Chewed 05 & 10 and Other Selected Work
by Karl Kempton
Part of "Illuminated Script": a SCRIPTjr.nl special section.
I began experimenting with a typewriter searching for visual expression in 1970. During that period, I moved from a manual to an electric typewriter that featured a vertical half space identical to the horizontal space of a key stroke, or in typography terms en = em. This eventually lead me to the use of the x-y weaver grid I composed with until the early 1990's. These first three years were my experimental phase, works that remain filed away. For me, experiments are not final but draft works. So, after three years of this and that, the qualitative level and detailed approach I felt and thought was worthy for seeking publication had been reached. The visual poems for the RUNE typewriter books began in 1974. Nine volumes were composed before computer, "B.C.," before switching to my first of four Mac computers.
I also composed other series and books on the typewriter. Two of these were collaborations with Loris Essary, editor and publisher of the multimedia journal, Interstate. The first was Ko. We collaborated on it in 1983. I typed first. Loris then wrote his letraset additions. It was published as an issue of Score: a visual poetry magazine edited and published by Crag Hill, Laurie Schneider, and Bill DiMichele. The second collaboration, Wired, was produced in 1985 and 1986. The collection is published here in its entirety for the first time, is the only series in which my typoglyphs were composed using most or all the letters of the alphabet as complex abstract mixtures of sculptured sound. The sculptured frame of the individual forms came from my found wire objects collected over many years, beginning in Sacramento in 1974. Another of my typoglyph books, Black Strokes White Spaces can be downloaded from Xexoxial.1 Some sections are also based on found objects.
The following outlines the Photons of 2010 Chewed Series and the selected Photons, images captured by digital camera and processed with computer programs, none of which are Photoshop. While I repeat myself from the Rune 21 afterword, I do so because of what I believe to be a significant insight by Karl Young in his introduction to Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space: Selected Poems of Kitasono Katue, the internationally renown Japanese visual poet.2 In the 1950's, Kitasono called on poets to let go of the pen and pick up the camera. In his introduction, Young traces the evolution of the poetic image from (1) the dropping of poetic meter (2) to a reliance on a lexically described image or series of images for the mind to grapple (3) to Kitasono's leap to the photographic image as a poetic image or field (my term). The Kitasono book was published after I had retuned to the camera.
In 2005, I began photographing, with visual poems in mind, Bubble Gum Ally located in San Luis Obispo. Gum first appeared anonymously in the brick facing cinder block ally in the early 1960's. Cleanup efforts by the city failed. Ever since, the ally has become a spot for youth and others to play with their chewed by sticking wads or forming letters, words and other shapes onto the surfaces. It is now a popular sight-seeing attraction. From the 2005-2006 series of photographs came the first Photon series, Chewed, soon to be published by Andrew Topel's avantacular press. "Rune 19" is sourced from that group of hundreds of photographs. Last year, I revisited these images to compose a new series, 2010 Chewed, that Topel has chosen to publish in "Illuminated Script."
Topel also selected a number of visual poems under the general heading of "Photons." The flora pieces come from our garden, one of many of my wife Ruth's skillful and nourishing projects, and the others from around the area in which we live.
I live happily with my wife in Oceano, California, consciously removed from literary centers. I conceived and co-founded with Kevin Patrick Sullivan a poetry festival in San Luis Obispo, "Language Of The Soul," in 1983; it continues to this day under his guidance. I removed myself from co-leading the poetry festival in 1992. We also co-founded "Corners Of The Mouth," a monthly poetry reading series. I removed myself from this series after 18 months. Kevin has since run the monthly series by himself; it is currently among the state's and nation's longest running monthly series. My community efforts became focused on several environmental issues such as fighting pesticides, offshore oil extraction, and helping protect Chumash sacred sites. Over the last two years with the help and support of the local Surfrider and Sierra Club chapters, I conceived and co-founded the California Central Coast Marine Sanctuary Alliance. We are seeking protection for 7000 square miles of nearshore and offshore internationally and nationally significant oceanographic features and habitat.3
My lexical and visual poems have been widely published and exhibited since 1974. I founded and began publishing Kaldron, a tabloid formatted lyrical and visual poetry mixed journal in 1976. I changed it to Kaldron: An International Journal of Visual Poetry in 1978 and published it until 1990. The on-line version began appearing as an anthology in 1997 as part of the larger Light and Dust on-line anthology edited and published by Karl Young.4
On What the Agavi Said & Dreamed
Ruth and I planted three small Marginta agavi pups about twenty five years ago. (I use the Italian spelling of agave to continue my play with the letter "i"). They were given to us by a neighbor, one of the area's premiere surfboard shapers. The planting, which also included a prickly-pear cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, completed the Gurney mound, honoring our friend, David Gurney, whose large vegetable garden, fruit trees, landscaped acreage, and skilled plant knowledge inspired us. He has since become a nationally known ceramic artist.
Since that moment of planting, Ruth continues to expand our native, cactus and succulent plant landscape that has become part of my photographic subject matter. Before this series unfolded, I had recorded, beginning in April, 2008, the first agave's stalk growth from sprout to flowering. In November 2009, I began a group of individual plant and vegetable photographic visual poems, Photons (selections from which appear in the slideshow above). "Photons" is currently the term I have decided upon to label my photographic, mixed media approach to the visual poem; or, perhaps a wider embracing term other than visual poem should be "sound illumination," the name of this special section of SCRIPTjr.nl. An agave photon was included in the first grouping. The photons then expanded to other subjects and objects. Within a few months, the agave plants became subjects for this long series because, in April, 2010, the second agave sent up its beautiful and surprising stalk sprout (p. 3). The agave life force slowly ebbs over a period of about a year as the seed pods dry on the stalk.
