Is this poetry?
September 28, 2002 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Is this poetry? How about this, this or this? They're all examples of visual or concrete poetry, which has a long history. The modern version grew out of Lettrisme and helped give birth to the worldwide mail art movement. Two leading visual poets, Uruguayan activist Clemente Padin and Argentinian Edgardo Vigo, both had serious run-ins with dictators during the 1970s. The huge Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry puts gem after gem at your fingertips. Another great collection: Brazilian Visual Poetry. [more inside]
posted by mediareport (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the mouse's tale
posted by grumblebee at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2002

Unfortunately, the great Postypographika site in Argentina is currently down but has a ton of related info.
Peter Spence has some nice work, too.
Clemente Padin mail art
Classic Clemente Padin visual poetry
Kaldron, "North America's Longest Running Visual Poetry Magazine"
posted by mediareport at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2002

posted by eddydamascene at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2002

The 'Two Poems' of the first link are not poetry. They are prints or line drawings. Poetry uses words.

Words mean things, and 'poetry' is our name for a tyoe of literary art where you arrange or utter words in a certain sequence.

If he had called them 'Two Symphonies' that wouldn't mean they were pieces of music.
posted by crunchburger at 1:05 PM on September 28, 2002

a typo of literary art
posted by crunchburger at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2002

The cold war retrospective. A po├ęsie froid gesture visiting the Amercian Center for Anachronistic Policy this fall.
posted by the fire you left me at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2002

art is art and cannot be confined to a few meaningless words. If he called them "Two Symphonies" they may very well be music.

Pick up the book "Silence" by John Cage.

Music and poetry are both art, and therefore should have no restrictions. Not only that, music and poetry are intangible meaningless words. Who cares, just create!
posted by Satapher at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2002

This is hot stuff. Great post.
posted by sklero at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2002

" 'Visual poetry experiments in diverse levels with the relations among words and images and bases its results on a unique context. For this reason, its grammar (in the structural sense) is not exclusively verbal nor exclusively visual, but is inter-semiotic.' It is precisely this 'inter-semioticity' which relates visual poetry to proposals of the conceptualist movement that created a multiple space in which languages give up being privileged one over the others... [t]hus, the spectator or 'reader' of visual poetry is in a situation of genuine relationship with the work through his knowledge and through the elements that this contributes, making real his option to decide whether or not it has living value for him, without pre-established judgements or impositions of any kind." - Clemente Padin

crunchburger: Poetry uses words. Words mean things, and 'poetry' is our name for a tyoe of literary art where you arrange or utter words in a certain sequence.

Crunchburger, you have to defend your thesis! In artspeak!
posted by eddydamascene at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2002

art is art and cannot be confined to a few meaningless words.

Thank goodness words aren't meaningless, then.
posted by kindall at 2:34 PM on September 28, 2002

With pure emotion and clean uncut feeling, yes, words pale in comparison.
posted by Satapher at 2:42 PM on September 28, 2002

new to me. smart and interesting.
posted by asok at 3:04 PM on September 28, 2002

The semantics of the terminology of art is clearly a problematic for a cross-discipline field such as this. However, nomenclature is powerful because of the Barthesian concept of "parole" that a term brings to the audiences understanding and "pre"-disposes them to a particular path when attempting to understand and decode them.

Clearly, therefore, the term poetry may be seen either as a semantic subversion intended to bring cognitive dissonance to the piece and therefore allow an understanding to emerge from the resulting fracture of linguistic purpose or it may be merely misguided.

(eddydamascene, is that better?)

the above is not a defence of anti-art, on the contrary, I like it very much, just not the name.

Concrete poetry makes me think of architecture...
posted by lerrup at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2002

and besides, words convey some sort of meaning, they are not meaning themselves.
posted by Satapher at 3:08 PM on September 28, 2002

Music and poetry are both art, and therefore should have no restrictions.

In other words, if I say it's art, it's art, and if you don't understand it, you're just an ignorant barbarian.
posted by RylandDotNet at 3:54 PM on September 28, 2002

and besides, words convey some sort of meaning, they are not meaning themselves.

