Concrete poetry is one of those things that is barely executed properly. But when it is, is freaking amazing.
So concrete poetry doesn’t have a concrete definition, see what I did there? It’s one of those mediums that is constantly adapting with our culture. Originally it was considered ‘shape’ or ‘pattern’ poetry, a term coined in the 20th century to describe poetry of a certain subject that was then typographically arranged to construct a mirroring image of said subject (Higgins, 1987). One of the most notable early examples of this poetry was in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Unfortunately, this example like many other basic forms are what people think of when they hear the term ‘concrete poetry’, despite it’s immense growth conceptually and visually. Contemporary forms are no longer restricted to set images of the subject, and instead can actually appear quite random, or even purposely designed to be fragmented/disjointed.
This can be seen from Canadian poet Derek Beaulieu. Beaulieu has constructed various contemporary concrete poetry and discusses his art and how to relates to society in his blog: http://derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com/tag/concrete-poetry/.
To prepare us for writing our own poetry, as many of us struggle with such a complex form of writing, we were introduced to slam poetry. This poetry was spoken infront of an audience and often discussed issues seen in contemporary society, such as racism, mental disorders, destructive familial ties etc. My favourite commented on the latter, discussing how the men in her family took all of the sustenance from the women, who in turn ‘shrink’. I found her inspiring not only because of the issue she discussed, but the tempo and fluidity.
Lily Meyers Shrinking Women:
Afterwards we were given several topics to write poetry about in a limited time, without physically seeing the screen to dissect or edit our work. The task was interesting and motivational. It made you blind but in doing so gave you confidence to rely solely on thought, not how correct or sensical it seemed. One of these poems was then made into concrete poetry via Photoshop. Although my piece can’t be considered a great form of concrete poetry, it was an interesting activity.
Higgins, Dick 1987. Pattern Poetry: A Guide to Unknown Literature, State University of New York Press, New York.