“The Multimodal Icon: Sight, Sound and Intellection in Recent Poetries.” Invited and forthcoming in Passage, University of Aarhus, Denmark.
This paper examines the shift from single to multiple semiotic modes in poetry during the age of digital media. While one can argue that in the history of poetry the text has always represented “sight, sound and intellection,” the propagation of digital media and the devolution of popular culture into a predominantly graphical regime have made an irrevocable impression on poetry-on-the-page. The production of multimodal poetry in print literature presents the hybridization of text and image, or typography and the visual arts. Modernist experiments in poetry largely confined themselves to the single semiotic mode of alphabetic typography. By century’s end, however, digital page composition enabled the use of index, icon and symbol in increasingly complex relations. In the multimodal poetry of Emily McVarish, Steve McCaffery and Geof Huth, the reader encounters two or more semiotic modes simultaneously. The relation between text and image is not one of dependency (illustration; annotation) or autonomy (catalog; artist book) but rather a bilateral interactivity that requires and stimulates a cognitive poetics. Such print works demand that readers pursue a multiplicity of reading paths and develop the interpretive skills required by multimodal metaphor in which signs are drawn from more than one mode.