The  (more-or-less) Great  Concrete  Poetry  Debate

 Is this the major argumentum ad cementum of our era?
"Go get 'em, Dad!  . . . (Wake me up when all the discussion is over  . . .  )" 
DEBATE, Part IISITE MAPConcrete Rose Poem

                               EXHIBIT A. What would Keats say?*        
          Photo: Courtesy of the Cement Association of Canada  (Is it better in French? )
   * ("A beaker full of the frozen north," maybe? I think not.)

You might read the poems. . . . 

     Argument-poem #1  The Concrete Rose (more for grownups).
     Argument-poem #2 
Between The Cracks (more for kids). 

. . . and/or the essay:

A case of poetic injustice?

The name "concrete poetry," according to most sources, was created in the 1950's. But that's the era that brought us the Edsel, and boomerang-shaped coffee tables, and living room furniture covered in giant plastic bags, which tried to force us to practice safe living. Perhaps this is a decade whose judgment in aesthetic matters is, shall we say, open to question?  

An unhelpful paradox: "concrete" is abstract

Another point: Kids can easily enjoy and create graphic poetry. It's clearly a fine way to demonstrate that poetry (and words, more broadly) can be fun and interesting. It's also a way to demonstrate thinking outside the box--or outside the lines (which will occur to you, if your book happens to be entitled Outside the Lines: Poetry At Play). But the term "concrete" seems particularly ineffective in relation to kids. To understand its use in the context of poetry really requires a comprehension of "abstract vs. concrete;" that's an opposition which is itself abstract, unfamiliar to most kids, and not easily understandable, either. (Indeed, it's hard to explain in this setting, since "concrete" as part of that opposition in general implies tangible and/or specific--and the "concrete" in "concrete poetry" is in itself a rather eccentric extension of the word: the image created by a concrete poem is only figuratively or relatively "concrete," since it's made of words.)

Yet it's sometimes used to name a literary concept which is simple, easy to understand and enjoy: Poems that take a specific shape, suggesting their subject matter. Why take this concept--indeed, one that is extremely concrete, ironically (at least, until you call it that!) and give it a name that is almost guaranteed to cause confusion? Moreover, letting kids use a name that they probably can't quite grasp tends to make words seem slightly opaque; sometimes that's necessary (and kids can "grow into" a concept), but when there are clearer and simpler alternatives available, to use a more complex term is to impose confusion arbitrarily. In elementary school, you shouldn't have to call a spade an implement. (As kids get older and more sophisticated, they can use both terms, if there's a need to keep "concrete" available.)

There are certainly other names available. Here are some choices, and some thoughts about them:

Picture poetry (best for younger kids, perhaps)

This is quite simple and clear. For the youngest kids who can understand such poetry at all, it might be the best term. However, it might seem too simple or childish to keep using with older kids.

(The debate continues. . . .click here for Part II.)



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