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Concrete Poetry: Definition and Types

By Gary R. Hess. Category: Poetry

Concrete poetry, also known as pattern or shape poetry is poetry in which the arrangement of its meters are as important as conventional elements in conveying its message. Concrete poetry is sometimes referred to as visual poetry, although it has evolved into a distinct meaning of its own.

The term 'concrete poetry' was coined during the 1950s and in 1956 an international exhibition was shown in São Paulo, inspired by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. After two years, a Brazilian concrete poetry manifesto was published. Augusto de Campos, one of the earliest pioneers, assembled a web site of both old and new work, including the manifesto. Its principal is that using words as part of a visual work allows the words to become a piece of art, rather than just vehicles for ideas.

Want to find more types of poems? View 55 different poetic forms.

Although the term is rather recent, its use is not. The idea of using typography to enhance the meaning of a poem originated in Greek Alexandria during the third and second centuries BC. Some were designed as part of religious art-works, including wing, ax and alter-shaped poems. Only few examples have survived time, which include poems by Simias and Theocritus collected together in the Greek Anthology.

Early examples of concrete poetry can also be seen in The Temple and Easter Wings by George Herbert. In the latter, the overall typography of the poem is shaped like 'Easter Wings'.

A commonly read example of typography-based poetry would be Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. The story includes a poem of a mouse's "Tale", which is in the form of a tail. More recent poets who have used this style of poetry include Guillaume Apollinaire, E.E. Cummings, and various dadaists.

Better known concrete English language poets include Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan. Other important concrete poets have become known famous for their sound poetry: Henri Chopin, and Bob Cobbing.

New forms of concrete poetry are still being developed, such as puzzle poetry by Jennifer Kathleen Phillips. Some of the new forms include poems within a poem or visual messages which are triggered from the sound within a poem. Word art has begun blurring the lines between language poetry and visual art.

Carmina figurata
Used in criticism to mean a typography arrangement to create a visual image.

Types of concrete poetry

Haptic Poetry
A liminal art form combining characteristics of typography and sculpture to create objects not only to be seen, but to be touched to create an aesthetic effect in the minds of the intended audience. ie: braille
Visual Poetry
A visual arrangement of text, images and symbols to convey the intended effect of the work. The text is usually secondary to the visual elements, minimal or in some cases absent from the work all together.