It sometimes feels like the expressiveness of the typewriter as a tool for composition is one of the best kept secrets in poetry and poetics. The ability to mark the page or to type over the marks already there, to feed the page through at different angles in order to mark outside of the expected or received plane of the page opens the poem to new possibilities. The reader and poet are forced to contend with both the materiality of language and text, and the visual aspects or aesthetics of the text object—and how they collide with the polyvalent signification latent in each instance of the word object. What makes Dani Spinosa’s OO: Typewriter Poems exciting is the way she engages the linguistic and formal features of typewriter-based visual poetry while also engaging the histories and discourses that haunt avant-garde literature generally, and visual poetry specifically.
OO: Typewriter Poems is a conceptually rich collection. This is, of course, crucial to its success: it is not just a collection of visual poetry, rather it is about visual poetry. Each of the poems in the first four sections of the collection is named for a visual or concrete poet and the section titles—“A LOOK,” “A LACK,” “A LIGN,” “A LOBE,” and “A LONE” respectively—play with the text of bpNichol’s “A/ LAKE…” which is inscribed into the pavement of bpNichol Lane in Toronto, a literal concrete poem. The poems of these first four sections evoke, play with, quote the works of their namesakes, and Spinosa describes what she does here as an adaptation of the citational practices of the glosa to the concrete. Because the glosa, which builds a highly structured rhyming poem around a seed quatrain from a source text, is firmly rooted in the lyric, Spinosa has to find other ways to both quote and write through or around or over her sources. As she acknowledges in the introduction, even quoting a line from a concrete poem, much less an entire quatrain, can prove difficult as visual forms tend to challenge the convention of the line, but she more than manages this feat. The poems in the collection capture the aesthetics, the feel, of the texts they reference. Perhaps more importantly though, Spinosa’s intervention in those texts unifies them. OO reads as a collection not an anthology with its poet, in the spirit of the glosa, paying tribute to influences and inspiration.
In OO, Spinosa is also making use of the tributary nature of the glosa to recover something that is all too often lost in the history of avant-garde movements. Too often these movements, these practices are presented in ways that reify their “masculine” nature while erasing or silencing the contribution of women and their labour, and what Spinosa describes as “a deeply communal, feminist poetics of derivation, homage, and love.” OO attempts to recover this feminist quality in a couple of key ways. First, she dedicates the section “A LACK” to poems that engage the work of women poets. This serves to materialize a history of feminist avant-garde poetics that is essential for understanding the history of these movements and practices. Secondly, the poems engaged are remade as communal, collaborative spaces—Spinosa’s citation and alteration of the work of the poets chosen for this project exposes the dialogic nature of poetry and the page: the poem is always already written when the text meets the reader; by making that moment of mediation obvious, she makes it concrete for the reader. One of the fascinating things about this part of the text is that Spinosa frames her use of a computer to produce and edit the poems here as part of this work. While the specifically feminist nature of digital intervention into the text needs further elaboration, the use of a computer to manipulate the typewritten image allows for new possibilities for these texts while maintaining the aesthetic qualities of the typewriter-based visual poem. This on its own is enough to make OO: Typewriter Poems an exciting contribution to the field.
There are a couple weaker moments in the book. The afterword, a conversation with poet Kate Siklosi, is full of interesting and compelling ideas that expand on the work of the poems. However, the looseness of conversation means that occasionally these ideas are harder to engage with than they maybe should be. This is, no doubt, a conscious choice that stands in opposition to the declarative and often singular nature of the manifesto, but it still obscures ideas that maybe should be more accessible.
Potential readers will also have to contend with the familiarity with visual poetry that the text asks of them. OO, as noted, is a book about visual poetry as much as it is a book of visual poetry. Knowledge of the source texts will greatly enhance the depth of a reader’s experience with the book, but is by no means essential. That being said, given the way the book plays with the conventions of typewriter-based visual poetry, some familiarity with that form is recommended.
Dani Spinosa argues that OO: Typewriter Poems is a work of love. That it reflects her love of the form, her love of the poets and the poems she writes through and over and around. That love permeates the page even as the book wrestles with the histories and discourses at play.
OO: Typewriter Poems
by Dani Spinosa
Invisible Publishing, 2020, 88 pp., $21.95
Dr. Ryan J. Cox has a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. He has also earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. His writing has appeared in Canadian Literature, English Studies in Canada, Arc Poetry Magazine, Carousel, and The Windsor Review.