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concrete poetry

Calligrammes, An Anthology of Concrete Poetry

words graphic cobbing aspects

the term describing poems in which the semantic values of the words composing them are complemented, and sometimes subsumed, by the graphic designs in which they are arranged on the page. Antecedents for writing of this kind include the ‘pattern poems’ of George Herbert, ‘Easter Wings' being the best known, and aspects of Apollinaire's Calligrammes (1918), notably ‘Il pleut’, in which the words form vertical lines in mimesis of rain falling; practitioners of concrete poetry also acknowledge the influence of the collage techniques of Cubism and the linguistic experiments of Kurt Schwitters and others. Concrete poetry is, however, distinctly a phenomenon of the late 1950s and the 1960s. The international concrete poetry movement which flourished in Britain, Europe, and North and South America was inaugurated at the National Exhibition of Concrete Art at São Paulo, Brazil, in 1956. The Brazilian poets' ‘Pilot-Plan For Concrete Poetry’ (1958) emphasizes the spatial nature of the genre in stating that ‘concrete poetry begins by being aware of graphic space as a structural agent’; the reader's apprehension of a concrete poem is immediate in terms of its visual design, while the meanings of the words thus arranged are assimilated in the usual sequential manner. The leading practitioners of concrete poetry include Ian Hamilton Finlay, Eugen Gomringer, Bob Cobbing, Edwin Morgan, and Sylvester Houedard. The last named is among those who have produced extreme manifestations of the mode; the extraordinary intricacy and elaborateness of the shapes into which letters and words are formed in his ‘typestracts’ provides the most interesting example of concrete poetry in which the graphic aspects are ascendant over semantic functions. Cobbing and Finlay are respectively noted as exponents of the allied forms of sound poetry and kinetic poetry. An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967) was edited by Emmett Williams.

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