My initial impulse was to photo-record the first stalk's growth and flowering, not making images from the plants' various parts, patterns and textures to compose a Rune volume. The series unfolded, it seems, almost by demand up to the final moments in the sequencing of these pages a few days ago. The second agave stalk at this moment is drying its large seed pods. Most of the images are from leaves and patterns found in their skin. Leaves is a fitting subject when considering the making of books, not only as early writing surface material, but also a term for a number of pages in a book made from a printed sheet's folds.
My return to the camera after a thirty year hiatus, except for the documentation of the Chumash solstice sites I had recovered (Rune 23: RITE ANGLES), began in 2005. Ruth and I had given Amy, her daughter, my bonus daughter, a small digital camera for graduation from graduate school a few years before. She gave it to me after upgrading to a more advanced model. I quickly wore out what was left of the camera's life that Amy gave me. I replaced it with a digital SLR camera I have worked with since the summer of 2006. Aside from not wanting to view reality through the mental frame of a camera lens, I also had lacked space for a darkroom; nor did I desire to breath chemicals evaporating from photographic baths. Computer technology solved the darkroom dilemma and opened the way for me to work with and manipulate color. All my darkroom developing experience and experimenting with high contrast had been black and white.
My father was an award-winning amateur photographer, who at one time, wished to open a photography business in Pittsburgh. My first camera was a little box camera, a Brownie made by Eastman Kodak. While not absorbed by the camera nor photography in general, I spent many hours in the darkroom and around my father while he photographed and developed landscapes and portraits. I learned, mostly unconsciously as I look back upon that time, by watching and on occasion helping out in his darkroom in our home in Pittsburgh. I also enjoyed photographic images, especially those found in the magazine Aperture and its books. During my stint as a draftee in the army, I spent 14 months in Germany where I bought a SLR Japanese camera. I used it for several years until becoming tired of seeing and sensing the world around me through a camera lens. I set the camera aside.
Márton Koppány and I have had an ongoing exchange over a number of years through email and publication trading. We seem to have set up a small and respectful mutual influence and support echo chamber. Some of the ";" punctuation poems or works (some composed as puncture holes in the thorny leaves for light to pass through, others casting shadows) are a result of our visual exchange and discussions. While I have composed with various punctuation and diacritic marks and signs for nearly 40 years, I wish to acknowledge his influence over the last few years. I wish to acknowledge his influence because I am unable to unravel the direct and indirect influence he has had on some of the punctuation page breaks that also can been seen as separate visual poems or sound illuminations.
For context, I must again reference the insightful analysis by Karl Young, which I mention above, found in his noteworthy introduction to Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space: Selected Poems of Kitasono Katue, the internationally renown Japanese visual poet. In the 1950's, Kitasono called on poets to let go of the pen and pick up the camera. In his introduction, Young traces the evolution of the poetic image from (1) the dropping of poetic meter (2) to a reliance on a lexically described image or series of images for the mind to grapple (3) to Kitasono's leap to the photographic image as a poetic image or field (my term). Karl has also been an invaluable friend and colleague over the last 40 years from whom I have learned much and who has provided unselfish support for many of my projects.
In my peripheral side glances during the dream sequence composing, there were two other individuals in my awareness, Kenneth Patchen and Carl Jung. Patchen's work has had a profound impact upon my considerations as to what a visual poem should be and become. He is also one of the few and among the first American visual poets to work in long extended series. In this instance, his picture poems were o/i/n my mind. It seems that about the time Kitasono left/dropped Concrete Poetry, Patchen departed the same field having more than any American covered nearly all its territory while it was fresh, essentially untouched and unlabeled, before it was called "Concrete" (before concrete). He then began his picture poems. Many years ago, I read and studied most of Carl Jung's collected works. My use of archetypes and the mandala like pages within the dream(s) is my gesture acknowledging the vast amount of invaluable knowledge I have learned and applied from his work, particularly that of symbols, their deep roots, their psychological charge(s). Equally important as well, his works taught me to compose with clarity and a giving vibration.
Finally, I need to mention my long interest in the roots of symbolic representation and communication by our early ancestors going back at least 2.5 million years, most probably further back in time now that it is known and accepted we have been upright bipeds at least 3.5 million years, not tree dwellers. Obvious to me is that one source of early symbols would have been patterns made by natural forces in the inhabited and nomadic landscapes, including marks on plants, such as those found below.
For an overview of my Rune series, see Rune Maker (http://www.logolalia.com/minimalistconcretepoetry/archives/cat_kempton_karl.html [9 June 2011]). For a detailed view of the typewriter Rune period, see Reading the Waves, An Introduction to Karl Kempton's Rune: A Survey by Karl Young (http://www.thing.net/~grist/l&d/kempton/le-ky-kk.htm [9 June 2011]).
- Karl Kempton, "Black Strokes White Spaces" (Xexoxial Editions, n.d. http://www.xexoxial.org/is/black_strokes_white_spaces/by/karl_kempton [9 June 2011]). ↩
- Karl Young, "Introduction to Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space" ("Oceans Beyond Monotonous Space", n.d. http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/japan/kit-int.htm [9 June 2011]). ↩
- For more information, see The Slo Coast Journal (http://www.slocoastjournal.com/ [9 June 2011]). ↩
- See Karl Young, "Kaldron: An Introduction" (Kaldron, n.d. http://www.thing.net/~grist/l&d/kal-note.htm [9 June 2011]). ↩