Monday 11 May 2015

Altars, Axes & Wings: Constructing a Concrete Poem

The term concrete poetry, also known as shape, visual or pattern poetry, first appeared in the 1950's.  According to Wikipedia, "its typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem" (  Brazilian pioneer Augusto de Campos hosted the first international exhibit of shape poetry in 1956 in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Shape poetry can be built with images rather than words as in the poem Eye for Eye
by Augusto de Campos courtesy

While the term is new, the concept is old.  Poets used letter arrangements to enhance the meaning of their poems back in the third and second century BC in Greek Alexandria, Egypt.  Early shapes included wings, altars and axes.

Possibly the earliest German shape poem, Gerechtigkeitsspirale, is carved in wood in the St. Valentin Church in Hesse, Germany.  George Hebert's Easter Wings, written in a shape to convey birds flying up with outstretched wings, was composed in the 1600's.

In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the concrete poem a mouse's "tale" appears, in the shape of a tail.  E. E. Cummings, known for his lower case poems, also used the arrangement of letters to convey meaning in his writing.  Ezra Pound was known for his Chinese idioms.

John Holland's poem Swan & Shadow circa 1969 courtesy

For more information about concrete poetry, read Pattern Poetry:  Guide to an Unknown Literature (Dick Higgins).

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