Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on 12:10 PM 10 comments
As part of National Poetry Month, I'm continuing my series on the wild, wonderful world of poety.

Today I thought I'd talk about a type of formal poetry [adhering to a defined structure] that is delightful and difficult to create and seems to get very little respect among academics. You'll almost never see this type of poem included in canonical anthologies [canon: works widely considered influential] [anthology: a collection of written works].

What is this bad-boy form? The concrete or shape poem. In this form, the arrangement of the type adds to the meaning of the poem. Often words are arranged to create an image related to the topic or theme of the piece.

While the term "concrete poem" originated in the 1950s, the form has been around for centuries. See for example George Herbert's "Easter Wings" from 1633.



I am particularly fond of the shape poems of contemporary poet John Hollander. Here are two fabulous pieces to enjoy.

Swan and Shadow
by John Hollander



Kitty: Black Domestic Shorthair
by John Hollander



If you're interested in reading more concrete poems, check out Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Edwin Morgan. Also, see the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.

What do you think of concrete poetry? Why do you think it isn't taken seriously in some circles?

10 comments:

  1. I haven't read a shape poem in a long time. Thanks for sharing and reminding me how lovely they can be!

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    1. You're most welcome. Sorry this took a while to appear on my page. For some reason your comment had gone into a spam folder. How strange!

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  2. These are great. I liked having my students make these back when I was still teaching English in public schools.

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    1. It's interesting that I see far more junior efforts at concrete poems than established poets creating them. But good ones are really tough to make, hardly something that's "just kids' stuff," I think.

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  3. My friend did several poems like this in her verse novel. I thought it was so clever! You must have not only a good ear, but also an artist's eye. I don't think I could pull it off!

    (And Laurel, I have an answer from Samuel Park about your dive-into-the-next-project-while-querying question. I will write you an email now!)

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    1. Some of Ellen Hopkins's verse novels have them too, as I recall. They do seem tough to pull off. Beyond the poet's ear and artist's eye, you need a puzzlemaster's mind to think world length too.

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  4. Oh my gosh, I can't read this without going completely bonkers. But it sounds fun to create one! :)

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  5. The kitty one is probably the easiest to read. As an owner of a black domestic shorthair, I love how it depicts the visible/invisible quality of the creature and takes it to a deeper philosophical level.

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  6. These are so fun to read! I had to write one for a creative writing class I took in college. I wrote it about video games and made it into a mushroom shape (a popular icon in the Super Mario video game series.) Silly, but so fun.

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    1. It does look like a challenge to create a shape poem. Glad to hear you found it so fun to do.

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