Visual Poetry: Concrete Poetry and Calligrams

Concrete poetry is a form of text art, like ASCII art and typewriter art. It’s also poetry, the genre known as visual poetry. Concrete poetry uses words and drawings to illustrate a poem. The words are in the image. The text itself forms a visible picture on the page, like a silhouette.

Calligram seems to be another word for concrete poetry. If there is a distinction between them I’m not sure what it is. Maybe calligrams are more about graphic art based visual poetry and concrete poetry is more text based. However they began the line between the two has become blurred.

You know concrete poetry when you see it because the word has become the art, the illustration and the picture holds the words inside it.
Sometimes the poem is written in a shape which can be read in different ways but still make sense. For example, a circle which can be read in any direction.

Concrete poets use use typography: fonts, shape, texture, colour, and sometimes animation to form text art into prose.

Visual Poetry: Concrete Poetry and Calligrams

Concrete Poetry/ Calligram History

Simmias of Rhodes, a 4th century scholar and poet, created poems written in shapes relevant to the subject.
In the Middle Ages when Monks used concrete poetry to illuminate their written text.
Guillaume Apollinaire (Picasso’s friend) composed several calligrams.

How to Critique of Calligrams/ Concrete Poetry

Is it easy to identify the picture with the text?
Is the image relevant to the poem?
Does the image add something (humour, deeper meaning, comprehension) to the poem?
Can the poem stand on it’s own as just a poem?
Does the text help form the image, does the text actually add something to the image?
Are there alternative ways of reading the poem?

Try Creating your own Concrete Poem

Get a general idea of something you could write about. Pick a topic or idea which creates images and thoughts in your mind right away.

Draw a sketch (like an outline) of the idea. Even if you want to work with ASCII art or typewriter art you still need a basic sketch to start with). Imagine yourself as a cartoonist who just has one panel, one image, to tell the story or explain the idea.

Write your poem, get the words at the end of each line to rhyme. Keep it short and keep it simple for your first try visual poetry work. Aim for a total of four rhyming lines.

Take your poem and fit it into your sketch. How do the words add to the sketch? Once you get this far you might change your mind about the sketch and draw it differently or start all over fresh, with a different vision for the image you use with your words.

Go from there and turn your sketch into text art and then type in your words. This adds another challenge as you will have limits imposed by the typewriter or word processing text itself. A hand drawn concrete poem can be moved in any way your hand chooses to draw it. If you create ASCII art, you will (hopefully) enjoy the challenge of concrete poetry and ASCII art.

Concrete Poetry: Artists and Links

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