Wednesday, May 20, 2009



Diptychs: Visual Poems by Nico Vassilakis
(Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia, 2007)

Nico Vassilakis’s book of visual poems is a fascinating exploration of language pulled down to its base level with letters looked at as tangible objects containing their own beauty. In the introduction, Geof Huth tells us that “It is possible to find meaning in these pieces, but their real power is talismanic rather than semiotic,” and that seems like a good characterization to me. These visual poems invite us to explore possible meanings without giving us enough to decide on a meaning, and each of the sections has an overriding visual design that invites us to explore the meaning of the section. For example, in some of the sections, like “Umber” and “Captured Flags,” we can try to see words in the visual pieces, and in other sections, especially in “Aqua Letter,” the tangible letter has been pushed back so deep that we can only imagine its there because of the context of the book.

The visual pieces, though vastly different, cohere in a single collection. The diptychs are all the same size, they all use letters or what could be letters, the sections have similar color schemes (for the most part), and similar fading/edging techniques are used with most of the lettering. Other more subtle connections exist as well; for example, two of the earlier diptychs are captured texts from dictionaries and they reference the Greek (GK) roots of the words; the book’s last section shifts from English into Greek, a section appropriately titled “Hellenic Swim”—appropriately because the Greek letters appear to be floating in a water-like substance, which in itself raises questions as to the space of meaning, of language in general.

Taken as pieces outside of the collection, these poems reward individual study. With each, questions arise as to how the panels of the diptychs relate, what the color scheme means, and how the letters or shadows of letters relate. They also all ask us to hesitate and consider language and how it means on a minute level. This last point is something that is common in visual poetry, but the beauty of some of these specific pieces goes beyond what is often seen in similar works by other poets. For those familiar with Vassilakis’s video work, these works will feel familiar. For others, this collection could provide a good introduction to visual work and to poetry/art as exploration of the limits of meaning.


William Allegrezza edits the e-zine Moria and the press Cracked Slab Books. He has published four books, In the Weaver's Valley, Ladders in July, Fragile Replacements, and Covering Over; one anthology, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century; seven chapbooks, including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense (forthcoming with Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems. He curates series A, a reading series in Chicago dedicated to experimental writing. In addition, he occasionally post his thoughts at

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