Own Won Now 

and the Electric Word

© 1997-99 by JimAndrews

Wherein Ê is, uh, explained.


V I S P O attempts a Siamese language of word and image. Iím a writer. The language changes currently happening, perhaps primarily on the Web and on the screen of computers more generally, have led to many innovative sites exploring the visual dimensions of writing.

What is the meaning of this??????

When I showed a friend Word 97, with itís toolsbars arrayed top and bottom, he exclaimed ďItís Egyptian!Ē The contemporary graphical user interface of computers has contributed to interest in the visual dimensions of language. The conventions evolving in the visual design of applications can be seen, in part, as the elaboration of an international visual language, limited as it may be. And with everyone trying their hand at the design of web pages and multi-media widgets of all sorts, flashing and ooga-oogaing severally, we enter a time when even correspondence via email can be more graphically varietous than magazines. But explorations of and expressions through such Siamese language have a long history in poetry and visual art.

Guillaume Apollinaire from
L'Esprit Nouveau et les Poetes, 1917
The expressions of visual poetry and elaborations of a visual interface share at least one motivation: you can say a great deal briefly combining language and image. Anyone who has ever done any design at all of a document or a screen, etc., that combines text and graphics knows the pleasure of finding or making just the right graphic that renders a paragraph or two superfluous and chopable or finding a principal of organization in the combination of text and graphics that renders the document more attractive and engaging.


Yet even beyond a kind of communicative efficacy, thereís the kick and the fun of it, and the reach. Carlos Estevez has said of  Paralengua, an Argentinean sound/visual poetry scene that it "has a proteinic and tentacular nature which doesn't lack festivity, intellectualism, sensitivity and, most important, a passion that possesses all the dimensions of language." I like that phrase very much, ďa passion that posseses all the dimensions of language.Ē The unspeakable is narrowed when we allow language to be broader than the traditionally written or spoken word. Thereís more of the whole critter in language then. Poetry needs all that room if itís to be the capacious, generously motioned and sweeping art over the space of all language that we want it to be.


Some people stress that the rise of the visual as a means of communication has led to a general loss of verbal and written facility in the culture. The predominance of television over books and newspapers, for instance, is cited as contributing to an errosion of literacy. While thereís truth there, itís important to keep in mind that the very meaning of literacy is changing. If literacy involves being able to read the writing on the wall then, today, surely that must involve the ability to decipher electronic media and magazine and newspaper print/design and the meta-layers of meaning that arise in the big picture. THE BIG PICTURE. Poetry is not served well by limiting it to the traditional literary place of a page in a book.

Life Story

So, in exploring visuolinguo and, more generally, multi-media, one is attempting to come to grips with the media through which we send each other signals indicative of all the things people have to say to one another  and how we are now saying them. In part, artists working such veins must hope to contribute to the structure and tone of future and present language, to add a certain ease and verve and depth and spirit to the electric word, to the illumined eye, and delight to the earís drums.