Visual Voices: The Poem As a Print Object by Irving Weiss(Port Charlotte, FL: Runaway Spoon Press, 1994) is a collection of 71 poems, the kind you can find in any traditional anthology, transformed into print objects.

Why print objects? Because, although poetry is supposed to be an oral art, for the last 500 years we've known it primarily from page print: a cluster of words in the middle of the page, each line beginning with a capital letter, recognizable stanza shapes on the page, an irregular right margin with rhymes sometimes clinching the line endings, and so on.

Until print as a fixed record of information was extended by new technologies, from photograph through audio and video to computer; until modernist verse, becoming a display on page space, disengaged poetry from its conventional print obligations--until then, the significance of print as such in traditional verse lay below the threshold of our awareness. Just as the significance of paint as such in the art of the past became remarkable only after modernist art gave up imitating nature.

Visual Voices is about the poem as a print object in a page environment. Now that most word-poems, including those I still sometimes write, are free-verse sprawls on the page, my visual reworkings of conventional poems can remind us that the printed poem of the past has always been a subliminal pictograph on the page.

And so, most of my subject poems in Visual Voices consist of the representative black appearance of verse on the white page. My "visual voices" are a kind of light verse whose content is the traditional poem. I am transforming the print to compromise the sense by making it difficult to "read" the poem intelligibly except as a print object.

The original manu/typescript of Visual Voices has been acquired by the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.


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