High up on the fifth floor of the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall is the Saison Poetry Library. Visual Poetics is a modest exhibition held in this space, but provides an informative collection of works from over 30 poets who explore visual media in their work. The poets/artists on display include Ian Hamilton Finlay, who recently had an exhibition at the Tate Britain and Lilian Lijin who is famous for her experimental poem machines.

The exhibition includes books, prints, videos, paper works, installation, and poem objects. Poem objects are a form of concrete poetry: for example, Julie Johnston's badges which carry subtle phrases such as "glimpsed in passing", immediately evoking the moment one sees advertising or protest badges on passers-by. All the work in fact is strongly evocative, with the power to create very tangible images – possibly more so than traditional poetry. This can be seen in all different levels of subtleties amongst the artists and poets, for example, Ian Hamilton Finlay uses a bold blue background in his text to evoke the sea in his work Evening Will Come. Or there is Matt Martin's 3D work Geohedrons (a multi-faceted paper die), which allows you to literally turn the poem in your hand, dictating the rhythm and grammar of the poem.

The poster image for the exhibition is by Giles Goodland, and includes a clear plastic glove which has been covered in red paint. But in this case, the visual aspect feels more decorative than really enhancing the text. There are several other pieces within the exhibition, such as John Furnival's Tower of Pisa which seem too much like pure illustration, while the visual will admittedly be an important element.

The highlight of the exhibition has to be Tony Lopez's video which shows a screen full of electric calendars that flick between letters in sync to clicking audio. The flicking letters then stop out of sequence, spelling out uncanny sentences that sound like headlines, such as "Florida turned out to be a fine place for terrorists to train" and "Three days in the Thames causes the whale to suffer dehydration". Watching these letters fall into play is exciting and unpredictable. The wide screen TV undoubtedly does not do the work justice, and a more involved experience would have it set up in a dark space on a large gallery wall. However, this is a small library exhibition, and the artist's message nevertheless gets across.  

Another of the more experimental pieces in the exhibition is Lillian Lijin's Koanes, kinetic sculptures which rotate in a swirl of coloured paint, slurring the words of her poetry. The element of speed brings another dimension into the work as the words at the top of cone remain legible and the words running along the bottom become a slur of poetry.
David Miller (also co-curator) turns the the title of the exhibition on its head in his piece Untitled (Visual Sonnet), in which he decided to not use any words, but a page of fourteen painted black lines, playing on the traditional structure of a sonnet.

For anyone interested in how concrete poetry and text work, I would definitely recommend a visit to Visual Poetics. Overall, the exhibition is small, but it does show a diverse range of experiments between poetry and the visual arts. I would also recommend planning to spend a bit of extra time exploring the specialist books on display, and the library itself, which really enriched my visit. You can even take some poetry home: look out for Caroline Bergvall's installation Broadsides from Middling English, printed and intended to be picked up by visitors.

Visual Poetics, at Royal Festival HallHarriet Dopson's review of the "Visual Poetics" display at the Southbank Centre.3