Exercise: Poetic Connections

The poems featured in this chapter are examples of different types of visual poetry. However, as the discussion of Jordan Abel’s poem shows, writers use visual and formal strategies in many different ways and for different purposes. In Abel’s case, he uses elements from both visual poetry and prose in his poem. Likewise, many poets use space and line breaks in their poems in order to add to the meaning of their works.

Read one of the following poems, paying particular attention to how their use of visual aspects of type and layout add to your understanding of the poems.

For help with reading poetry, see “Close Reading Poetry.” For help with reading and writing about visual poetry in particular, see “Poetic Visuality and Experimentation.”

  • Wayne Keon: Nipissing poet Wayne Keon employs a strict pattern for his lyric poetry in “it ain’t exactly heaven” and “the apocalypse will begin.” How might this relate to performative aspects of orature, as well as other visual aspects of material culture?
  • Thomas King: Cherokee-Greek writer Thomas King’s use of line breaks, open spaces, and capitalization add pacing and emphasis to his poems, such as in “Coyote Learns to Whistle,” “Coyote Goes to Toronto,” and “The City on the Hill” (read the poems on pages 250–51, 252–53, and 265 respectively in Canadian Literature issue 124–25). How do King’s visual strategies help to add a sense of narrative performance and comical delivery to the poems?
  • kateri akiwenzie-damm (Anishinaabe): Anishinaabe poet kateri akiwenzie-damm uses sparse language coupled to specific patterns and shapes to reinforce aspects of the lyrical content in the short poems, “hummingbird song” and “partridge song,” from the series “bird songs” (read the poems on page 113 in Canadian Literature issue 155). What specific visual elements reinforce the content?

Works Cited

  • Keon, Wayne. it ain’t exactly heaven. Canadian Literature 144 (1995): 8–9. Print. (Link)
  • Keon, Wayne. the apocalypse will begin. Canadian Literature 144 (1995): 78–81. Print. (Link)
  • King, Thomas. Coyote Learns to Whistle. Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 250–51. Print.
  • King, Thomas. Coyote Goes to Toronto Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 252–53. Print.
  • akiwenzie-damm, kateri. from bird songs. Canadian Literature 155 (1997): 113. Print.
  • King, Thomas. The City on the Hill. Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 265. Print.