Clip: Trading Text for Visuals: Poets As Visual Artists

25 Apr


I had a really fun time putting together an article for Burnside about poets who are also visual artists. From the time I was a little child, I have been drawn to both the literary and visual arts worlds. Even in undergrad these two loves of mine co-mingled, as I majored in English and minored in studio art. My undergrad thesis looked at the relationship between writers and artists in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. It didn’t end there. While obtaining my MFA in creative writing, I took a poetry class on the collaborations of the poets and artists of the New York School. My article touches on some of the poets I’ve studied over the years, with of course a focus on the people commonly associated with the Beat Generation, but I pushed myself to find other examples as well.

Our cannons are so steeped in “dead white males” that it was important to me in stretching my knowledge to seek out poet-artists who did not play into that categorization. I was delighted to discover that Elizabeth Bishop painted.  Two years ago it was the hundred-year anniversary of the former Poet Laureate of the United States’ birth, so there were many readings and events to honor her work. Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she was a painter. Maybe it’s because she herself did not take it all that seriously, as I point out in my article. I happen to think they’re delightful, though.

A contemporary poet-painter I am quite interested in researching more about is Babi Badalov. As my article touches on, he mixes languages in his works, a result of having moved a lot between cultures to avoid persecution for his controversial visual poetry. As a writer, language is something I hold dear. My vocabulary is a key to who I am: the words I’ve picked up come from my mother’s midwestern phrasing and my father’s Greek tongue as well as the vernacular of northern New Jersey and the jargon of the institutes of higher learning I attended. I’ve found the preservation of endangered languages so critical because language is about identity. The idea that a poet has no language and has many languages intrigues me. When does Badalov express himself in his native Azerbaijani language and when in Russian? Is his use of English a political act?

In my exploration of the Beats as visual artists, I could have easily waxed on and on. In fact, I did not go into any detail about Jack Kerouac’s artwork, even though he has been the subject of much of my studies. If this is something you’re interested in, leave a note in the comment section below, and I’ll write something up on this. What I did try to do for the Burnside article, though, was show that the Beats were following a rich tradition that came long before them. I point to William Blake and the Chinese and Japanese calligraphers as forerunners and influencers on the work of Allen Ginsberg and Phillip Whalen, for example.

My article was limited to just a few examples, a small taste of the artwork of poets. I’d love to hear who you think should be added to the list. Maybe I’ll make a part II!


8 Responses to “Clip: Trading Text for Visuals: Poets As Visual Artists”

  1. david amram April 26, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Dear Stephanie

    Enjoying your last few weeks quotes of Hellenic Heavyweights as well as this latest!!

    This was just sent to me and It might be fun to come to, since it’s free, but if not……..

    there’s no place like home!!!!

    That’s where i am right now, after a 500 mile round trip driving to and back from Maine border for a joyous gig, and now at the farm with my first real day off in a month, and DIGGING IT!!!!

    Big Springtime hugs


    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————— LITERARY MANHATTAN presents David Amram: The rhythm of the Beats plays on

    By Literary Manhattan on Apr 16, 2013

    David Amram plays at the Poisson Rouge in New York, October 11, 2012.

    For 82-year-old musician, composer, conductor and author, David Amram, music and literature are inseparable. As much as the author of On the Road Jack Kerouac credited jazz for inspiring the rhythm of his writing, Amrams jazz, and other music seems to erupt from the words of his old friends, including Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso.

    Still working 16 hour days, burning all THREE ENDS of the candle!!, Amram wrote earlier this week, he is currently composing two musical numbers deeply rooted in the rhythms of literature.

    The first is called Three Songs from Jack Kerouacs On the Road, sung by classical baritone James Martin, is due to premier at the New York Festival of Song next Spring. In an email to Literary Manhattan Amram wrote that the songs Are three excerpts from On the Road which Jack used to read when I accompanied him in 1957 at New York Citys first-ever public jazz poetry readings which we pioneered together.

    The second, commissioned by classical saxophonist Ken Radnofsky, is called Greenwich Village Portraits: A Sonata for alto saxophone and piano. Amram told us three movements of the sonata are dedicated to the memory of playwright Arthur Miller, blues singer, Odetta, and author, Frank McCourt, and will be premiered in Greenwich Village by Radfofsky and forty other classical saxophonists scattered around the world, on February 15 of next year.

