The Local Voice

Book Review by Conor Hultman: “Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory” by Naoko Fujimoto


Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory
by Naoko Fujimoto
Tupelo Press ($21.95)

Apollinaire had his calligrams, Patchen made painting-poems, and if you count acrostics as concrete poetry, then the field is older than the Bible. This is to give you a sense of scale for how inventive Naoko Fujimoto’s book Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory is. Fujimoto has not only created, but also named a new type of poem. She says in the afterword, “During the completion of this book, I challenged my limits.”

The “graphic poetry” in Glyph are colorful, striking collages, written with watercolors, pencils, and ink. The materials in these full-bodied art pieces include birthday cards, origami paper, wrappers, scrap paper, and washi paper; some parts were cut, some were found, but all of them were especially chosen to have “a specific purpose in the work.” The effect is quite unlike any other I’ve experienced reading poetry.

For one example: “I Eat Pig Ears in Cebu” has vertical cutouts of potato peelers made from washi paper, overlapping and bordered by straight lines of more washi paper. The lines of the poem populate the leftover space; “Pick plastic pieces / and make an imaginary / rainbow.” The reader must turn the book all around, sometimes unsure of which line is the next in sequence. Even the title is off to the side; on turning the page, one is immediately confronted with the Warhol-esque doppelganged menagerie of kaleidoscopic potato peelers. The poem is inspired by the poet’s time volunteering for a school for the children of leprosy victims in the Philippines. “As [Gerhard] Richter used a squeegee to scrape off paint, blurring particular parts of his work, I used vegetable peelers to express the wish to scrape a social problem,” Fujimoto explains. Never has a form and message been so uniquely suited, I don’t think.

These graphic poems are stimulating, perhaps overly so. As you are at first invited in with the colors and textures on a page, the real work of reading the words, and connecting them to the images contextually, is difficult. But it is rewarding work. The poet says in the introduction, “my graphic poems contain side stories hidden behind the main narrative—be they comedic or serious—for the viewer to discover and interpret.” Glyph is a work of art to be read and seen over and again.

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