The difference between poems and paintings -- between the verbal and the nonverbal -- is highly significant. But to characterize this difference by the terms "verbal" and "visual" is to overlook the fact that the verbal is as often visual (e.g., in reading) as not, and that the nonvisual (e.g., auditory) is often nonverbal. An unhappy synecdoche has made for a mix-up. 1
A marriage of the verbal and the nonverbal may also be highly significant if the union involves an attempt to birth a new poetry, where, again quoting Goodman: "...words may illuminate pictures as pictures may illuminate words." 2 This reciprocal illumination was first glimpsed in a long image and word poem that I made from scraps of found illustrations and text in the spring of 2004. The work, Notes in the Dark, is a poem premised on the notion that a series of loosely connected words and pictures could capture something of the process of transitioning from consciousness to a dream state. This ambitious undertaking eventually led to Poet's Journal, a series of collages representing the pages of an open book, a small framed composite image on one side, a free-floating, amalgamated image on the other, with stitched together lines of found text collaged below each, much of it fragments of 18th and 19th century poetry. Poet's Journal is a dynamic coupling of the verbal and the nonverbal: an interactive reconfiguration of words and pictures.
Poetry that integrates the verbal and the nonverbal may better reflect the fundamental reciprocity between imagination and reason, which can also have the salutary effect of making the reader or viewer aware of the inseparability of aesthetic experience and cognition. It may very well be that, as Goodman believed, all aesthetic experience is about knowing and understanding in some way or another. This presumption leads me to believe that if the poet is clearly committed to the work, even the most spontaneous, experimental poetry, will have a rationale; an underlying reason, something revealed or enabled by the viewer or reader's imaginative engagement with the work. With this in mind, Notes in the Dark and Poet's Journal initiate what philosopher, Paul Crowther calls a "free play of understanding and imagination." 3 The poems in both these works integrate imagination and reason in ways that are, to use Crowther's term, "mutually enhancing." We are made aware not only of the interdependence of imagination and reason but also realize that the mutual enhancement of these cognitive faculties through the poems conveys something of the essence of aesthetic experience. This is specifically accomplished through the use of fragments of found images and snippets of found text; images and text not used as is but excised from their original contexts and re-formed to make a novel image and a new verbal configuration. Basically, this initially involves playing with the metaphorical possibilities of found images, or parts of found images, something that is explored in a verbal sense once the new images coalesce or are decided upon. The mutual enhancement of understanding and imagination begins in a reciprocal relationship: a back and forth or give and take between new (semantic) associations resulting from experimental combinations of image elements and a making sense of these new formations. The reciprocity begins when the play with these elements converges with a feeling of comprehensiveness (call this the "aha" moment). Essentially, the verbal re-configurations present this reciprocity or dynamic in a different register. These bits of rearranged found text, are, then, neither explanatory captions nor afterthoughts. The "visually" metaphorical aspect of the poem or collage is effectively given voice through combining bits of found text, which are also selected and arranged for their metaphorical resonance. The result is a refinement of the collage technique where the poetic force of both composed found images and text are brought together to offer a new cognitive and aesthetic experience.
1 Nelson Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters, Harvard University Press, 1984, p.156
2 Nelson Goodman, In ibid. p. 173
3Paul Crowther, Defining Art, Creating the Canon, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 83