Visual Poetry & How to Make Your Own

Earlier this month I announced that one of my pieces, Haiku, will be part of a show in California themed Visual Poetry. I hadn’t written about it sooner because I was struggling to get a  good photograph of the piece. Three different cameras later and I only have one poor quality photo to post. Since I’ll take about any excuse to visit California, I think this is a good reason for all of us to go on a field trip to see art inspired by poetry. Who’s coming?

Haiku, 2011
17 pieces 4×6 card stock, [19 ½” x 32 ¼” displayed]
Mixed media [ink, crayon, tape, wire, thread, netting, rope]

Haiku is a visual poem based on the exploration of using a Do-It-Yourself Fluxus event score. Fluxus encompasses many ideas, including intermedia, chance/randomization, and questioning the institutionalized definition of drawing and who can make art.

The Visual Poem. Traditionally, a haiku is made up of 17 syllables. For this piece, there are 17 drawings, each based on a found haiku (from the Internet). Each poem served as the instructions on how to proceed with each drawing. The drawings each represent one syllable in a haiku. They are adhered to a wall in traditional haiku structure: 5 in the first row, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third. Instead of words, we read it as being composed of visual images that make one visual poem, overall. Read the poems that inspired each card  in the piece here.

Breaking Boundaries. Fluxus often explores the idea of the viewer simultaneously being the participant and also the art maker. For this piece, I was simultaneously the artist making art based on the instructions (poems), the viewer being called to witness the making and displaying of the art (the event), and the participant who is a part of engaging in the instruction-inspired action: making the art.

Chance/Randomization. Although there are 17 cards, there are many different possible arrangements based on chance and randomly picking the order of the cards. Every combination makes a new haiku.

Intermedia. The piece blends the oral and linguistic tradition of poetry, the visual tradition of drawing, and the auditory component of music (often found in poetry through syllables and beats). It’s important to note, however, that a haiku already naturally bridges linguistic and visual worlds since haiku, like other styles of poetry, intend to invoke visual images in the imagination of the reader.

Non-representational Drawings. I chose to make non-representational drawings because I felt that the haiku provided enough imagery to invoke a representational picture in people’s imaginations. That doesn’t mean, however, that another artist/viewer/participant can’t make representational drawings if s/he is so inspired to do so.

Do-It-Yourself. Not everyone has to be an artist to make art. You can make your own visual haiku (or other visual poetry). I‘d love to see what you make, so please share in the comment section or email me at

Easy Instructions:
1. Find 17 haiku poems
2. Make drawings based on these poems (representational, non-representational, using traditional or non-traditional drawing tools)
3. When finished with the drawings, form a visual haiku: Each drawing equals one of the 17 syllables found in traditional haiku. There should be 5 drawings in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third.

Possibilities for variation:
1. Create more cards. More cards mean greater variety. Still choose only 17 to create visual haiku.
2. Create an opportunity for viewer participation. Have others draw (perhaps one person each in a group of 17 people, etc).
3. Another opportunity for viewer participation: Different people can place the cards into the visual haiku, at random.
4. Explore different ways of generating haiku for the cards (found in books/Internet, write your own, combine found words at random, use haiku generator on Internet, etc), and/or restrict haiku choice to first 17 found in order to further decrease subjectivity that can bias the choice of haiku.
5. Have more than one person each make their own haiku based on the same exact set of poems and compare how each differently visually interpreted the poems (similar the tradition of Exquisite Corpse).

Have fun!!

Photo credit: monkeysox and eyewashdesign: A. Golden (front page photo credit: V.H. Hammer)


About JRow

JRow is an L.A.-based artist who also creates and leads online community-based art projects. Websites:


  1. Micah

    I really enjoy this piece! The simplicity of the individual images is beautiful and clean.

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