MinXus mail from Mr. Ficus strangulensis, Panjandrum of Blorchistan, Fertilizer of The One Tree (Charleston, West Virgina, USA)

Visual poetry as ATC cards from Ficus strangulensis (Charleston, West Virginia, USA)

With trembling hands and anticipation, I was pleased to find a thick envelope in the Mink Ranch Mailbag last week from new-old friend Ficus strangulensis in Charleston, West Virginia.

Many tenderfoots might not be as familiar with Ficus as they are with his contemporaries such as John M. Bennett, Blaster Al or Sheila Murphy. Once an industrial chemist with an inquiring mind, Ficus strangulensis found mail-art and Otherstream literature, producing an extraordinary body of work, the bulk of which was released publicly in the 1990s.

His zine Transmog was a beacon for what we will identify in this blog as Otherstream but also has a number of other designations. Today he remains active creatively, contributing, communicating through the Eternal Network but below the radar (perhaps the proper response for an artform that always valued privacy). Some might characterize him as reclusive, busy with arcane pursuits and rifle target practice in the secluded wilderness of West Virginia.

Ficus always includes nice correspondence and gives you a peak of his mailing list:

As the beginning of his message indicates, I have proposed a collaboration with Ficus; and he has agreed. (More on this exciting development later!). The reference to William S. Burroughs is not random. Ficus – along with his contributions to visual poetry, collage and photography – is recognized by many as being a serious practitioner and working heir to applications of the “cut-up technique” developed by Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Harold Norse. Ficus has refined the method considerably, and he sent me some examples of his poem-objects to add to my growing collection of his work:


Bad timing characterizes my correspondence with Ficus over the years.

When I lived in Alabama, I made the acquaintance of Jake Berry in Huntsville, Alabama, a writer, artist and musician of striking originality – a “pure product of America” as William Carlos Williams wrote. Jake and I developed a crude cultural slash-and-burn programme for the southern portion of the U.S. that came to include Mike Miskowski (Tempe, Arizona) and his MaLLife zine and his Bomb Shelter Propaganda publishing outfit. (Ruth Schowalter in Alabama – gladly abandoning her New Criticism-influenced master’s thesis on Thomas Hardy – came on board with Paper Bird Press and there was a steady correspondence with vispo theorist Bob Grumman in Florida.)

I am convinced I saw work by Ficus for the first time in MaLLife about the time Mike published some work by Dick Higgins, which brought a feeble awareness to my mind (no doubt obvious to everyone else) that the New Wave of visual poetry and correspondence art was actually connected to the older efforts of Fluxus and Ray Johnson that emanated from New York City and I that had (very wrongly assumed) was the work of a bunch of mental patients. I was no stranger to performances by people dripping water into buckets. Ficus offered an avant poetry that was an alternative to the true Red Menace of those times: Langpo.

I saw Transmog and Ficus’s work elsewhere, but the years of his greatest presence in the network were years when I was taking time out. I also missed the David Chirot phenom. Fortunately, there has been ample time to connect and re-connect.

The envelope displays a collab with (Trashpo Jesus) Jim Leftwich, suggesting that what comes around goes around in mail-art:

Many thanks and much affection to new-old friend Ficus strangulensis – Hero of the Southern Front. MinXus-Lynxus is sponsoring and documenting the collab we hope we can manage to complete with Ficus. An envelope will soon be on its way to West Virginia.

The Ohio State University has a nice and well-organized collection of work by Ficus strangulensis:



6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. minxuslynxus
    Sep 09, 2012 @ 23:21:29

    Ah, so this is the famous Ficus. Nice to hear more about him and his work. Much poetry there… and a great read.


  2. minkoo
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 02:31:23

    do they have mink ranches in Alabama I wonder


  3. minkranch
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 02:54:52

    Empress, the minks do not take well to that kind of heat. And the snakes are big enough to swallow a mink whole.

    Now west a bit is Louisiana, which is really a bit of a French colony. The Cajun folk are mighty interesting, transplanted from France,

    I appreciate you letting me send some of your writing down to Ficus for some editing.


  4. minkranch
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 03:03:07

    And you saw Ruth Schowalter from IUOMA was part of that crew? She’s down in Georgia doing that thing where she channels the voice of that spirit lady. Down south some folks are partial to handling snakes & speaking in tongues at tent revival meetings, and it is like that in places for real. I figur maybe she took to the salvation of Jesus after a few years in the network – a cautionary tale for sure.


  5. minkoo
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 03:29:58

    Ficus editing my text will be great. I can’t wait!
    I’ve heard of some of your “traditions” down the big South. Snake handling and stuff and the like. Actually, since we’re talking about Louisiana… I reckon it is soon time for a Louisiana mission. Louisiana looks like it could use some MinXus spread, don’t you think.


  6. Trackback: ficus strangulensis on line | slowforward

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