    Amran is also author of three books, Vibrations, an autobiography, Offbeat: Collaborating With Kerouac, a memoir, and Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat, all published by Paradigm Publishers.

    We asked the musician-author to tell us what the streets of New York meant to him as a writer. His response, dated April 14, 2013, will be included in Amrams forthcoming new book David Amram: The Next 80 Years, according to a note at the bottom of our correspondence:

    Street Thoughts

    The streets of New York reflect the character and spirit of the city, and serve as a personal historian to anybody and everybody who has ever walked through them. No matter how lonely you might be, New Yorks city streets always talk to you whether you are listening or not.

    When Jack Kerouac and I used to take our late night/early morning strolls after an evening of poetry/music get togethers, usually at a painters loft for a bring your own bottle party or in a coffee house, the back room of a dingy bar, or on a park bench in the Village, accompanied by chess players, NYU students, off-duty bartenders, waiters, waitresses, or whoever was around, we would end the evening by taking strolls for hours down those quiet streets to discuss our seemingly impossible plans and look at what Jack referred to as the diamonds in the sidewalk.

    New Yorks city streets were definitely different than the cobble stone streets of Lowell Massachusetts, the mill town where Jack grew up or Bustleton Pike, the two lane country road that was the only thing resembling a street in Feasterville Pennsylvania, running by the farm where I grew up.

    While every street in the world has at least one good story, New Yorks streets have so many stories that whenever you walk them, you sense that your presence is simply part of a great sprawling epic adventure.

    New York Citys streets tell you that if you are quiet and listen, you can absorb the unspoken history that is available if you really pay attention. These streets share all the memories of those ghosts of the past who return at night to visit. And when you walk down any of those streets today, old friends from the past, many of whom are no longer here, and the ghosts of people you wish you had known who walked those same streets all come back to greet you for a moment.

    The sidewalks of every block have memories to share with you that are as strong and indestructible as the asphalt that is their foundation and those diamonds in the sidewalk still glisten every night and welcome you to new adventures.

    On May 5 Amram will read from one of his favorite works on the rooftop of the Library Hotel for Literary Manhattans Spring Symposium, also featuring Beat Generation author and National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Joyce Johnson, Sackett Street Writers Workshop founder Julia Fierro, and Shane Romero, three-time National Slam Poetry Team member.


    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos April 26, 2013 at 10:19 am #


      This sounds like such a fantastic event! May 5 is Greek Orthodox Easter, so I’m not sure I’ll be free that day, but if I am I would certainly like to attend. I always have such a great time at events like these, and every time I hear you play I feel inspired.

      Your trip to Maine sounds wonderful. I’ve never been there before, but I always hear about how nice it is.

      I hope you are enjoying some well-deserved relaxation!! The farm seems like a perfect place to be on such a beautiful spring day. I will imagine it from the confines of my desk!

      See you soon,

  2. babibadalov May 1, 2013 at 4:40 am #

    dear Stephanie,

    thank you for you interes to my visual poetry…

    here is my blog where i have just some scanned pages of my artistic book

    thank you!


    ps: please correckt my name on your blog, “Bbi Badalov” its should be Babi Badalov

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos May 1, 2013 at 10:18 am #


      Thanks for the link to your blog! I am very excited to see the scanned pages of your art book. Your work is so inspirational.


      PS: Sorry your name was misspelled in the tag section on the blog. I corrected it now. I also reviewed the text of the blog as well as my article on Burnside and am happy to report it was correctly spelled elsewhere.

  3. Zemo March 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Hi Stephanie, the link to your article is not working for me. It seems the website no longer exists. Is there a chance to see the article somewhere else? I have sent you an email as well. I am running a small independent cinema in Cork, Ireland and I have a night coming up with animated poetry films, mixed with live readings by local poets. As part of the introduction I would like to show some examples from art history where the poems were combined with visual arts and I love your blog and I think the article is exactly what I am looking for 🙂 I am also an amateur art historian myself


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