Review: Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory by Naoko Fujimoto

Glyph: Graphic Poetry = Trans. Sensory, by Naoko Fujimoto. Tupelo Press, 2021. 54 pages. ISBN: 9781946482525 (softcover). $21.95.

Sad to say, most artists, when they set out to “think outside the box,” instantly think themselves into some other box. If we can say the intended effect is that of a jack-in-the-box, the actual achievement is usually more like what you get with a Slinky: same exact metal coil, different (and lower) step.

It’s hard, clearing one’s mind of the assumptions governing genre. It means distrusting what one is accustomed to calling one’s taste. Instead, one seeks to pass legislation (in one’s spirit) making something legal that was hitherto, at best, frowned upon—and, at worst, hunted to extinction.

The book under review is what happens when, by genius or luck, things work out. The risk is taken, an ocean of effort is expended, and something explodes out of the top of the box, a thing that did not seem like it could even be in there at all.

You have to understand what a graphic poem even is. The usual Slinky is the “illustrated poem”—a normal poem that could easily stand on its own, accompanied by a picture or series of pictures. Nothing wrong with this! But it’s familiar. It’s really not a new kind of poem; it’s the old kind of poem with “a li’l something extra.” The words of the poemprompt the picture. They are not part of it.

An instructive comparison can be made to the graphic work of Kenneth Patchen. That stuff is wonderful, but even when it is at its most wild, it is fundamentally cartoon work. You don’t doubt for a second that the words precede the images.

Whereas! if one were to set out to make words part and parcel of the images—if {“words”} could legitimately be added to the list of items specifying the “mixed media” that went into making the work (“pen and ink, colored pencil, magazine cutouts, words, sentences, sheet music, water color,” etc)—then you’d have a real crisis. The implicit demotion of the verbal aspect goes against many people’s taste/assumptions/cardboard walls. Many will not give that kind of graphic poem a chance. But in the present case, they’ll miss out on something good.

Fujimoto’s pages erupt with colors. There are bold, Matisse-like shapes, futuristic stripes, girlish drawings, upside-down words and images, secret themes and negotiations being pursued in the background, in the foreground, in the textures. The aesthetic is very busy.

In order to keep the words from taking over, they are not allowed to gain any momentum. Lots of fragments—and, when there are sentences, they’re in a more-or-less flat affect. Declarative statements, laconic. They’re not made to be quoted, and indeed quoting them would be misleading. The way to look at these pieces is not to readthem; you have to gaze at the work and wander around in it.

The book format is not ideal for this kind of thing, by the way. But it’s a necessary evil. The ideal thing would be to have your favorite of these pieces hanging on the wall by your desk, so that every time you look up, every time you give way to reverie, every time you’re hunting for a word or image for your own work, you could consult with the piece hanging there. Whereas, in a book, the temptation is too great to turn the pages and see everything the artist has to offer all at once. Then you miss everything.

In the spirit of what I just said, I’m going to include exactly one image here. I suggest you screen-shot it and keep it on your “desktop” for a while. If you find the experience satisfactory, the book is only twenty-two dollars. There’s enough stuff here (forty-five discrete items) to keep you in a very special state for a decade. Just go slow, please. Slow.


Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas. His poems have appeared in Best American PoetryBoston ReviewFenceHarvard ReviewLana TurnerLIT, and Poetry. He is the author of I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium, 2012) and Try Never (Canarium, 2017). He also did a “children’s book for adults,” called There Was an Old Man with a Springbok (Prelude Books, 2019). Website at


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