Marilyn R. Rosenberg’s Woman’s Work: Some Hints At Violence And A Few Shadows

Image: “Mon Amour” by Satu Kaikkonen

With correct page numbers: 

If the work’s creator says it is, and if the editors accept it, then it is visual poetry, and I agree. This is my thought process while I am doing a close reading of the women’s pages; surely these are my own interpretations. The titles may give me insight into some of the creator’s intentions. Of course titles can also be just a sorting method. Untitled works are part of the mystery. I only know that the titles/labels on my own works are great for filing, for definition and, mostly, are part of the work itself. Which works are made by hand or machine or are found and are out of context and altered? I shall try to guess; does it matter? Some works are layered, dense while others are direct, up front. What does this mean? Some poems are very full, pressing the pages’ edges; while others allow for more space, and air, with empty areas. Why? Some works are hot with color or contrast or subject matter while others are cold, some are dark and dense. Does this affect the content? The hard edge ones, exacting, with crisp, sharp edges are of course so different from those full of rough marks. There are different degrees of abstraction or realism, expressionistic content, and/or mystery. Some are parts of this and that, combinations. Some words and letters are easy to find, exposed, but many others are hidden in the shadows. Others with marks resembling language, are these code or English, or another language I don’t know? So therefore, some are readable, some are not, but all are visual language. Sometimes the photos are art objects themselves aside from being records of information and poetry. There are photos of obvious real objects in many works, and these objects may only be props to hold the real message. Yes, but in many works, the objects are often a major collage element, altered or not, and often out of context. What I mention next might seem obvious or obscure, or not what the creator intended at all, but the search continues to be fascinating, although I answer only a few of my own questions. Elaborating in detail, about each woman’s work would be wonderful, but that’s not possible here; so following are only a few notes on what I found.

“Drop Caps” (217) may be the open red mouth and the white teeth, one missing, vowels of O and U; “Viole(n)t” (106) has a red N sticking out of the VIOLET body, and both poems use color boldly, to match the content. K.S. Ernst takes advantage of objects used in the three dimensional world of advertising and sign making; they are sectional sculptures with shadows. The works can be any size. The contents are surely a woman’s statement about violence.

Derya Vural (103)… I don’t know the language, so what do I see? The stretch of the letter A is held with tacks stretching it to the point of being torn apart. Strong color, contrast, and strong energy: does the red want to be seen as blood? Is it only paint and pencil marks on dough or some form of sculpture material on the wood? As I follow the arrows, I can only see the painful A amidst points, many words and letters. It seems to be telling me about violence against the first letter of the alphabet, a seriously hurting A.

“Open Up and Bleed for James” (124) is embroidery. Maria Damon’s poem converts the traditional young women’s “sampler,” with the cross-stitch, as she crosses an old skill over to meet another use. The physical size of the works is self telling, as the needle reminds us, and the needle too is part of the poem. A work that may both be about possible self violence and a call of SOS, and the needling of James.

“The Needle” (129) and the feather, in black and white with realistic gray tone holds a scrap of cloth with writing. I wish I knew what it says. Is the feather for writing or as decoration? But I don’t know if it is all violence or about sewing all together. This work is by Satu Kaikkonen.

“Self Incrimination Form” in three pages (114-116) is an alteration of an implied document, a parody of a form waiting to be hatched. A shadow of the world we live in, with xenophobia, class distinctions, divisions of another and the other, are all here. But this political humanistic statement is both a conceptual work mixed into visual poetry, because she says it is. The size of these pages feel like they are what they seem, as if when folded will fit into a legal size envelope. This is Andreas Kahre’s statement about obvious emotional, political and personal violence against a group; a clear and blatant reminder of the way women, and minorities are treated in many societies.

“I spit on your grave,” the protagonist seems to hate neon, as well as the fluorescent “Electric” (287) lights, bang, burning. She double spits on the cat’s large shadow. Scary hand lettering and typewriter gray hot words are with clear cool black images by Sonja Ahlers.

