The avant-garde manuscript: ‘Look beyond words’

An interesting excerpt from Kevin Repp‘s essay accompanying the Beinecke’s new exhibition, ‘Beyond Words: Experimental Poetry & the Avant-Garde‘ in which he highlights questions of materiality and visual materiality — or how the page matters for the avant-garde manuscript.

“Even when they seem to make up the entire poem, words are by no means the only (or often even the primary) compositional element. Typography, layout, color (of ink or paint), even the material supports on which these words appear (paper, canvas, wood, iron, magnetic tape, to name a few) all come into play. But don’t such elements belong to words? Aren’t they simply part of them, an incidental part at that, subordinate but necessary for words to take concrete physical form and hence be read or heard? Well, no. Typography, layout, ink, material supports may be necessary for words to appear on a page, but they can also be deployed for other purposes, even at cross purposes, striking out at words, challenging their sense, altering or entirely subverting their meaning. By taking them up as compositional elements in their own right, experimental poets and artists of the avant-garde ask us to explore possibilities for creative expression in the purely visual, aural, tactile qualities of physical media. They ask us to look beyond words.”


beinecke by Lauren Manning

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Image: Lauren Manning