quoting" different styles and approaches from different eras.



Comment by Marie Wintzer on April 14, 2012 at 12:23am

O - One of my favorite blogs and works I have seen recently. As Cheryl says, mammoth!! I got the whole set of photos from Cheryl's chapter, and they sure can stand on their own as wonderful pieces of work, but seeing them framed with text makes them even better. And I like the "repetition" of the text and the use of different fonts and sizes. Reed Altemus' pages I am also very fond of, the altered text in particular. Nancy's work is so rich and special, very hard to define, and your commentary says exactly what I had wanted to say in my blog when I couldn't find the words for it. This blog is an eye-candy with topping of mind-candy.



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