By Adam Davis
This year I finally tracked down a copy of Abraham Lincoln Gillespie's The Shaper, which is as far as I know is not only the first separately published work by the poet, but also the only work published in his lifetime. The Shaper was published by the Archangel Press, a press I know nothing about, but which published another one of my favorite books of visual poetry - Kenneth Lawrence Beaudoin's 6 Eye Poems.
Today I got to put the two works, which are presented in a uniform format, side by side. Both are among the strangest, most overlooked works of visual poetry that I know of, and represent a little documented strand of visual poetry in the United States.
Gillespie was a member of the group that centered around Transition Magazine in the 20's and 30's. His work not only eschewed standard spelling and punctuation, it incorporated symbols and drawings and resembles musical notation. A selection of his work appeared in the third issue of Beaudoin's little magazine Iconograph, and was the only section of the magazine that had to be mimeographed, as the printer couldn't handle the eccentricities of the piece.
Beaudoin's 6 Eye Poems consist of visual poems made out of collaged pieces of text laid over abstract drawings in colored pencil. The words appear to have been laboriously clipped out of magazines. On the title page Beaudoin claimed to have made 6000 of them. The poems are by turns beautiful and wry witty, but what is truly remarkable to me about them is that they were conceived of as a protest against the economies of printing. Here is Beaudoin's prefatory statement -
"I have gone through the laborious and expensive procedure of constructing 6000 individual EYE POEMS in vrai collage not because I regard it a media practical for the reproduction of poems despite the possible controls over poetic tone in printed words as opposed to the abstract word. I regard this little adventure in vral collage rather a protest against an economy which forces a poet to resort to the use of second hand print while the "new nightgown" or the "new bra" can command the most elegant available. Those of you who buy these poems may find them thin, fragmentary, as poetry, possibly not even successful decor. But you may also as I have in the manufacture of poems, derive a certain satisfaction in possessing an example of protest against an irresponsible economy."
Beaudoin was one of the early and important publishers on the beginnings of the Mimeograph Revolution in the 30's and the 40's, especially the strand which grew out of the pacifist movement. 6 eye Poems are a co-option and subversion of the language of mainstream advertising at a primal and beautiful level. With their commentary on consumer printing, they represent a strange but essential part of the story of the art of the Mimeograph Revolution.
Beaudoin, Kenneth Lawrence. 6 Eye Poems. New York: Archangel Press, 1948. First edition. 4to. Six unbound collages and a title page mounted on black paper, housed in a printed envelope. Contents near fine with some minor toning and bumping to tips; envelope good only, with foxing, creasing, and tearing, but generally sound and intact. SOLD
Gillespie, Abraham Lincoln. The Shaper. New York: Archangel Press, 1948. First edition. 7 leaves, offset printed on thick card stock and housed in a printed envelope. Cards near fine with some light creasing and toning to margins; Envelope good only, heavily toned and chipped at margins, with some splitting. SOLD.
(The collecting tip was posted on Spineless & Stapled. It is presented here by permission of the author.)