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Concrete Poetry
Opening Language Borders

Concrete Poetry
  • Selected Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire (by )
  • Un Coup de des Jamais N'Abolira le Hasar... (by )
  • Futurism : Italian Futurism Volume Art History series (by )
  • Ulysses (by )
  • Collected Works of E. E. Cummings (by )
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Dylan Thomas said, "Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own." Emily Dickinson said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

Poetry is many things, but it often leans away from the concrete. In the 1950s, a group of Brazilian poets and artists subverted this with the ideation of concrete poetry with the release the Noigrandes magazine. Concrete poetry is the construction of linguistic elements in specific shapes or orders, wherein shape rather than the syntax conveys meaning. Augusto De Campos, one foundational member of Noigrandes, described it in his manifesto as "tension of thing-words in space-time."

Mary Ellen Solt, a concrete poet and essayist who came up in the following years writes in the introduction to Concrete Poetry: A World View, that it is:

words reduced to their elements of letters (to see) [and] syllables (to hear). Some concrete poets stay with whole words. Others find fragments of letters or individual speech sounds more suited to their needs. The essential is reduced language.
Although the terminology for concrete poetry and its distinction (visual poetry, typewriter art) are modern, variations of concrete poems have existed since Alexandrian times. One of the earliest known examples comes from around 300 BC by Simmias of Rhodes. He wrote text in the shape of wings, an egg, a hatchet, and other objects that adhered to the content within. One of the earliest known shape poems in English is George Herbert's "Easter Wings," written sideways to make the form of wings. There was a boom of pre-concrete concrete poems in the early 20th century with the likes of Guillaume Apollinaire in “Calligrams”, and the textual/visual work of the futurists and the dadaists. On the arrival of shape-dependent poetry, Solt differentiates concrete poets from visual poets, writing that:

the concrete poet is concerned with making an object to be perceived rather than read. The visual poem is intended to be seen like a painting; the sound poem is composed to be listened to like music. Concrete poets, then, are united in their efforts to make objects or compositions of sounds from particular materials.

In other words, concrete poems concern themselves with the ties between sound, image, and language.

De Campos acknowledged a handful of literary forefigures to concrete poetry, including James Joyce's Ulyssees and Finnegan's Wake, Stéphane Mallarmé in Roll of the Dice, and E.E. Cummings, and others.

By Thad Higa



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