Nico Vassilakis works with both textual and visual alphabet. Recent books include Staring @ Poetics (Xexoxial Editions, 2011), West of Dodge (redfoxpress, 2010), Protracted Type (Blue Lion Books, 2009), staReduction (Book Thug, 2008), and Text Loses Time (Many Penny Press, 2007). His THE LAST VISPO: A Visual Poetry Anthology 1998 – 2008 from Fantagraphics Books. Samples of Nico’s work can be seen at http://staringpoetics.weebly.com.
David Hoenigman: What is Vispo?
Nico Vassilakis There are many different definitions for Vispo, but mine is roughly as follows. The surface/space where text and image meet. Where visual language and alphabetic meaning join to create the byproduct visual poetry (vispo). The predilection for fidgeters of text to have letters be unmoored from their word source, so as to consider even the singular letter or portions of that letter as the material of expression. The compositions of a visual text vary in meaning and style and are commonly alphabetic. Alphabetic is used loosely to connote a series of visual markings with or without semantic purpose. The previous concrete poetry movement was intent on offering a message, a pun, a typographic novelty. Vispo is certainly a child of concrete poetry, but with different intentions. Vispo is now a category heading for myriad other sub categories. The possibilities of expression have begun to stretch passed where they are relatable to previous histories and into new potential fields.
David Hoenigman: How did you come up with the concept?
Nico Vassilakis In 2007, Geof Huth, Jim Andrews, Crag Hill and I met in Seattle to put on an event of Sound, Visual, Digital Poetries. We talked about the lack of a collective approach to what we were producing and how there needed to be a snapshot taken of the work being created in the last few years, much of it created in new digital media. We recognized that digitization and computerization were making conversation and image sharing also more readily available. This can be directly equated to the number Vispo work found on screen and in blogs in the previous decade. A year after this meeting, Crag and I met again to discuss the feasibility of putting together an anthology. Was it possible? Was it necessary? How to go about it? Would anyone publish it?
David Hoenigman: How did you decide who to ask to submit work?
Nico Vassilakis During the course of our meetings we realized we didn’t want to limit ourselves to our own aesthetics and went about asking for contributing editors to assist in suggesting poets and poets’ work. We asked Donato Mancini, Sheila Murphy, Reed Altemus and Catherine Bennett to each send a list of 50 poets and examples of their work. So, with the resources they sent us along with ours we had a formidable stack of work to consider. Crag and I spent up to 10 minutes (sometimes more) discussing each of the 500+ works submitted.
David Hoenigman: What problems did you face putting it together?
Nico Vassilakis We tried to eliminate repetition – not choosing a piece with elements in one work found in another. We wanted to offer the fullest array of possibilities available to us. One problem was getting access to international poets we didn’t know about then, but have since become familiar. We were keen on not merely collecting work, but wanting to contextualize it. To solve this, we decided to include essays that were informative, historical, experimental and designed to ask both positive and negative questions about the movement. The biggest problem, after choosing work, getting essays, sequencing the contents, designing the book, the many trips back and forth to meet and discuss the project, was finding a publisher. After a year of submitting the book to academic and commercial publishers we finally and fortunately landed with Fantagraphics Books. We believe this publisher will enable visual poetry to be seen and considered by the widest possible audience ever, by readers who may never have encountered visual poetry before.