text | texture | textile | tech by wendy vardaman

My interest in graphic design comes from a deep desire to make poetry & words more expressive, accessible & comprehensible to non-poets. As a poet, I have returned & recommitted to the written word through design again and again–from illustrations of nursery rhymes and children’s poetry, to poems projected on screens in the classic 1980’s PBS series Voices and Visions, an early example of the video poem, to poetry in subway stations and buses, to projections of poems on walls and screens, to animated poetry and high tech 3-D visualizations like wordCake, to the floating letters of 20th c. Constructivists, to the use of text–word, number, notation, music, code–as texture in collage, and of course, the world of visual poetry, in which word and image come together with drama and purpose.

Software like Indesign and Illustrator has allowed poets interested in these tools to take control of their own design. The print work of Douglas Kearney, Black Automaton and Patter, is one example of the power of innovative graphic design and poetry in the hands of a single original artist. Digital design also makes possible the work of artistic teams like Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse, whose Between Page and Screen “explores the place of books as objects in an era of increasingly screen-based reading,” linking an original letterpress artist book to a website where it can be experienced:

The poems that appear, a series of letters written by two lovers struggling to map the boundaries of their relationship, do not exist on either page or screen, but in the augmented space between them opened up by the reader.

The possibilities of digital-print interactions, overlaps, and references seem endless, and for poets, whose virtually unmarketable work has such a small audience, especially appealing. Bringing together the handmade with innovative tech in software, programming, app design, and computer graphics opens up new directions for individual and collaborative work in word design. Poetry’s capacity to focus intensively on word, metaphor, and detail enriches these worlds, too, as they enrich poetry.
In this series of conversations, I speak primarily to Wisconsin and Midwest-based book and letterpress artists about their relation to the handmade, its appeal in our digitally centered culture, the significance in their print work of texture, textiles, and text, and their relation, positive or not, to tech.


Read the interviews

1 – Ann Engelman on book arts

2 – Kristy Bowen on designing poetry & curating a successful chapbook series

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