Words are symbols that stand for concepts and objects. The reason that words convey meaning is that we agree that a given word stands for a given concept or object. If you decide that you want to use a word differently, you're breaking the agreement. You can't break the agreement and then condemn other people for ignorance if they don't understand the words you're using. Or rather, you can, but don't act hurt when people think you're an elitist snob.
posted by RylandDotNet at 3:58 PM on September 28, 2002

I took a poetry class last year. The second day of class, the professor held up a picture of asterisks arranged in some weird shape, and gave the "poetry can be anything" speech. I wasn't being snarky when I asked if we could turn something like that in in our final portfolio. She laughed and said "no". So..

To me, there's no bulletproof definition of what poetry is. Like "art" in general, you know it when you see it, but there are always counterexamples to anything you can come up with. I've always thought that this effect was due to the fact that, whatever art is, it conveys meaning in such a way that only the eccentric human brain, with all its hangups and rubbish piles of cultural memory and Jungian symbolism, can get anything out of it. It translates from the subjective mind of the artist to the subjective mind of the viewer in an if not predictable than at least identifiable way. Would a robot know what succeeded as a poem and what didn't? I don't think so; but I do, and to me, the first link in the post definitely didn't have any poems anywhere on the whole goddamned page.
posted by Hildago at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2002

My, that was ironically bad wording.
posted by Hildago at 4:03 PM on September 28, 2002

Among the Brazilians is Caetano Veloso, also arguably the country's greatest living songwriter and a former political refugee.
posted by liam at 4:04 PM on September 28, 2002

lerrup: eddydamascene, is that better?

I think you stated the issue well. I would challenge the claim that the semantics are 'misguided', but I would tend to agree that 'visual poetry' is provocatively named. On first exposure, as mediareport posted, you are meant to ask "Is this poetry?". Even better, "What is poetry?", and maybe (with some prodding from the artist), "Has liberation from the classical written form removed pre-established judgements that may influence my perceived value of this work?". Crunchburger is right, this is essentially "visual" and not "poetry", but the "poetry" designation is a challenge. And since we're talking about it, the artists have already won.

'Concrete poetry' would be a great name for a bad art-rock band.
posted by eddydamascene at 4:15 PM on September 28, 2002

It may surprise you, crunchland, but I sympathize. A lot of what gets called "visual poetry" I just call "collage." Why the need to dress it up in another word, you know? Still, I'm not sure why you're so goshdarn serious about drawing a clear line here. Try using Peter Finch's more playful approach instead:

Visual poetry uses collage, text-manipulation, overlay, blur, daub, fade, rotate and ether driven creation in equal measure. It can be conceptual, concrete, mimetic, calligraphic, minimal, emotional, magnificent and mad. It is a tradition avoided by most of academia. It does not fit the usual slots. Enjoy it while you can.

Btw, Finch created the superhero poem that's the 2nd link in the post. Take a look at some of his work and then try telling me the line between "poem" and "non-poem" (a word Finch uses to describe stuff like this, actually) is always clear. No way.

Oh, and if poetry always uses words, perhaps you can find some to explain why so many film writers feel comfortable discussing poetic imagery. ;)
posted by mediareport at 4:22 PM on September 28, 2002

If he called them "Two Symphonies" they may very well be music.

If he called them 'Two Sandwiches', could they be considered to be lunch? Could you cut them in half and feed four people?

Suppose I play a note on my bass and tell you that it is a piece of modern dance. Since 'dance' is a social construction, I'm right, no?
posted by crunchburger at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2002

Er, I meant crunchburger, not crunchland.
posted by mediareport at 4:38 PM on September 28, 2002

poetic, not poetry. IMO.
can one read these to blind person?

{what is it?}
(a bear thinking of a bear, the two are identical)
{hmmm, pretty reflective bear}

The definition of poetry is the crux here. I love this stuff though.

mefi platinum Mediareport, and a fine analysis of the content.
posted by clavdivs at 5:07 PM on September 28, 2002

I love this stuff too. Especially the mail art.

I don't think it's poetry in the literary sense; like clavdivs said, it can't be read aloud.

