A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 19 April 2013

Concrete Poetry

Concrete poetry or shape 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 the meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on. It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry, a term that has evolved to have a distinct meaning of its own, but which shares the distinction of being poetry in which the visual elements are as important as the text. WIKIPEDIA

My poem Dodo was an attempt at a concrete poem:

don't oh don't please don't
make me

It's shaped both like a tree (the dodo is extinct; are rain forests heading the same way?) and an arrow (arrows are ambiguous: they can point towards a solution, but they can also be weapons, instruments of extinction). Whether this comes across clearly enough to the reader, I'm not sure.

The little-known French poet Telfour Tremble also experimented with the genre, and I've translated two of his concrete poems, which I reproduce below:


before disappearing i wanted to tell you this
before disappearing i wanted to tell you
before disappearing i wanted to tell
before disappearing i wanted to
before disappearing i wanted
before disappearing i
before disappearing


a — r — t — i — s — l — o — n — g
and life is short

I wonder if anyone else has examples of favourite concrete poems? (Don't worry if not — I know they're difficult to set out in a Blogger comment box!)


Susan Scheid said...

You have definitely embarked on a rich journey with Tremble. As for concrete poetry, I recently saw at an art exhibit the mss of Apollinaire's Il Pleut and was quite taken with it. Also, while I don't think her poetry would be considered concrete poetry per se, Susan Howe's work definitely has a strong visual component. See this about Frolic Architecture, which started off as a an entirely visual work http://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/time-traveling-with-susan-howe/. Anne Carson's new book, Red Doc> is also strongly visual. I'm not yet certain of the interplay of form and text there, but, as always with her, it's an interesting work.

Dominic Rivron said...

You did a good job there - it is so difficult to translate concrete poetry.

Climbed Harter Fell in Eskdale/Duddin Valley yesterday. Weather excellent. Good, easy scrambling on top. Visited Hardknott Roman fort (of which you get a good view from Harter Fell summit) on descent.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for this rich and informative comment, Susan. Yes, the Apollinaire is fascinating — also e.e.cummings comes to mind. I'll check out those others you mention.

Wish I had been out hill walking yesterday, Dominic — it was such a lovely, spring day — but we were all day in the garden centre and the garden. I love Eskadale and the Duddon Valley — they are much less frequented than many areas of the Lake District.