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THE VISUAL POEMS OF ALEXANDER JORGENSEN
For those unfamiliar with the multimedia/intermedia of the literary — visual wedding called visual poetry, I first offer up a definition followed by an overview of a very generalized context. This may help the reader-viewer to frame and set in time and place the works of Alexander Jorgensen.
A visual poem may be defined simply as a poem composed or designed to be consciously seen.
The contemporary visual poem is generally composed with assembled and/or disassembled language material. This stuff of language includes word, text, note, code, petroglyph, letter or other phonic character, type, cipher, symbol, pictograph, sentence, number, hieroglyph, rhythm, iconograph, grammar, cluster, stroke, ideogram, density, pattern, diagram, logogram, accent, line, color, measure, etc.
The minimalist poet composes with fissioned language material to create new and free particles, and/or sonic patterns, clusters, densities, and/or textures. Generally, today’s minimalist visual poet maintains the post World War Two tradition of Concrete Poetry, begun in Northwest Europe, Brasil and Japan around 1951. Others in Northeast USA followed later.
Ideally, the visual poet composes with these freed particles and generally weds or fuses them to one or more art forms. By doing so, by crossing art form boundaries, the visual poet composes in a field of multimedia or borderblur or intermedia with unrestricted horizons.
The contemporary visual poem is a form reinvented by various twentieth century avant-garde movements and influenced by abstract, surrealist, minimalist, photo realistic . . . art and photography. It is the contemporary expression of the pre-1900 visual poem handed down through millennia under a host of forms such as acrostics, anagrams, colored or illuminated text, emblems, labyrinths, pattern and shaped poems which in turn evolved from other forms back to the earliest ancestor, rock art.
Within this setting, Jorgensen’s works evolve from his American primary river of influence and concerns expressed and composed by Kenneth Patchen, Robert Creeley and others within the area of societal concerns. Patchen is considered by many as the American Blake. With great skill and eloquence, he essentially covered all the space most concrete poets, but with much less dexterity and eloquence, would later attempt. From Creeley, one can see and read the influence of condensed lexical lines and arrays.
Jorgensen carries on what I consider to be an important lineage of American visual poetry. That is to say, he composes along Patchen’s trajectory. He does so not as a copier but as a continuer with his unique evolving use of a deeper American visual poetry shaped and shaded by his long residence in a variety of diverse cultures and nations. By deeper, I mean in contrast with most of his contemporaries trapped within a shallow almost veneer neo-concrete poetic.
Each culture and nation has its own expression uniting sign, word and image. Jorgensen has absorbed these various expressions at the visceral level, wedded them with his conscious American and European artistic influences to make his own unique work.
Conjoined language, sign and image are found far back in the proto-writing eras of various cultures. One of the oldest writing systems remaining untranslated was initially called the Indus Valley Script. It was found on terra-cotta and fired clay seals. I point to these seals because they are part of a culture for which Jorgensen and I share a deep admiration and respect. He spent more time in Bharat (India) than I. This particular writing system’s age is older and more widely spread than previously theorized. New recoveries of the script and associated imagery on objects other than seals now range in Bharat from south of Mumbai to northern Afghanistan. The name of the culture has been changed to the Saraswati Culture. One can clearly make a link between these seals and the visual poems of Jorgensen: visual image and esthetically placed language and sign.
Since the seals are yet to be translated, much is made out of each seal and the entire script. Likewise, once can approach Jorgensen’s visual poems as a mystery to be unraveled. Each needs a focused viewing: first as a whole, then its parts and finally as a whole again that now has a deeper meaning than the first look and read. His works are a log of seeking out the truth of our human condition. Some point to the consequences of our darker nature, others to the Beauty Way in which we are all surrounded by and immersed in.