Poetry has historically been associated with the physical sense of hearing. It has been thought of as an auditory art, unlike painting or drawing which have always been thought of as visual arts. Poetic texts were therefore seen as signs representing sounds, thus a poems rhythm was very important, and until recently most Western poems also tended to rhyme. In the 2oth century artists, writers, and poets for the first time took notice that while poems might have been meant to be read aloud, they never-the-less existed primarily as text typed or written on a printed page. In fact, poems could be seen primarily as text drawings or drawings using text as the page-marking medium. The first artists to widely exploit this idea were the Dada group following the first world war. One group led by Tristan Tzara explored the boundaries of poetry using text to represent sounds by playing with syllabic sensations and pseudomeaning in their work. Another group of Dada artists began to experiment with poetry as a form of visual expression, first within the confines of graphic design with poster and broadsheet designs, but eventually artists like Kurt Schwitters began using text purely for its visual qualities.
While the Dada text-as-graphic idea remained influential in poster design, the art world became more enamored with Dada's bastard child, visionary surrealism (while surrealism and Dada are somewhat interchangeable, to the general public Dada remains unknown and surrealism means "Salvador Dali") exemplified by artists like Dali and Magritte. This state of affairs persisted until the late 1950s when a new generation of artists began to rediscover the Dada artists (like Marcel Duchamp) and their ideas. Around this same time and into the early 1960s creators in all media began to be interested not only what their medium could be used to create — but in what their medium actually was. John Cage recognized that music consisted of two basic elements; sound waves and the human perception of sound waves. Poets began to experiment with moving their text around on the printed page. Visual artists began to recognize that all paintings consisted only of pigments applied to flat surfaces and began to emphasize that idea in their work.
George Maciunas and the Fluxus artists of the 1960s became interested not only their medium, but in the whole idea of what a medium was. Dick Higgins described Fluxus as being about "Intermedia". Once again, only this time to an even greater extent, artists began to play with text as a visual medium. Text as Intermedia allowed text to function on multiple levels; as graphic elements and as poetic texts at the same time. Fluxus attempted, and continues to attempt to push against the boundaries where media intersect each other. Mail art, sound art, found art, video art, and visual poetry are important area where today's Fluxus artists continue this push.
Below is a visual poem of my own creation that illustrates this multi-dimensional aspect of Fluxus visual poetry. It uses found and altered text, text as a purely visual element, and original text as a flexible expression from which each viewer may draw her own inferences and meanings.
[[image:yesterday-man.gif:Yesterday Man by Allan Revich:center:1]]