“Holding” (81) is the shadow, the poem, a hand sort of holding the title word, or the shadow is a face with the mouth screaming the word. The hand has a red thread around it that does not show in the shadow. Is the red thread trying to hold back the hand from telling what? This work is by Helen White. She often uses the red thread in her works, not only here. Hers is also “invisible ink,” and the figure is ghostlike rather than a shadow. Around the figure are all of the various instructions, comments bombarding it, ready to encircle and tie it up, like the red string might or with red tape. The figure of the woman is only a ghost of herself. But often like a shadow, the ghost is there but disappears.

Without language, but with marks that imply thought with light and shadow in the middle ground, waiting, is “Attentionalia” (190), the archaeological architectural asemic poetry of Sheila Murphy.

The hand would have, 50 years ago, drawn some of these works with the help of drafting instruments, to possibly the same ends, maybe. Answering an advertisement listed under the MEN- HELP WANTED, decades ago, I got the jobs since I had the skill and as a woman, must work for less pay. These advertising departments of retail chains, and small magazines had few women in their stables. But we crept in. I used press type and sometimes still do. Before the computer was used there was, of course, wood and lead type as well; all these are remembered when I see the abstract concrete poems of Amanda Earl’s “Sun” and “Man” (234, 235). These poems remind me of those strong old methods, the computer matches those skills. Here the words and the letters are the image. They are strong shadows of the past.

Litsa Spathi’s works (214, 215) have clarity, sharpness and the dense black of ink. The found type and text, collage implies subtle shadows and are a true merge of content and means. An excerpt from one work—“she was friends,” with the “end” type emphasized larger. Words and phrases out of context have new meanings obviously. Yes, the shadows are telling, there for us to know more is hidden below the obvious collage.

Suzan Sari has sharp black computer like images that are tight against the white ground, “As Bad As Making Someone Give Up A Decided Suicide” (44). A sharper and cleaner three dimensional image hints at the title but is not clearly related; here the poem has both abstract objects and black and white letters, intermingled and merged, not really always readable, it is an architectural text unit But the letter, twice Y, stands out. Shadow is implied within the sharp image and violence is stated, of course, in the hot title.

Cutoff lines and image, and the message is not in my language, but it is a shadow trail of thought in Eva O Ettel’s “Waterford” (191). She has an actual male shadow in “mal-dits” (128).

Words, letters and marks are texture, in some places. Words are partly behind or are in the grid, the fence, the window, the screen, the veil, seeing through or not, in a number of diverse works.

Matina L. Stamatakis’ “Cross-hatches” (88) holds a few printed words, now new, in an old newspaper found behind an older cross hatched, partly painted, peeling window, the news mostly unreadable in the shadows. Is it protection against the violent weather, or is it hiding what is inside? What do the old papers say, and does it matter?

Blurred words may be shadows themselves, behind the ridged squares and rectangles of the grid, behind implied windows, in Petra Backonja’s “Forget Language” (22). The yellow-gold globe is in front, round and aglow.

C. Mehrl Bennett (161) has words so woven into their grid “under attack,” they are the shadows trapped, disappearing letters, being violently, slowly consumed and often unreadable.

Jo Cook’s “Templates & Text” (813) shows a subtle form of violence, containment, as the guided verbs and adverbs, capitalized nouns march beside geometric forms, often jumping over the line. This is like the aerial view of a small contained city. Held and trapped by their lines and grids in “Celestogram” (167), words and marks merge with their environment, using them as guides, as internal and external armature.

The grid is contained at the edges, the color is strong and intense as the words “Mon Amour” (129) violently vibrate in Satu Kaikkonen’s work.

Despina Kannaourou (244, 245) has a work with letters and shapes caressed in parts of a grid like structure, but the image there implies they are silent sounds pushing to get out of the throat of the image.

Carol Stetser’s “from Anatomy” (309) tells a complex story also about sound pushing to get out of the throat. The figure is in front of layers of information, and all are found words and images, out of context with new meanings related to information from the tiny cell to the enormous universe of star constellations.