Writing off the Page: A Sampling of Contemporary Women and Non-Binary Writers with Interdisciplinary Practices

As a young writer, I aimed to bring my artistic and poetic practices into conversation with one another, but I searched for role models without many leads. Aimless Google searches would come up mostly dry. Poetry installation? Poetry sculptures? Hyperlink poetry? When I asked my early creative writing professors about poets working off the page, I typically often found myself directed back to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writers (and, on a rare occasion, sound poets like Jaap Blonk and Christian Bök). These schools and their practitioners are brilliant, but they weren’t quite the work I had in mind. As a first-generation college student and young female poet, I desperately needed contemporary, interdisciplinary role models—especially ones who were women, non-binary, or non-male. 

Looking back as a more experienced writer and sound artist, I realize how difficult it can be for beginning writers to discover new- or inter- media poetry, which can sometimes be niche and difficult to track down. While thinking about what to write for this week’s Minnesota Review blog post, I wondered what I could do to counter this. I asked myself: What writers are pressing on the boundaries of poetic and artistic genres in exciting ways? What writers are engaging with technology, sonic arts, and/or performative practices?

As a result, I’ve compiled a brief introductory list of my 5 most recent favorite poets working off the page. Naturally, there’s no order or hierarchy to this (honestly, who believes in a ‘canon’ anymore?). Rather, this serves as a sampling, places to start and work outward from—a fractal network. And who knows? Maybe this list will also interest experienced poets curious about other writers’ experimental practices. I know I keep returning to these writers’ work over and over again.

1. Astra Papachristdoulou: I learned about Papachristdoulou’s work very recently after seeing one of her bio-resin sculptures in an anthology. Papachristdoulou is the founder of Poem Atlas, a platform for visual and object poetry. Poem Atlas also curates online exhibits at this link, featuring work from writers across the world. Beyond her object poetry, Papachristdoulou has also published six collections and frequently collaborates with other artists. 

"A to Z," 2020, Bio-resin and cellulose acetate
A to Z, 2020 (Bio-resin and cellulose acetate) 

What I love most about Papachristdoulou’s work is how it plays with the material stickiness of language (quite literally in the case of the bio-resin and collaborative piece below), enacting how language conglomerates to cohere meaning. While embracing this layering, her works often remain minimal, bound by constraints that serve as both engine and form. Here, I think of her exciting aleatoric performance of Blockplay, which poet Nadia de Vries called Steinian in its “association with play from domestic constraints and rendering it sensual, uncanny.” 

European Poetry Camarade, collaboration with Michal Piotrowski at the Gulbenkian, Canterbury

2. Hanne Lippard: Lippard identifies as a visual artist who works with language, but the poetic integrity of her work leads me to include her here. Lippard creates sound poetry and sound installation, as found below. She has also published two books with Broken Dimanche press, This Embodiment and Nuances of No, which have strong visual components as she plays with scale, fonts, and placement on the page. 

Performance of “Ariel 2.0”

Lippard’s work often focuses on themes of woman-ness, embodiment, and voice, which all lie close to my own heart and interests. She explores these themes through sonic wordplay, decontextualization of language, and syntactic repetition. I always appreciate the way Lippard brings the body back into our experience of her language-based performances and installations. For instance, in “Floating,” the viewer is put on display, and the viewer’s body is implicated in the sonic text (which, too, questions the idea of embodiment via sound’s somewhat paradoxical materiality and invisibility). As sound theorist Salomé Voegelin contends in Listening to Noise and Silence, there is a physicality in the way that sound acts itself out on the body, in the body, even though we rather deceptively can’t see it. These are only a handful of my favorite works by Lippard, so I strongly recommend exploring her oeuvre online.

“Floating,” a six-channel installation and winner of the Nam June Paik prize in 2018

And, just because I can’t help myself, here’s an extra audio poem by Lippard (another favorite of mine), “I missed your call more than I missed you.” 

3. Lillian-Yvonne Bertram: Bertram is a writer, artist, and educator. Their book Travesty Generator was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, and they’ve published four other collections. Bertram’s work often engages with open-source coding, algorithms, race, and gender. Cathy Park Hong comments on Travesty Generator, saying, “Bertram uses open-source coding to generate haunting inquiring elegies to Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and Emmett Till. By framing [their] ‘counter-narratives’ of black lives in code and social media optimization, Bertram brilliantly conveys how black experience becomes codified, homogenized, and branded for capitalist dissemination.” Bertram also creates digital projects, which can be found on their website.

I haven’t discussed digital on-screen writing much in this article, but Bertram’s digital work takes full advantage of the affordances of the format. In Bertram’s “I dream of creating an intelligent machine,” for instance, the viewer can scroll around the floating text, exploring the writing’s crevices and planes that geometrically unfold in the surprising architecture. 

Text

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Screenshot of “I dream of creating an intelligent machine”

In “A New Sermon on the Warpland,” Bertram also uses algorithms to explore the relationship between colonialism and erasure. In the digital format (it also appears printed in Travesty Generator), the piece continues to propagate as the algorithm produces more text. At the same time, the screen automatically scrolls downward, as though being erased as quickly as it cycles through. Yet, the function to disrupt the flow, to scroll upward and recover the earlier text, remains. In this way, Bertram seems to comment on the cyclical nature of colonialism—how it informs the present-day—while also calling attention to the literal erasure of black lives set against the commodified media consumption of black culture, which, as Hong says, is “branded for capitalist dissemination.” 

4. Iris Colomb: Colomb’s work came to my attention at the beginning of lockdown when I encountered her piece “Deadlock.” She identifies as a poet, artist, and translator whose work spans from book arts to experimental translation to performance. Colomb’s work traverses a broad terrain, but I’m especially fascinated by the way many of her works facilitate a collaboration between the object and the viewer/reader. For instance, in “Aberrations,” the text has no beginning or end so that the reader must enter the text, taking an active engagement with it. 

A close up of a card

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Aberrations

Similarly, in “Deadlock,” the performer (in the case of the video, Colomb herself) collaborates with the wheel-poem, which also has to potential to continue ad infinitum. For me, these works highlight how circularity and ‘endlessness’ can position the performer or reader as an activating presence. Wherever the performer or reader enters with the text, they create their own collaborative experience with the work. 

Iris Colomb’s “Deadlock”

Even in her more performative pieces, Colomb appears to play with ideas of span and duration. In both Coil and Shadowplay, the poet reads from a long, thread-like text. 

Iris Colomb performs “Handke Variations,” “before Say,” and “Shadow Play” at Euphonia

5. Katrina Porteous: Porteous is a poet known for her writing on nature and place, as well as her innovative radio poems. She has three collections out with the UK press Bloodaxe Books (among other publications), and she has worked with BBC producers on some very stunning radio poetry. Unfortunately, many of us outside the UK may not have access to the BBC audio, but I highly recommend her piece “The Refuge Box,” which coalesces a panoply of voices threaded by soundscapes. One BBC radio poetic documentary, “Conversations on a Bench, Beadnell,” can be accessed on Soundcloud below by international listeners. Part audio documentary, part poetry, the piece capitalizes on the juxtapositions between genres. “Conversations on a Bench” oscillates between Anna Scott-Brown’s interview clips and Porteous’s lyric poetry reading. The junctures between them produce a reliable rhythm or current that keeps the piece in motion, much like the sea they’re discussing. 

Katrina Porteous’s “Conversations On A Beach” and “Beadnell”

Another notably polyphonic work by Porteous is “Beach Ride,” which can be both read on the page and listened to at the link provided. 

Amanda Hodes, poetry reader

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