Book Review: Anthology Spidertangle: new works from members of the Spidertangle email list
Publication Date: January 12, 2009
Publisher: Xexoxial Editions
· mIEKAL aND
by Paul Schultz
Published: October 16, 2009
Anthology Spidertangle is a diverse collection of works from members of Spidertangle, an international e-mail list of visual and concrete poetry. Edited by mIEKAL aND, this 8" x 10" 120-page black-and-white softcover celebrates the marriage of art and the word through an exotic array of styles. It can be obtained through Xexoxial Editions, with the 1st edition printed in a numbered edition of 200. It is also available through Target retailers, and I wondered what would attract the casual shopper -- and someone not necessarily versed in the terminology, technology, or general culture of the medium -- to the book.
Certainly the wraparound cover by Liaizon Wakest beckons with its colorful knot of letters. But a quick perusal of the contents leaves the distinct impression that many works, presented in varying shades of grayscale, would be more vibrant -- if not downright stunning -- were they seen in their original color. As it is, several pieces tend to suffer from a low-contrast muddiness that doesn't necessarily quash its intended meaning, but rather inhibits the appreciation of fine detail.
It quickly becomes apparent that to apprehend what you are looking at requires hard work. Anthology Spidertangle can be enjoyed purely on an artistic level, but delving into meaning requires concerted effort on the part of the reader. It seems as if the contributors share an anarchic bent, and that mindset may prove helpful in scrutinizing with a perspicacious eye.
Particularly appealing is the book's design. On the upper outside corner of each page is a thumbnail image of each poet, with their name curving along the lower portion of the circular picture. It's desirable to be able to put a face to a work, and the immediacy of this arrangement is most satisfactory. Exclusive to this compilation are endpapers designed by David-Baptiste Chirot, featuring thematic rubbings of the sinewy wood grains of telephone poles.
Apparently it's a common thing to write an artist's statement to provide insight into their work, and that's here in the form of a one-sentence statement and self-provided bio listed at the back of the book in order of appearance. The statements I found most useful were the ones that provided the title of their work, explained the piece, or generally described the process that brought it into being. For example, Marilyn R. Rosenberg's painstaking method of photographing pages created with traditional materials, then scanning, dicing, and rearranging the fragments on the computer to fit a theme brings added appreciation when viewing the finished work. The bios themselves are an amusing mixture, ranging from hilariously succinct ("Since 1942, John M. Bennett has been making lots of poems.") to poetic themselves (Irving Weiss: "I'm a person of moderate skills, I pay all my debts and my bills--I'm not very odd, I don't believe in God, and I live on Duke Place in Dix Hills.").
This is a variation of Matthew Stolte's $ & ¢ concrete poem
created using stencils and acrylics, and an example of a
submission that is more dynamic in color than the black-
and-white reproduction to be found in Anthology Spidertangle.
In my inherent laziness, I initially gravitated toward the uncluttered black and white words that were immediately understandable, including David Chikhladze's simple "reflective" one-word entry, and Karl Kempton's experiment in depth perception. Next, I took note of Kevin Thurston's straightforwardly funny "That's not writing, it's plumbing," and Maria Damon's amazing cross-stitch poems, since that is one of the few crafty things I engage in myself. I was also drawn to Peter Ciccariello's enchanting use of digital landscape with its dense application of verbiage. I liked the moody aesthetic of Reed Altemus' image of letters whipping in the wind, though they formed no coherent pattern.
And that's my experience with many of these works. If not readily readable, the letters fall into indecipherable patterns. Outside these legibly-challenged entries there are those beyond the English alphabet (Lanny Quarles), "piles" of symbols (Geof Huth), glyphs (mIEKAL aND), and, I think, alien script (PR Primeau). When words are strung together, often they are nonsensical paragraphs (Karl Young), contain made-up words (Ross Priddle), or sound deep but are inane (Igor Satanovsky & Lenny Drozner). Worse are seemingly lexicon-free distortions that instead evoked tadpoles swimming and encroaching static (Crag Hill) or a mirage in a disturbed puddle of alphabet soup (Brian Zimmer).
I had better encounters with works that at least had an identifiable foundation upon which to build: mazes (Richard Kostelanetz), Mandelbrot fractals (Sheila Murphy), stenciled letters (Matthew Stolte), flow chart symbols (Derek Beaulieu), a thought bubble (Michael Basinski), the top row of an eye chart (endwar), Spirograph (mIEKAL aND), ransom notes (Camille Martin), and New York Penal law excerpts laid over over a U.S. flag (Martha Deed). Best of all is Jefferson Hansen's double print that rather reminded me of my high school typing class. I would complete tasks so quickly that the boredom inspired me to submit variations that included zero spaces and typing the text, running the paper through the platen subtly shifted, then typing the same words over again, creating a superimposed 3-D effect. "Guess what?" the teacher would invariably write on the returned assignment, "Do over!"
Anthology Spidertangle is a fine introduction for someone new to visual poetry. It showcases a sample of styles that are alternately inspiring, mystifying, and definitely thought-provoking. The beauty of this collection is the heterogeneity that allows you to return to it and discover another layer of meaning in a piece viewed many times before. The only real downside is that the rendition in black-and-white -- certainly an expense-reducing decision -- dulls the full effect as intended by its creator. It is not to be flipped through like a magazine, but pondered diligently in solitude with a Mimosa.