Poetry On The Road’s VisualPoetry
By Maria Popova
You may think of poetry as the ultimate analog art, but the Poetry On The Road international literary festival in Bremen begs to differ. For the past decade, the festival has been aiming to liberate poetry from the constraints of convention, and one of the ways it does that is through the VisualPoetry initiative.
Every year, Poetry On The Road commissions German designer and developer Boris Müller to capture the festival’s theme visually. Although the resulting abstract graphic motifs and patterns are visually complex, they all follow the same simple idea: Müller takes all the text of all the poetry from the festival’s program, calculates the frequency of each word, and and uses Processing — the software of choice for most data viz art — to generate visual representations, varying the aesthetics each year.
These images are then used in the festival’s annual poster and live as an interactive playground that lets viewers explore the poetry in a visual, non-linear way.
For this year’s visual theme, for example, Müller represents each word as a rectangle, scaled based on the word’s frequency, then stitches the many rectangles together into a barcode that captures the text in its entirety. In theory, you could decode and “read” the poetry with a regular barcode scanner.
And in 2007, he crafted a visualization entirely from Flickr images, swapping each word in a poem for a photo tagged with that word.
The 2003 theme was reminiscent of Stefanie Posavec’s Writing Without Words project, which you may recall from a couple of months ago. Here, Müller explores the nature, texture and inner structure of poems, letting the text lay itself out through the software.
The VisualPoetry experiment is a beautiful effort to capture poetry through rhyme and rhythm of a different kind, to add a dimension that makes it more accessible and alluring and exciting to new audiences and, ultimately, to create a new kind of storytelling that challenges our assumptions about the experience of poetry as a conceptual medium.
Published August 18, 2009