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Concrete Poetry

Now why would anyone want to write poetry in concrete? Or is this supposed to be poetry about concrete? Poetry that uses forms of the word "concrete"?

"Concrete poetry" refers to poetry where the text itself forms a visible picture on the page.

This has become a popular device with the growth of visual mediums, from television to the World Wide Web, but poets have been using it since words started being put on paper.

Here is one example (first stanza only) from the 1600's, by George Herbert, called "Easter Wings":

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,   Though foolishly he lost the same,      Decaying more and more        Till he became         Most poor:         With thee         O let me rise     As larks, harmoniously    And sing this day thy victories: Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

I've seen several modern examples. One of those of my friend, Dr. Wes Browning, is "Elizabeth":

          Trees outnumber *Elizabeth*
     Clouds   blossom      Streets    carpet
   Locks    harbor       Walls     garden
Glass     pictures     Steel  poses
Lamps fountain    Stones nurture
   surround and defend....

One of my own attempts is:

       leaves and breezes
          bees and
  as summer

Concrete poetry has no agreed-upon conventions. It is certainly more elegant to have the shape formed by a natural line length, as in Herbert's poem, than by the arbitrary division of lines and the padding of spaces, like Dr. Wes and I sneaked by on; but some arbitrariness of line arrangement is always going to be necessary to create the visual effect.

Unless you simply vary the length of your lines so cunningly that the right margin forms a picture, like a silhouette.

Sometimes the visual form makes it possible to read a poem in different ways. A poem written in the form of a circle may be read from different starting points, or in alternate directions. A poem written in the form of a "V" may be read down and then back up, or left-to-right, or down the right side and back up the left...

Many intriguing possibilities, aren't there?

Exercise: Concrete Poetry

Within the limitations of ASCII text, create a poem so that the shape of the text on paper matches, in some way, the theme or nature of the poem.

Guidelines for critique:

1) How identifiable was the visual image formed by the text?

2) Did the visual image match the poem?

3) Did the visual image add to the enjoyment of the poem?

4) Was the poem good enough as a poem to stand alone, be enjoyable without the visual image?

5) How arbitrary was the arrangement of text, to form the visual image?

6) Did the arrangement of lines allow for alternative ways of reading the poem?

Your critiques may also cover any other aspects of the poem, but be sure to include the exercise points above.

Write On!