KR BlogWriting

Visual Speech

This musing is the work of the poet Susan Parr.–TM

I’d like to make a yawp here for Kirsten Ogden, whose recent post made me think about speechlessness (along with its coterie which one might collectively call ice).

Sometimes I have the urge to simply draw what I’m trying to say. Cutting out a capital letter and taping it down–a V to vellum, for example–feels freest. It is a quick leap for me to envision the V as a wrist-rest for an envious ulna. For the same reasons I always liked the word “craft” better than “composition.” And, my, yarn is promisingly line-like! And so does the alphabet have character.

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Most of the arts and the crafts give their makers a little peace. By peace, I mean a state of mind that comes from attending to an emerging creature-artwork. There are bursts of activity in all artistic practices, but these always seem to resolve into the meditative work of completion: editing your two hours of video, or troweling cement to cinder blocks for the wall of a conceptual apartment.

But who is peaceful who writes? The feeling seems to be more an alertness, mixed with competence at best, or a spotty personal thrill, or dips into a funk, occasionally into outright delusion, all overlaid by the mild noise of writing’s forward-moving energy. Always moving forward, writing! If moving backward, then it is only relative to, defined by, and/or experimenting with, the forward strain.

I think this characteristic momentum partly explains the old correspondence between writing and fire. It’s a correspondence seemingly developed on the very early branches of metaphor, probably before the differentiation between archea (which include extremophile bacteria) and eukaryotes (which include grizzly bears). Fitting, then, that writers can be hot-house unhealthy.

The correspondence is not only descriptive. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, also wrote a detailed history of evolution within the colorful wrapper of The Canterbury Tales (the resulting book is called The Ancestor’s Tale). For him, something in the shape of a narrative poem worked for an evolutionary compendium. We might need a 15h century author like Cornelius Agrippa to identify heat as the connective force between Chaucer’s fancy and Dawkin’s fact. According to Agrippa, of the elements in nature, heat is the animal’s special niche, finding its home in the larger element fire, which itself is in all things. (Agrippa describes Fire: “clear, parted, leaping back, bending upwards, quick in motions, comprehending another, not comprehended itself, not standing in need of another, secretly increasing of itself“”)

If speech (and writing, its recent offshoot) is animal expression, visual and/or concrete poetry in a sense ???divolves’ (and revolves the senses). I hope to write a little more about visual poems soon–I’m in the middle of a new book by the Seattle-based poet Nico Vassilakis, who works in both visual and text-based modes–and I’m glad Kirsten’s earlier posts spurred the idea. I can note here that by “divolve” I refer to the way that concrete poems move in two directions. In these poems, the letter shapes contain something oddly immanent, and we are surprised to learn that it is not necessarily a sound. Creating such poems is a little like playing with matches. And with ashes.

Susan Parr’s poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cranky, and Filter, and are forthcoming in The Seattle Review and The Best American Poetry 2007. She makes her home in Seattle, where she works as a graphic artist.

About the Program

The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

Requirements and Expectations

  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
  • Trainings and Seminars: In-person attendance is mandatory at all trainings and seminars. We plan on scheduling six to eight seminars per semester, and most will take place on Thursdays during common hour.
  • Literary Engagement: Associates are expected to participate in literary events on campus and throughout the local community.

Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.