September 23, 2007KR BlogUncategorized

Sunday Funnies: Exploring UbuWeb Part 2

For many of us, concrete poetry may conjure up our grammar or middle school days when teachers asked us to make “picture poems” using words in selected configurations on the page to represent an object or an idea. I remember with fondness the poem Apfel with its hidden worm: Apfel by Reinhard Doehl

Sadly, only a handful of literary journals and small presses publish the concrete poem or its cousins anymore, and so many of us (or, at least me) may not be aware of how lively a form the concrete poem has become. Sometimes referred to now as “landscape” poetry, or visual poetry (which blurs the mediums that help to convey the poem) concrete poetry continues to comment upon the flux of language, and to convey the barest and simplest ideas in the most powerful and resonating manner possible. There are numerous, practicing concrete and visual poets around the world, and after several hours lost again in UbuWeb-land, I found many examples of the concrete poem and its cousins. In fact, UbuWeb has scanned whole books on the subject and placed the chapters onto their site, along with links to off-site resources for Concrete poetry.

It was there, trolling along with my mouse, that I became smitten with Augusto De Campos, one of the founders of the concrete poem. His work now, having embraced electronic media, is extremely exciting. Poema-Bomba (1983-1997) utilizes flash programming and voiceover, combined with a series of exploding letters and periodic flashes on a red background, to convey its core idea. The poem is startling and inspiring. De Campos’ earlier work, such as “tens??o,” (1956–roughly translated as “tension” from the Portuguese), is a more traditional concrete poem. The placement of phrases suggests the juxtaposition of “tension” and “connection.”

Another founder of the concrete poem, Eugen Gomringer, is also prominently featured on UbuWeb. Gomringer called his poems “constellations” rather than “concrete” poems. He wanted to focus on the clusters of letters in words that came together in response to his ideas and impulses, rather than work from the representative word or idea. His poem Ping-Pong visually represents the motion of a ping-pong ball, and as noted on UbuWeb’s critical notes to the poems, his poem can be read both from right to left and left to right, cementing the feeling of the ball moving across the net from one side of the table to the other. My favorite sample of Gomringer’s poems is Wind. The poem feels windy as your eyes meet it on the page. Like Ping-Pong, Wind can be read in multiple directions. I stared at it for so long that I felt like I was conjuring the wind! Gomringer considers poems like Wind and Ping-Pong some of his greatest contributions to concrete poetry because of their spatiality–offering inspired, layered meanings unachievable with a right-to-left reading.

UbuWeb’s inclusion of the entirety of Mary Ellen Solt’s “Flowers in Concrete” portfolio is perhaps its greatest gift to viewers. Solt published “Concrete Poetry–A World View” in 1968, and it is considered the primary text for the history of concrete poetry. Her own poems worked to explore the typographical elements of the concrete-poetry form–to work with letters and typography in a way that married the ideas of the spatial “constellations” that concerned Gomringer, with the spiritual echoes of De Campos.

Her poem Forsythia

Forsythia Poem

is art-poem-idea married in one moment, offering more than a simple photograph of Forsythia could accomplish.

Dogwood II echoes spiritual connection with the picture of Dogwood; it’s inner core of letters forming “God” and “good” read from multiple directions, opening up the associations readers can make with the flower, and with the importance of such beauty being in the world. How sad I was, then, to discover that Ms. Solt passed away two short months ago at the age of 86. Luckily, UbuWeb’s forums offer a means of exploring her work further through their collections.

I plan to spend many more hours viewing the concrete poems from around the world and some dated back to the 1500s that are housed in UbuWeb. Someday, I may even visit the Sackner Archives which has an extensive collection of concrete and visual poems, and boasts a recent documentary about their collection. The boundaries between sound, typography, image, written word and other media will no doubt continue to blur. It’s an exciting time for visual-poets–for all writers–who can blend these elements with their written concepts so that new forms of literature will emerge.