But lists 6 definitions for poetry up top. The last one is closer to what this is:

A quality that suggests poetry, as in grace, beauty, or harmony: the poetry of the dancer's movements

...Maybe they're poems in the sense of having that quality.

Maybe it doesn't really matter all that much. We're a species obsessed with defining.
posted by SoftRain at 5:43 PM on September 28, 2002

How about this definition of poetry: 5 lines, rhyme pattern aabba, and humorously describes the physical features of New Englanders.
posted by Hildago at 6:01 PM on September 28, 2002

why..... thats Mr. Lowell.
posted by clavdivs at 6:10 PM on September 28, 2002

It may surprise you...but I sympathize.

Well, my criticism is directed solely at the work of the Italian artist in the first link. My position: it does not use words, so it is not poetry. I certainly agree that 'collage' is a better description of much of the work featured above than is 'poetry'. But I'm certainly not trying to say none of it is poetry. My definition doesn't speak to what else (art, illustration, layout techniques etc.) can also be present in the work, and is pretty inclusive. Still, I can't bear to call a piece of art that uses no language at all (in the colloquial sense: speaking, words, sentences, the thing they teach you to read in first grade) a poem.
posted by crunchburger at 6:25 PM on September 28, 2002

Ah. I cannot bear that the Russian Futurists have gone unmentioned. What do you literalists think, I wonder of Khlebnikov's delightful Zaum, of words where meaning bows to euphony?

Wonderful, mr. mediareport.
posted by Winterfell at 6:45 PM on September 28, 2002

I hadn't heard of this at all, and poetry or not it's fascinating stuff and right up my alley. Anyone want to recommend books that cover this material? I have to add to my library now.

Fantastic post.
posted by furiousthought at 7:54 PM on September 28, 2002

can one read these to blind person?

there are poems which lose a lot in the translation if read out loud. can't come up with any specific examples off the top of my head but i know some oulipan pieces were structured in a grid so that cells could be read in any linear direction and still make sense. there're others that make extensive use of purely visual puns (tear/tear, polish/Polish are the only ones that come to mind in english, but they make it more interesting by bridging multiple languages)

you could read out all the possible permutations, but that's pretty close to just saying it's a bear thinking of a bear...
posted by juv3nal at 12:45 AM on September 29, 2002

A wonderful post, mediareport. The presentation is so cooly balanced, it actually forces you to think through the links. Here's my attempt at answering the question, although others here have already done it better, imo.

Poetry is difficult translation. Of experience into words. To be poetry it must be translatable, but difficultly so, with a grievous amount of loss of meaning (Tradutore, tradittore) into other languages. I find this test never fails me.

Most visual poetry is universal and so, by not belonging to a particular language and communing with its particular world of meaning (as a verb, not a noun), doesn't count as poetry in my book.

Which has nothing to do with whether it's good or bad. 99,99% of poetry is terrible. Thus the difficulty and the wonder when it miraculously manages to break through and become a new emotion, alongside the original one - or beyond it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:11 AM on September 29, 2002

This is a beautiful, beautiful post, mediareport.

Is this poetry? Absolutely not, in the same sense that a can of Campbell's soup is not art, and of course, yes, absolutely, in the same sense. From what I can tell, visual/concrete/material poetry is simultaneously "anti-poetry"1 and "ultra-poetry"2.

1 "...the language of material poetry is not subject to the conventional rules of grammar and syntax in the common speech, but is ruled by unique visually and structurally oriented models. The communication scheme serves less an understanding of meaning than an understanding of arrangements. It is therefore an aesthetic communication scheme.

2 "...Rimbaud is appreciated for the sensitivity toward letters he demonstrated in the sonnet "Voyelles," but his value to Lettrisme is greater as a destructive writer who showed the way to Dada and Surrealism. Significantly, Tristan Tzara's efforts at the destruction of language are praised, but Isou feels he stopped just short of the final step, reduction of word to letter"
posted by taz at 2:22 AM on September 29, 2002

Heh, pFinch, my old boss. I like this one, possibly the only use of bad Welsh and dingbats in poetry.

