Isle of the Signatories

Poems by Marjorie Welish

“Public inscriptions are all around us. Their mystery and the lack thereof are the off-screen subject of Marjorie Welish’s gritty, beguiling Isle of the Signatories, to be pondered long after lesser inscriptions have given up their secrets.” —John Ashbery

April 2008
6 x 9 | 128 pages
Paperback Original



Sophisticated wordplay, bold textual logic, and striking graphic innovation.

In her latest collection, Marjorie Welish invents a world of public inscriptions. From graffiti to scholarly dedication and from historical placards to words etched in granite, she employs a variety of fonts to explore the dangers of rhetoric, the mysteries of coded language, the enigmas of form, the powerful gift of dedication, and the strange sense and substance of both new and dying literary conventions.


“What is the ‘trace’ of a word? Does a word signify authorship, ownership, narrative? Marjorie Welish’s new book of poems Isle of Signatories concerns itself with the implications of a word’s imprint. These are poems formed from a text we often relegate to the background—graffiti, signposts, and advertisements. Graffiti’s ‘unentitled word’ is here elevated to the same level as ‘the entitled word’ of poetry—the two become indistinguishable. If we no longer disregard this text, what with our postmodern lens, we are still assuming it to be authorless. It is basically regarded as negligable, while poetry remains rarefied. But aren’t we in contact with this negligible text to a far greater degree than we are with poetry’s ‘entitled text.’” —Allen Mozek, For the Birds, read more here

“Welish’s poems do for language what great abstract paintings do for paint.” —No: A Journal of the Arts

“Always thoughtful . . . this book could be Welish’s breakthrough, offering her clearest, most discursive works, proximate in their edgy attentions not only to art-world thinkers but to Anne Carson.” —Publishers Weekly

“Welish has developed something of a crossover following in the art world, as poet as well as art critic, and Isle of the Signatories evokes the discourse of each medium. These poems critique themselves, they critique the contexts of their subjects — walls, signs, flyers, graffiti — and, most notably, play freely with ideas, language, and, of course, representation. One can imagine “Art & Language Writes an Epitaph” all-caps, littered in blocks across the page, exhibited on a gallery wall. And this seems to be one of the points here, that words on the page are but a small part of the meaning and are themselves malleable. “Which modernity?” Welish asks of us.”-The Austin Chronicle “Poetry Roundup”

“I suspect that the seamless and efficient arrangement of things is directly related to the fact that Welish is also a prominent painter (abstraction, deconstructed strands); she’s got an eye for placement and a clearly present sense of theory.  The notion of “ear” that you might want as you read is lovingly gestured at, but never fed to you outright.  The effect is like humming to yourself in the presence of a great and soothing din…”


Excerpt from an interview with Judith Goldman in War and Peace 4: Vision and Text:

JG: Do you see a continuity between this poem/book with other of your interrogations of lyricality—or does it represent more of a departure?

MW: Isle of the Signatories demonstrates an ever more concerted attempt to create a lyric poetry from critical and theoretical instrumentalities put in place early on, as early as some of Handwritten, although each successive book is ever more explicit in its tactics. Certain approaches, like deploying revision to construct the absence of originary texts and to suspend or delay thought processes, have been in place from the start, however. Difference and differentials within repetition constitute the themes yet also the procedures from the outset, only these commingle with diverse subjects in earlier poetry of mine. With each book the textual strategies announce themselves as object more clearly, more consistently.

To read more, click here.

From a Yale University Symposium:

“On Friday, Sept. 19th, we met for the first time of the new academic year.  This first session was devoted to the work of Marjorie Welish. Welish is, in many ways, a relatively unique figure in that she is quite equally accomplished as a painter, a poet, and an art critic. Indeed, in most ways, it is difficult to see any one of these as her primary identity or occupation.  Accordingly, her work and thinking move across these different fields in ways that are surprising, thereby throwing into questions some of the expectations and assumptions that tend to inform, or at least traditionally do, one’s understanding of a given field or mode of artistic endeavor.

Welish described her interest in various forms of inscriptions or in the acts of reading that happen within various contexts and in light of various codes. [She} opposes the traditional notion of the lyric as a mode not limited to “personal expression’” but also ruminative and possibly critical as well…   In reading the work, one looks not only at the transparent meaning, but at the context of the words as well, determining kinds of discourses—from epitaphs to art criticism to graffiti—that work with and against each other and play with and against the immutable memorializing that inscription in sometimes presented as.    In the play of differences in postmodern inscription Welish seeks to create poetic conditions that bring the incommensurabilities of some of those values and practices into the light. “

–Richard Deming, Writing Group in Contemporary Poetry, Yale University

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