14: concrete poetry

 Concrete 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 meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on. – wikipedia

 Spring Isspring grass

I tend to be attracted to poetry at an aural level, so concrete poetry isn’t generally my thing but I like the idea of it.  Before looking it up for this post, I hadn’t realized that the term ‘concrete poetry’ was so recent (the 1950s) or that it had ever been held up as an avant-garde mode. I tend to think of it as old (because George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is so anthologized) and as being childish (because it’s a form taught to children a lot). The theory, for the Niogandres group, was that concrete poetry foregrounded the materiality and specificity of the words, rather than allowing words to disappear behind the ideas they convey. I must admit, I’m not really sure how this works – I guess by dislodging the word from the line makes more strange, more visible?

It’s interesting, too, that the Niogandres group thought poetry needed shaking up into a visual form to achieve this effect. The Russian Formalists claimed, some thirty years earlier, that poetry – all and any poetry – worked to estrange language, to make it anew from the dead metaphors of prose. My cursory research doesn’t indicate whether or not the Niogandres poets were responding to the Russian Formalists, but I’d like to think so.

In writing this – constructing it? – I somewhat returned to chance operation. I used a word cloud generator with customizable shapes and plugged in a short piece I wrote apropos of the recent and very sudden burst of new growth we’ve had here.




12: Chance operation

Chance Operations are methods of generating poetry independent of the author’s will. A chance operation can be almost anything from throwing darts and rolling dice, to the ancient Chinese divination method, I-Ching, and even sophisticated computer programs. Most poems created by chance operations use some original text as their source, be it the newspaper, an encyclopedia, or a famous work of literature. The purpose of such a practice is to play against the poet’s intentions and ego, while creating unusual syntax and images. The resulting poems allow the reader to take part in producing meaning from the work. – poets.org

Titus Groan, page 367
the now After And him would . , . would flung through passions daybreak now and ; echoes . , violence along lights . , and tears soon in open; . it laughter the itself be And a Fierce no shall births for ! there there And flickering . of There yet insurrection there , beneath wandering a by was disenchantment

ceilings be be honeycombs had be would like though he dreams day heard strange love umbrageous would emptiness their and quick flame . green there and – passageways sound cry be stone doors walls the would will And deaths the and Through in tumult , be


I guess this is sort of the point, but this poem was kind of boring for me – all I did was pick out a section of text (from Mervyn Peake’s amazing Titus Groan) and run it through an online randomizer. What I did have fun doing is working this randomization into something coherent and poem-like. I was going to post that worked up version, since that seems to be what some people do when the publish chance operation poems, but I felt that missed the point of removing the poet and creating space for the reader to find their own patterns of meaning.

This poem and next week’s cento have lined up perfectly with The Found Poetry Review‘s National Poetry Month project, Oulipost – they’re giving a new prompt for constrained writing techniques applied to text sourced from newspaper.

For the original text and my shot at making something coherent out of the randomization, see below the jump.

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