Sorry for the period of leave, but I had a novel and the beginning of university classes to attend to. On the up-side, I’ve been working on poetry again and have new experiments underway.
Category Archives: Poetry
What were your favorite books when you were in elementary school? Did you read anything which struck you as odd and memorable?
I have fond memories of reading books as a child. Even though I can’t recall the plots of each book I read, I know I consumed the vast majority of a handful of series including Goosebumps, Mr. Men and Little Ms., Chronicles of Narnia, and Choose Your Own Adventure. Sometimes I wonder where scenes from my dreams originate, and I almost suspect they are directly linked to the worlds (alternate realities)which I believed these stories existed in.
No, the point of this story is not just to reminisce, even thought it’s fun! Rather, I bring these books up to comment on how some types of experimental writing find their way into mainstream culture and are able to draw lots of readers or become a writing practice. Concrete poetry has done this, and so have other forms.
Visual poems highlight the page as a physical object which a reader must interact with. A special element of concrete poetry is its ability to change the manner in which the reader reads the words on the page. Typically, reading direction is from left to right and top to bottom, but concrete poems alter this format and leave the reader to surmise the proper reading sequence. (A technical note: the exploration of the complex interaction between a work and a reader is phenomenology.)
Choose Your Own Adventure books also work on the same premise, bringing attention to the form and involving the reader in a different way than a typical storybook.
Because they are story-length works, instead of selecting the order in which to read individual words or word groupings, these books ask readers to actively participate in selecting the next page to read. I have no access to a legitimate English library, but if I did, I’d be in the kids section right now, reliving my childhood! (I’m such a nerd)
Concrete poetry writers pay attention to the shape that words make on a page. Most commonly, writers modify and experiment with content and internal story structure. Writers of shape poetry take a special pleasure in the arrangement of words for visual aesthetic. Many concrete poems have distinguishable shapes and very direct meaning, but the ideas behind the use of design elements and visual art are more substantial than writing a poem about your lost dog in the shape of a dog.
There is a light-hearted feel to shape poetry, as if the genre was created for those who wish to play around, rather than desire to build meaning though complex design elements. When concrete poetry was first created, artists wrote with the most abstract ideals. As the form became popular, a feeling of fun was instilled in the idea of composing a poem in the shape of its theme. Check out the collection of visual poetry at UbuWeb.
Like a lot of other forms of experimental writing, it may be that the most important element of concrete poetry is its focus on form. Despite the inherent importance of the message therein contained within a poem, writers of concrete poetry want to remind the reader to enjoy the act of reading in different ways, other than just in a way which analyzes meaning, plot, or symbols. It’s like breathing without thinking that you’re breathing and missing the joy of your own breath.
For a quick mental image, here is a page from “House of Leaves”.
“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, is one of the novel-length concrete works which incorporates many different style elements and experiments with different types of non-traditional writing techniques.
Although it is a longer book and somewhat daunting in style, I recommend this work for anyone interested in deviating from the norms.