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Concrete Poetry: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

It's not usually written on the sidewalk, but concrete poetry can make a writer's ideas just as solid. Read on to find out more about these creative images and to see some fascinating examples.

Concrete Poetry Defined

Do you sometimes have trouble expressing yourself simply using words and rules of grammar? If so, perhaps you should consider writing concrete poetry, a form of verse in which words or lines are arranged to create a physical image. This is achieved when the poet uses word spacing, line length, page orientation, or other physical elements of writing (like typography) to reflect or comment on the poem's subject or theme.

Sometimes referred to as visual or pattern poetry, concrete poetry has been around for about as long as we've had writing systems to exploit artistically. In ancient Greece, poets would arrange their works to take the shapes of axes, musical instruments, altars, and various other items, often using them to adorn temples or for other religious purposes. Even some Jewish traditions have their own early pattern poetry known as Shiviti - poetic meditations on ritual practice and the nature of God which frequently took on the form of the menorah.

The practice of visual poetry remained relatively unchanged throughout the Renaissance and into the modern era. However, following an intense interest in the genre in Brazil during the 1950's and 60's, concrete poets have since experimented more with the relationships existing between words and images. Contemporary writers of pattern poetry like to explore the complex ways in which we assign meaning through language and sensation (like eyesight and hearing), frequently leaving the interpretation of the images as subjective as possible. Let's look at some examples to see if you can detect this progression in the art of concrete poetry.

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Examples of Concrete Poetry

Following the example of the Greeks and others before them, poets of the Renaissance revived the practice of creating visual poetry representative of its typically religious subject. These altar poems, as they were called, were extremely popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, and many of the most famous examples of concrete poetry from this period - such as George Herbert's aptly named 'The Altar' - are actually works of this type.

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