A Guide for Reading Concrete Poetry

A Guide for Reading Concrete Poetry

(Link via the Internet Archives, the original site is now something else. I wanted to save the post so I have made my own archive of the contents here.)

(Based on Edmund Feldman’s Critical Performance)

Concrete poetry is poetry in which the text itself forms a picture on the page. There are no agreed-upon conventions such as rhyme schemes or syllable counts. Meaning is made from the poem’s visual form as well as the words contained within it. Sometimes the visual structure of the poem makes it possible to put the words together in more than one way. It can be challenging sometimes to know what to read next!

Jon Whyte took concrete poetry to a new level. His work is a complex melding of words and visual form, but it is well worth the effort to try to understand. The questions below are designed to provide a common entry point into Jon’s work for students and teachers alike. They can be used to analyze one poem together as a group, or they can be copied and distributed for individual reflection. These questions can be applied to any of the poems in this exhibit to act a springboard into deeper understanding. As you delve deeper, more questions, specific to the poem at hand, will no doubt emerge. Explore them! That’s where the greatest meaning is to be found. Pick a poem and see where it takes you.

1. What do you see?
Jon Whyte’s poetry is meant to be seen as well as heard. Before you read the words, take a look at the visual form of the poem.
What kinds of lines, shapes, and textures do you see?
Look at the white spaces between the lines of text – what shapes do they make?
What tools did the poet use to write this poem?
Do you recognize the font or typeface?
Has the poet used more than one point size? Why?

2. How is it all put together?
Is there a single word, phrase or space that catches your eye?
Is anything repeated? What patterns can you see?
Begin reading the poem. Where do you start? How do you get to the next line? Experiment with reading the poem in a few different ways, until you find a way that makes sense to you.
What do you have to do physically in order to read this poem?

3. What’s it all about?
Read the poem aloud. When you come across a word you don’t understand, look it up in the dictionary.
Describe in your own words what the poem talks about.
What images, sounds, tastes, textures, or smells does this poem evoke?
Is the poem telling a story, giving you a feeling, or sharing an idea?
Do you think the visual structure of the poem reinforces what the poem is about? Why or why not?
Why do you think the poet arranged the words in this way?
Is there a right way to read this poem, or does it make sense when read in several different ways?
If you could ask the poet a question, what would it be?

4. What do you think?
What do you like about this poem?
Would you change anything about it if you could?
Is it a successful poem? Why or why not?
Would you like to read more poetry by this poet? Why or why not?

Jon Whyte: Keeper of Place || Whyte Museum