Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Notes From The Cosmic Typewriter

I was delighted to find this book on my hallway rug this morning. It seemed somehow fitting that a book containing visual poems, meticulously constructed using the typebars of a manual typewriter should fall through something called a letterbox. 'Notes From The Cosmic Typewriter' documents the curious life and work of theologian, concrete poet, visual philosopher and Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houédard. Despite being a prominent and pivotal figure in the postwar British cultural landscape, Houédard is little known outside the rarefied world of the private art collection and the hallowed doors of institutional academia. Hopefully the publication of this book will rectify this. It's an odd story: a tale of a monk and his extraordinary lifelong pursuit to create a hymnal to the typewritten word using a portable Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter and his poetic imagination. It's a story which needs to be told. Although marginalised by history, Houédard was one of the key figures in introducing concrete poetry to Britain both as a theorist and as a practitioner. His poetry, visual art and scholarly rigour touched bases with an international network of like minded visual artists, poets, performers and musicians as well as many of the key art movements of the period such as Auto Destructive art, mail art and Fluxus. Many of the images and texts reproduced in the book have seldom been seen, either being self published in small editions or appearing in arcane periodicals or private press pamphlets. This book clearly illustrates Houédard's ever playful inventiveness in pushing the boundaries of what poetry can be - 'collaged found objects, cosmic dust, newspapers, jam and glue, origami paper folding, wooden boxes, shadow, reflections, audible and inaudible sounds, dance movements, gestures, spit and silence' are all up for grabs as the raw materials for creating poetry. Many of the works are both playful and profound. The typestracts (a term coined by the poet Edwin Morgan which combined the words 'typewriter' and 'abstract') are particularly breathtaking in both their visual appeal and their extraordinary method of production. Painstakingly produced by the precise manipulation and dexterous turning of paper and the coloured ink ribbons of a portable Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, Houédard alchemically transforms the typed word into a series of beautifully restrained typographical and poetic compositions.

A most curious and rewarding publication.

"Notes From The Cosmic Typewriter : The Life And Work Of Dom Sylvester Houédard" is published by Occasional Papers.

1 comment:

gog said...

I have been working for the last 10 years on an attempt at creating a non-text, visual language (a working, usable one, not an academic/theory based one that would remain impenetrable to the layman) and I have been collecting any resources that span the gap between word and image. I had only marginally considered concrete poems thus far, but now, after seeing Houedard's work I will consider it more closely. Thank you for this!