The (more or less) Great  Concrete Poetry Debate, Part II

 (For a look at Part I, click here.)

" . . . Hey! I asked you not to wake me until this debate's done . . .and it's only half-over! . . ."
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Shape poetry / shaped poetry / shape poetics, etc.

These terms all make sense, but I find that most words that apply to shape, design, and so on--words that normally apply to what we can see--have been used so often figuratively, in relation to literature, that it takes a slightly uncomfortable effort to bear in mind that we'd be using them literally here. (Not that kids would have this problem.) That is, a sentence that
                     concrete pouring.jpg  
                     Poetic  material to pore over?

reads "This is a carefully-shaped work" can apply to visual art, written art, or music, and most crafts, too. Indeed, "to shape" something can mean not only "to create" but often "to create well." Also, the combinations of "shape-" and "poet-" are all a bit awkward to say, with those two plosives bumping together.  

Visual poetry

May raise an issue similar to the word "shape." That is, the word "visual" is used frequently and effectively in discussing writing, to mean "vivid" and "descriptive." Borrowing it for this occasional literal meaning might perhaps create a bit of confusion. 

Graphic poetry (perhaps the first choice)

To me, this works the best, especially for kids. True, it shares the same problem as words like "shaped" and visual;" that is, "graphic" too is often used to describe the content (as opposed to the form) of writing. And in this case, there's another issue: "graphic" is applied to harsh subjects that may even be unpleasantly explicit (As in "Be forewarned, this material is pretty graphic"). Yet that usage will rarely, if ever, be encountered by most kids--probably less often than the literary use of "visual," or "shape," and certainly not often enough to create confusion.

More important, though, is a unique distinction: Thanks to the ubiquitous use of "graphic" in computer contexts, most kids know that this word--whether as noun or adjective--typically is a term that concerns a picture or image. Indeed, that's probably the first, the commonest, and maybe the only use of the word most people will now encounter, growing up. Moreover, "graphic poetry" is easy to say and hear.

Now "see-hear"? (Very perhaps.)

Maybe a case could be made for see-hear poetry too, though, especially so where kids are concerned. One of the interesting things about poetry--so evident that it can be missed--is that poetry is a heard art, at least in the mind's ear. So when a poem has a visual aspect too, it stands at an interesting juncture.

A side issue: Some say that concrete/graphic poetry does not appeal to the ear, or at least need not. Of course, that's sometimes true, yet such poetry may have an aural aspect too, and may even incorporate traditional rhythm and rhyme (as mine often does). That's why see-hear poetry might be a good term; it emphasizes both possibilities. (It need not insist that both be present.) Compared to it, graphic poetry--while more elegant and grown-up--is perhaps somewhat less meaningful: It emphasizes that this poetry has a visual element, yes; but it does not serve as a reminder that there can be an aural element too.

Against see-hear poetry is that it may be a bit self-conscious. But that can be a function of novelty. The slang term "24/7" seemed self-conscious to me; now it seems simply useful. Also, the explicitness can be useful for kids. (And the implied reference to "Now, see here!"--in terms of "Hey, look at this!"--has some utility, too.)

Time to resolve this burning issue?

In any case, this might be discussed in an appropriately civilized way--indeed, an aesthetic way--by means of poems, when possible. Whether or not this becomes a front-page controversy (I'm not holding my breath), I have offered some contributions to such a theoretical discussion, in the form of two debate-poems, which are examples of argumentum ad cementum: One is called 
The Concrete Rose (more for grownups); the other is Between The Cracks (more for kids). Let the rhymes begin.

(You're invited to add your own thoughts on "concrete vs. graphic vs. shaped" and so on, in an e-mail, or on this site's



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