Concrete poetry, also called Shape poetry or Size poetry, is poetry in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem, such as meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on.
It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry, a term that has evolved to have distinct meaning of its own, but which shares the distinction of being poetry in which the visual elements are as important as the text.
The term was coined in the 1950s. In 1956 an international exhibition of concrete poetry was shown in São Paulo, Brazil, by the group Noigandres (Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Décio Pignatari and Ronaldo Azeredo) with poets Ferreira Gullar and Wlademir Dias Pino. 2 years later, a Brazilian concrete poetry manifesto was published. An early Brazilian pioneers in the field, Augusto de Campos, has assembled a Web site of old and new work, including the manifesto. Its principal tenet is that using words as part of a specifically visual work allows for the words themselves to become part of the poetry, rather than just unseen vehicles for ideas. The original manifesto says:
- Concrete poetry begins by assuming a total responsibility before language: accepting the premise of the historical idiom as the indispensable nucleus of communication, it refuses to absorb words as mere indifferent vehicles, without life, without personality without history — taboo-tombs in which convention insists on burying the idea.:
Although the term is modern, the idea of using letter arrangements to enhance the meaning of a poem is an old one.
Pattern poetry originated in Greek Alexandria during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Some were designed as decoration for religious art-works, including wing-, axe- and altar-shaped poems. Only a handful of examples survive, which are collected together in the Greek Anthology. They include poems by Simias and Theocritus.
Early examples of typographically based concrete poetry include "The Altar" by George Herbert (1593–1633), in which the poem is merely a comment on the title, which presents the poem's principal meaning typographically.
Another early precursor from Herbert is "Easter Wings", in which the overall typography of the poem is in the shape of its subject. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll contains a similar effect in the form of the mouse's "Tale", which is in the shape of a tail. In the early 20th century, artists and poets comprising the Futurism movement used concrete poetry as a dynamic expression of their anarchistic philosophies. F. T. Marinetti was the most prolific poet among them, and created several works that destroyed all typographic conventions. More recent poets sometimes cited as influences by concrete poets include Guillaume Apollinaire, E. E. Cummings, for his various typographical innovations, and Ezra Pound, for his use of Chinese ideograms, as well as various dadaists. Concrete poetry, however, is a more self-conscious form than these predecessors, using typography in part to comment on the fundamental instability of language. Among the better known concrete poets in the English language are Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Edwin Morgan. A well-known concrete poets are András Petöcz in the Hungarian language and Joan Brossa in the Catalan language. Several important concrete poets have also been significant sound poets, among them Henri Chopin, and Bob Cobbing.
Another precursor to concrete poetry is Micrography, a technique for creating visual images by Hebrew-speaking artists who create pictures using tiny arrangements of Biblical texts organized usually on paper in images which illustrate the text used. As noted in the entry, micrography allows the creation of images of natural objects by observant Jews without directly breaking the prohibition of creating "graven images" that might be interpreted as idolatry. The technique is now used by both religious and secular artists and reportedly is also used by Arabic writer-artists.
The French poet Pierre Guarnieri, collaborating with the Japanese poet Seiichi Niikuni, also used the term spatiality in relation to concrete poetry, implying that the white space between words also holds meaning. Mechanic, phonetic, semantic and visual poetry also approach the idea of concrete poetry. Poets emphasized that language is not only a means of communication, but that language also has a material dimension.
New forms of concrete/visual poetry are still being created, such as the interactive and puzzle poetry by Jennifer Kathleen Phillips. Some of these contain poems within a poem or visual messages triggered by the sound or synergy of the shape of words and letters.
- Concrete poets
- Altar poem
- Carmina figurata
- Haptic poetry
- How to write a concrete poem
- Lyco art
- Digital poetry
- Glossary of poetry terms
- Higgins, Dick: Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature. State University of New York, 1987
- Robert G. Warnock and Roland Folter: "The German Pattern Poem", in: Festschrift Detlev Schumann, Munich 1970, pp. 40–73
- Medium-Art, Selection of Hungarian Experimental Poetry, editors Zoltan Frater and Andras Petocz, published by Magveto, 1990, Budapest, ISBN 963-14-1680-1
- "A Brief Guide to Concrete Poetry", Academy of American Poets.
- Poetry that knows no bounds at Poetry through the Ages
- Concrete Poetry: A World View by Mary Ellen Solt on UbuWeb, which hosts a large amount of concrete poetry
- Spidertangle: International mail list of visual & concrete poetry
- The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry
- Visual Poetry in El Taller de Zenón
- Ancient Greek pattern poems
- Concrete-Visual Poems in the WWW. Selected and Indexed by Michael P. Garofalo
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