Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dictee was the book that started me on my path as a visual poet, though at the time I didn’t know that’s what I was trying to do other than feeling like a scattered and frustrated visual artist. The freedom with which she moves between languages and across media, weaving fractured narratives in and out of multiple voices and times, enraptured me in a way that I wanted to be able to do for others.

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine

Rankine’s writing inspired me to ask harder questions about the legibility of the body, particularly the Othered body, and the ways in which our histories and media distort or limit one’s capacity for empathetic imagination. As a writer, questioning and pushing the conventions of reading is as much about finding new ways of approaching and embracing one other as it is to approach and resonate with a visual text that doesn’t “fit in” to one’s preconceived notions of what a poem “should” look like.

Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte

Tufte’s compendium of information design highlights the importance of context when considering the relationship between text and image, and how data design shares kinship with poetry by way of distilling ideas with elegant compression while creating pleasure in the process. As a practicing designer, the cognitive principles of design thinking are another important toolbox that I use when creating visual poetry.

Nox by Anne Carson

Nox to me isn’t just a beautiful elegy, but an interactive experience with materiality, archive, memory’s stains and remains, something that I enjoy holding and unfolding again and again. I encountered Carson’s work during formative years of my career and love how she dares me to take more risks with form, validating my art school approach to iteratively prototyping poems that push experimental risk-taking in order to spark that feeling of “I’ve never seen a poem like this before.”

Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang

I clung tight to this collection during a really difficult period in my life when I was not only shaken by post-election America, but deeply struggling with this lifelong feeling of exile, which was only magnified as soon as I became a mother in living suburbia. Great poetry is a lifeline, and Chang’s lyrical prowess, her ability to speak to (and comfort) that alienation with subversive power and surprise, reminded me that as poets, we are always writing love letters to our readers, making offerings from our corner of the world to encourage each other in the midst of collective struggle.

Monica Ong is the author of Silent Anatomies (2015), selected by Joy Harjo as winner of the Kore Press First Book Award in poetry. A Kundiman poetry fellow and MFA graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, Ong has been awarded residencies most recently at the Millay Colony, the Fine Arts Work Center, and Yaddo. Her visual poems have been published recently in Redivider, ctrl+v, and Waxwing Literary Journal, with new work forthcoming in Petrichor and A Velvet Giant this summer. Based in Connecticut, Monica currently serves as the User Experience Designer at the Yale Digital Humanities Lab.

Leave a Reply