Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing Prompt #6: Concrete and Visual Poetry

This week's prompt is a little out of the ordinary, yet part of a long tradition within poetry: concrete or visual poetry.

For this assignment, I want you to get your hands dirty interacting with text on the rawest, most basic level.  You're not necessarily going to be writing a poem in the traditional sense (as you'll see from the examples below) — instead you'll be using letters, numbers and punctuation marks to create some sort of image, symbol or pattern.  To do this, you might want to work within your traditional word processing mode, but subvert that process by doing things like overlaying text boxes, playing around with the spacing between letters (which you can access through the font menu in Word) or using different fonts.  You might instead decide to make your piece using an image editor, or in a more tactile way with a typewriter, stencils, or even by drawing it.

To spur your interest, here are a few concrete pieces that work in a number of different ways:

Geof Huth, "EEEeeG"

Geof Huth, "Construction of the Alphabet"

Geof Huth, START (21 September 2010)

Geof Huth is a well-established contemporary concrete poet, whose work has greatly inspired younger generations of authors, such as Paul Siegell, whose "book trailer" for *wild life rifle fire* you can watch below:

A classic example of the concrete poetry form is Guillaume Apollinaire's "Calliagrammes," first published in 1918:

Guillaume Apollinaire, Il Pleut (It's Raining)

While Huth's work is more of a self-conscious subversion of typographic and symbolic conventions, Apollinaire's concrete poems are actual full-fledged poems, which just happen to take different shapes. Here, for example, is an English translation of one of them:

A third option is to work with text in a way that's more textural or patternish, as we see in the examples below:

Charles Bernstein, from Veils

Emiter Franczak, Poezja Konkretna

Aside from these typographic approaches to texture/pattern, you could go with a hand-scripted design.  These Brion Gysin visual poems, for example, are asemic (i.e. they don't actually say/mean anything) but are inspired by Arabic script:

Regardless of what approach you take, you should have fun with this assignment!  Trial and error will be key here — you're not going to get it right the first time, but if you play around a little bit with the forms you're likely to come up with something wonderful.  Also, you're very likely going to need to upload an image file (preferably a jpg) to the thread, rather than a Word doc, so try to make sure that the file's not too huge.  If you don't already know how to do so, learning how to take a screenshot on your respective computer platform will likely be useful.

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