Welsh Lit. has just had concrete poetry thrust upon it (Finch's efforts notwithstanding: he's AngloWelsh isn't it, and so off the bardic radar) in the form of this year's crown winning pryddest. The usual arguments about "is it poetry or not" (which usually boil down to "do I like it or not") have emerged - the same thing happened 10 years ago when the Eisteddfod medalled its first pomo nofel Seren Wen ar Gefndir Gwyn (full text online in Welsh and English).

Finch's other job is with the Welsh Academi, where he's behind various efforts to popularise prosody, so he's not all photocopier abuse and Hoover tubes.
posted by ceiriog at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2002

The usual arguments about "is it poetry or not" (which usually boil down to "do I like it or not")

I disagree; I think a lot of us who object to the designation of this stuff as "poetry" like quite a bit of it. It's more a question of how important definitions and distinctions are to you. There are lumpers and splitters (as well as hedgehogs and foxes), and we splitters prefer to keep different kinds of jewelry in different drawers, even though we love them all.
posted by languagehat at 8:04 AM on September 29, 2002

Is there a phrase that conveys the opposite of "pearls before swine?" You all are simply mahvelous.

languagehat, I've found the lumpers/splitters distinction to be one of those wonderful truths that pop up in all sorts of debates. I've also found that I'm not much of a splitter; I rarely encounter a good reason to sustain rigid category boundaries. Where would you put Jeremy Adler's Fairly Automatic Rhymes, for instance? Or Vowel Jubilee? Or the wonderful A Spaceman Has Eaten the Moon? Or the two Peter Spence "poems" linked near the top of this thread?

eddydamascene: the "poetry" designation is a challenge.

Yeah, I see Virgo's "Poema Visual" title as kind of a punk move.
posted by mediareport at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2002

I dislike the term visual poetry only in the sense that it implies translation into words.. like the visually developed poems mentioned above, I am much more biased in favor of the image over the language involvment.

These are indeed visual art.. collages if you will. Whether they contain words or not does not matter.

As for these silly definitions, I care not for them. You could avoid these problems by not labelling this other art 'poetry'. That is the stance of some of you, I know, but I feel that we have different reasons for it. Simply shed the definition, let it go.. one is visual, one involves words and can be visual.. there is bleeding at the boundaries of the categories so to speak which you may deal with as you wish, as I am not one for categories.

And yes, poetry = [difficult] translation, of experience into some words. The words do not have to have some 'sequence', merely.. arrangement ;) And I agree with taz's 'definition' of art. This does not imply that a poem should be some strange word garden, as in those visually developed poems mentioned above. While I enjoy those, I also enjoy more.. impressionistic poetry like Li Bai's work. (I have no idea of the correct usage of 'impressionistic')
Unfortunately I am nearly illiterate in Chinese ;(

[i]Music and poetry are both art, and therefore should have no restrictions.

In other words, if I say it's art, it's art, and if you don't understand it, you're just an ignorant barbarian.[/i]

This is true. But not to say that we are being arrogant. Simply that some people will not get it as much as others. Why is this? Because in art, there is a process, which many people have not much experience with, usually do to unfortunate societal circumstances. There are too many left brained people out there ;)
posted by firestorm at 1:17 AM on September 30, 2002

and, feeling compelled to take a stab at my worst class, I am always disturbed at the audacity of English majors to begin categorizing and analyzing art. That is their job, more or less, however IMO they get into quibbles over little details and miss the big picture because many are unable or inexperienced with art in the first place. This is not a serious issue, or one that comes up so often, more disturbing is the disdain for math and science..

I have many problems with them, but I am sure that I am in the minority here.. furthermore I have many friends who did not hate English class so I must restrain myself.

I only like creative writing. :P
posted by firestorm at 1:20 AM on September 30, 2002

Ugly news: the Postypographika site appears to have been taken over by a domain reseller. It was a fantastic, fantastic resource; I hope someone gets it back online soon.

Fucking domain-
fucking shitheads.

Hmm, I wonder - is that poetry? ;)
posted by mediareport at 7:04 PM on October 10, 2002

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