Poetry Review: Alphabet Noir by Nico Vassilakis


Responding to Alphabet Noir by Nico Vassilakis (c_L Books/2016/74 pages)

“So, what is Linguistically Sensual Concrete?” (p. 59)

I’m writing this unsuccumbed to the diseases, personal mixes distilled, ups and downs flattened. But to my (or of my) own consumption I write this. I write of this. Of Nico Vasillakis and the manifesto of vispo, this particular manifesto, this particular strain or wave or fling of vispo, Alphabet Noir, also known (by my pen hand in type form) as a tour de performance. Because a book as small and succinct is as spoken as it is consumed, read or visually resolved. Performative as the shout or whisper. Not the static of the mind’s internal (eternal) wanderings, but open, broken out, existing as outside as within.


Wake up when the bells chime. Or the noise. Some electro tweak here or there. A distant quaking of the earth, crash against a shore/coast/grotto/etc. Here is a book that resonates with the sonic as it does with the visual. Where resonate is as resonant is as. A book that describes our relationship to how we create, but not just any creation. No, the language. It’s in the language. And it moves from a source of poetics to an ether of poetics. Possibilities and probabilities. Rather than servitude, we have play. Rather than certainty, we have a foraging. We have, we have, we always have, and will continue: optimism, or blossomism, or uprootingism. Or: see beyond the blinds, see the code within.

“So, poems. How to read poems. And what of their cleverness.” (p. 25)

What is a visual poetics? What is a statements of utterances or a series of stateliness? With Vassilakis, as many questions one can raise out of each page turned results in pure treasure. This is earthquake. This is motorization. This is the wheel before and after its invention. The awning crystallized in sapphire. Ebony roots leading up to the tips of the feet. Holding together my soles, soft tissue warming, amidst the mediocrity of frigidity of the air of this house. I read: we read, have read, will continue to do so. A visual poetics is about the vision. Or the visage. Or the visioneering. The quest to document how we form knowledge, relate, transcribe: trans+scribe = re+late = know+ledge.


Learning how far within us the vispo hole goes. As visible as a chakra, as invisible as an esophagus. Splice into being. Splice out of relation. A history of leaning and learning. But more importantly, loving. That’s what I found in this book: a sense of how we love language. From the potato-shaped “o” drawn out in one’s first splurge, to challenging intersections of sounds, to cloud appreciations. And the voices, the tones, the shifts in perspective: the design of the author. The intent. Authority. Authoring. The ring, yes, the rang of the bells. The poetry we see in the language we own up to, in our history, spreading out from every element, every quantum corner, emerging, erupting, a fungal blanket of electricity less than a virus. A mood ring of sweat imprints rather than an explosion.

“These letters here have been captured so as to convey the pre word segment of a letter’s life. The parts of letters you regard as useless are very, very busy.” (p. 19)

The experience is less about me for I am young and new and dumb, or at least barely speaking, my voice hardly grayed out yet. It, experience, more about what the illumined individuals within the hordes of artists have arrived upon in their swaying, amoeba-prone guffaws. In addition to his own homely abode of character, symbol, scratch-upon-wall, type-upon-paper, imagined sigh and grunt through script, there are the others, the forays of the beacons, the ruby’d contributors to the lineage of a worship of the combination of the word and the picture same in sentiment, convergence, confluent: names like Garnier, Gomringer, Seaman, Spicer, Menezes. And more. And depth. People who have lives composed of language, composed of the visualization of language constructed through the recaps and the relapse found here. How they come together. How they bring together a center. A source.


A strong breath. Enduring though selected introspection into the landscape. Points Chile, points Seattle. New York. Budapest. Places. Roots. Shattered ivory sparkling with a muted amber. Caught within a vortex of Vassilakis as the composer of this book, this noir, and the undercover beyond: the performative, the pragmatic, and then, beyond the book, an aesthetic of swirling banks of characters, letters that dance but less human and more wind. Imagine dandelions in a dust storm, being uprooted, cast off from this earth, cast into the sky, fragments of existence, bedrock of existence, deeply existing, down deep, as below as above, a form of it, a certain degree of universality here, a certain degree that beckons us into all the layers there, within the book, illumination, up and up. Including those we see, and those we don’t. The further you go, I tell myself, the more g’s and b’s will pop out.

“Visual language is dependent on the virus that infects it. The constant task of the field is to suppress and acquire information in order to assure its lock on power. The spores now blend, they mix and spread, asserting just enough of their own language vector onto their host.” (p. 10)

It’s as earnest as early. It’s as romantic as present. It is the communication connected and the communication attempted, failed. And the shouting into the dome when there’s no one else present, a spiritual existence, a full one. And then too it’s a verification of the self, this vispo. A verification of the quest, this vispo. A pleasure to be alive, wet or dry, but amidst it. Amidst it all. The action of knowing. The receiving of swaying. Bringing forth the heart into a casual but highly refined fabric of patterns of creation. It’s a Vassilakis moonbow.


An ask: what is vispo? Another ask: what is sensual? Finding the poetics that works, I noted. Nico Vassilakis finds the poetics that works. Not just for him, but for itself. Not just for itself, but for everyone. A poetics that has imbued strands of humanity. Generations and generations. Lives and loves. A sense repelling. A sense glissading. I sense the artistry of an everyday world that is completely funneling outward and inward to an infinite party of all the other everyday worlds imaginable: all and none at the same time, a raving madness of joy and verisimilitude.

“Where do Letters go. After watching them discorporate. Liberated from confinements of the word. Simple accumulations that become decorative elements in visual poetry. Fascinations with representative sound units. After attempts at altering. After value’s been reassigned and ciphers adjusted. What next for the emancipated Letter.” (p. 34)

What does it all mean, like the changing of the moons and the rapping of the waves, or the buckling of the leather and the the tying of the laces? More importantly: how do we prance (or pounce) from here? Alphabet Noir is as much a “from here” question as a “from everywhere” declaration. It is a sturdy book, the kind I will place on top and beneath other books. The words erupt from the page as lavas erupt from volcanic chambers: in many forms, and as liquidous as frozen into place. Respectful of both. A dedication to the openness of our nature. Series of beliefs beautified by the alterations surrounding us. The coastline of our periphery, the inquisition of our relational movement with the world. Vispo, a churn to keep the churn churning.


A celebration is rightfully deserved after so much fecund banalities in poetry and art. In reverie, Nico Vassilakis has reminded me of longhouses and long tables, of rhythms and of sweet songs and loud crashes. I am reminded of running wild, 12 years ago, through mud puddles. I am reminded of caps hitting the back of my throat, color emerging in sparks. I am reminded of grabbing the pen, and all the teachers disappeared, and my letters were my own, and they could be freed. I could free them as my friends could free their own. This freedom is the brightest celebration. That is feels like ancient history is the best part.

For a copy of Alphabet Noir, inquire within at juniorvarsityyardsale [at] gmail [dot] com.

Note: all included images courtesy of Nico Vassilakis for this post, complementary to but separate from (not included in) Alphabet Noir.

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