I work sometimes, often enough and more frequently than most visual poets, with analog media—with inks of various kinds upon paper. Most visual poets these days create their poems with computer technology (as I also do) or through various digital and manual collage techniques. All of these are good and valuable ways to examine the interface between the linguistic and the visual, and all have their specific effects.
Inks hold a fascination for me and have done so since long before I was a visual poet. I used fountain pens often in school (having spent three years of my education on Barbados, where fountain pens were mandatory), and in art class I was most taken by calligraphy. Much, but not all, of my work with inks is built upon my education in calligraphy. I made my “calliglyphic” poems with special pens sometimes referred to as steel brushes—one of which can lay down a swath of ink over an inch wide. A large quantity of ink has a simmering power on the page.
There is a great beauty in seeing inks seep into the fibers of a page, and inks have their particular physical characteristics, especially color. One of my favorite inks is walnut ink, which smells of walnuts when it is first applied to the page. The color it produces on the page is a beautiful dappled brown. Walnut ink does not lie across the page uniformly like a good India ink. Instead, the ink is mottled, making every stroke of the pen a surprise, an adventure.
The inky calliglyphs I create with my bottled inks (walnut and various colors of India ink) are often wordless, though they sometimes suggest certain words. In these poems, I focus on letters and the possible meanings that letters alone might have, instead of focusing on words. Many of my letters in these poems are invented, some resembling human figures, others resembling existing letters but with extra appendages. These calliglyphs of mine explore the process of calligraphy—a specific process of writing—and use the rituals and conventions calligraphy to examine the fragile, yet fruitful, meanings trapped within the smallest pieces of written language.
A visual poem can sometimes be wordless, as my calliglyphs often are, but they always tend in the direction of words. Such asemic visual poems are larval forms of language. We know they will turn into words of some kind. We just don’t know which.