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.




11. Carol

A hymn or poem often sung by a group, with an individual taking the changing stanzas and the group taking the burden or refrain. – poetryfoundation.org

 A Spring Carol

Though the fields are bleak and brown
Soon they will grow tall and green
The trees in bud,
The squirrels and the robins

Though the cold snow flies today
Soon will come the kinder rains

Though the ice lingers in the shade
The creeks and rivers run freely

Though the winds are sharp and cruel
Soon soft breezes will bring us Spring’s softness.


The carol being a seasonal song, this is a celebration of Spring in contrast to last week’s poem. Or, more accurately, a celebration of Spring to come since we had snow yesterday and it was below freezing today again. I also drew somewhat on the Spring section of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

I considered trying to do Middle English for this, since I’m mimicking the medieval form of the carol, but I decided my ME skills weren’t up to it.

10: Canzone

Canzone  – Literally “song” in Italian, the canzone is a lyric poem originating in medieval Italy and France and usually consisting of hendecasyllabic lines with end-rhyme. The canzone influenced the development of the sonnet – poetryfoundation.org

Spring (to H.D.)

Past the long and unkind embrace of winter,
Now is brutal rebirth of Spring, that dirty
Ragged flailing of life to fill the empty
Broken ground and choke up the sky with reaching,
Gasping hunger for heat. The wind rampages
And the nakedness snow had clothed now shivers
Under turbulent clouds, by swollen  rivers.
I, too, abhor that goddess myth of preaching
Modernists, with their boy’s idealism bleaching
The deep cruelty of Spring, because your vision
Taught me. Yours were the words, the cool precision,
Made so lasting a mark upon my teaching
That now, when Spring becomes, I feel the shred
Of roots, I see the blood in maple’s red

So when I looked up hendecasyllabic lines, wikipedia told me that no-one really uses them in English. It turns out that’s because they’re stupidly hard to write. However, because I am stubborn, I stuck with it, except for the last two lines because that’s structurally justifiable.

I also had a hard time settling on something to write about this time, since the form is so open in terms of themes. It was originally just going to be about the Spring, it being finally not a frozen wasteland here, but ended up shifting into engaging with H.D.’s representation of Spring, which was formative for me. I was reminded as I was looking through one of my old poetry anthologies that I wrote an essay on H.D. at some point in undergrad. I like the idea I was going for in this poem, even if the execution is not great.