Johannes Kerkhoven’s visual poetry


Mixed concrete, poetry by Johannes KerkhovenFrom London daily The Morning Star:

Words that cut through jargon

(Wednesday 19 July 2006)

by FRANCES SINGER

INTERVIEW: JOHANNES KERKHOVEN explains how his visual poetry explores hidden meanings in political speak.

Extraordinary Dutch-born poet Johannes Kerkhoven started experimenting with visual poems about a decade ago.

Working with patterns and shapes, font size and colour, he developed his craft based on his early apprenticeship as a compositor-typesetter after he emigrated to Australia on a £10 scheme and worked for a Dutch/Australian newspaper in Sydney.

He uses mainly red, black and white and sometimes a bit of blue and yellow.

He loves the strength and power of just using black and red, but would like the opportunity to work in full colour.

I asked him if there was a conscious, political use of the colours red and black in his work.

His answer was that red is the colour of blood and black the colour of death.

This is particularly significant when his subject matter is war, politics or struggle, as in the poem Spitfire and Out of Work.

He is also influenced by ideas seen in the current exhibitions on modernism, for example Russian posters from the 1930s.

Spitfire is a first-person biography of an ex-airman who becomes a bus driver and is a comment on how war changes people forever – even the victors.

The poem resonates with the gung-ho romanticism of young fighters and is reminiscent of the sentiments of writers such as Winston Churchill in his early diaries.

The socio-political comment in OBE comes across both in the visually constructed shape – a medal and an exclamation mark – and explores the sharp contrast that Kerkhoven perceives between David Beckham‘s acceptance of the honour and Benjamin Zephaniah‘s refusal.

His poems also voice the deep betrayal that he has felt in the present Labour government.

This is explored in the poem Scrabble and “the way politicians may play it,” says Kerkhoven teasingly.

3 thoughts on “Johannes Kerkhoven’s visual poetry

  1. I used to write concrete poetry in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Tried my hand at more traditional versifying when I was older, but I have always felt that typefaces and layout could impart as much information as the words themselves. I discussed these ideas with a painter friend, and he went on to do a series of word oriented paintings. Funny thing about the poem, “spitfire”, I’m a bus driver, and I know several Viet Nam era military pilots who are now bus drivers. I’m sure they’d be interested in reading “spitfire”. Haven’t posted any comment here lately, but continue to check for new postings. Thanks for all you do.

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  2. Pingback: First edition of book by Flemish expressionist poet Paul van Ostaijen | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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