“Beyond Words: Experimental Poetry and the Avant-Garde” — a new exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library — consists of poetry expressed through a variety of different media, from concrete poetry to sound recordings to three-dimensional, multimedia representations.
The exhibit tackles themes such as the horrors of war, commentary on societal standards and ruminations on the effects of technology. “Beyond Words,” which will remain on view until Dec. 15, occupies both the mezzanine and ground levels of the Beinecke.
“This [exhibit] is really about looking at words, language, images, texts, sounds, how those come together to make meanings we may be aware of, we may not be aware of … but there’s a lot of power in that,” said Kevin Repp, curator of Modern European Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke and the organizer of the exhibit.
The exhibit includes works from different parts of the world, but is centered on the development of experimental poetry in post-World War II Europe. The artists featured in the exhibit — Henri Chopin, Alain Arias-Misson and Jean-Francois Bory, among others — drew inspiration from various political and social phenomena of their time period, including the Holocaust, the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
Repp remarked that many people are not aware of the political and cultural significance of the “vast, creative” movement of experimental poetry in post-War Europe, a time where “all of this amazing material was produced.”
Visitors at the exhibit highlighted different works on view.
For visitor Megan Pignato, a typewriter with a long scroll was one of the most impactful works in the exhibit. She said that this work developed the idea that “words are powerful and we need to be careful with how we use them.” Pignato also noted that the exhibition challenged her conceptions of the genre of poetry, stating that she has never “seen poetry in this way before.”
Sarah Laufenberg ’23 observed that “Beyond Words” differs from other exhibits she has visited. She noted the “juxtaposition” of the traditionally noiseless atmosphere of a typical museum or library exhibit and the emphatic exclamations of the works within “Beyond Words.”
Through curating the exhibit, Repp explored how nonverbal aspects of experimental poetry affect the audience’s perception of the work. Repp noted that artists of this movement engaged with the “material presence” of language, through mediums such as sound, ink, paint, glass and metal. He emphasized the importance of the book as an object for the experimental poets whose work is on view in the exhibit.
In addition to works on paper, the exhibit features projections and sound technology. Repp stated that incorporating these aspects into the exhibit was difficult. In fact, he called it “the most challenging exhibit” he has ever put together. Yet, he emphasized that the media components were worthwhile, as they were necessary for the audience to fully experience each individual work and the narratives expressed across the exhibit.
“The projections [pushed] the Beinecke’s boundaries, now that we have that potential, you’ll probably see more exhibits with projections in them,” Repp said.
The opening reception for the exhibit will occur on Sept. 27. This event will comprise a performance of public poetry by one of the featured artists, Alain Arias-Misson. According to the Beinecke website, the public poetry will entail the word “Transculturalism” “spelled out in letters the size of human bodies.” Led by Arias-Misson, 16 volunteers will depart from the Beinecke at 3 p.m. Throughout their walk, the letters will separate and form into new words.
Neha Middela | firstname.lastname@example.org