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Concrete Poetry (1956)
Eugen Gomringer, Switzerland
from Concrete Poetry: A World View, (1968, Indiana University Press)
Language structures in concrete poetry differ in several respects from poems and texts which appear in the flow of literary production in our time.
The visual aspect. Concrete language structures either do not follow the traditional verse and line order or they follow it in such a limited way that one is not reminded of traditional forms (this refers only, to poetry). Longer texts preferably retain the traditional readable forms of presentation. Looking at them one can talk about the accumulation, distribution, analysis, synthesis and arrangement of linguistic signs, of letters and of words. The conventional distribution of these signs is taken into account as one possibility among others, but it is not accepted or used without being challenged. With most structures the distribution of signs follows an inherent law, and certain systems can evolve therefrom. This is a matter of bare linguistic structure, and the visible form of concrete poetry is identical to it structure, as is the case with architecture.
Let us, however, speak of content. The question of content is for the concrete poet strongly related to the question of attitudes toward life in which art is effectively incorporated. If the poet's attitudes are positive and synthetically rationalistic, his poetry will be so. It will not serve as a valve for the release of all sorts of emotions and ideas but will consist of a linguistic structure closely related to the tasks of modern communication, which are influenced by the sciences and by sociological factors. Content is, then, only interesting for the concrete poet if its spiritual and material structure prove to be interesting and can be handled as language.
Information and communication. Concrete language structures are partly unreflected, partly reflected information. They are unreflected when their pictorial sign-character is at the same time a signal which is like a command-followed by a predominately sensory reaction. They are reflected (or aesthetic) information when they are presented as sign schemes. In both cases the poet tries to use the concrete language structure as information conveyed in concise unveiled form. For reasons of communication. Because the basis of good linguistic communication consists of analogous thought structure-or to use behaviorist terminology: analogous pattern structure-as well as of analogous material (sign) structure by way of the open visible presentation of a structure and often psychologically motivated reduction to relatively few signs (or signals). Concrete poem structures can serve to unite various kinds of language, concepts of language and the body of existing signs. They can, or instance, unite the view of the world expressed in the mother tongue with physical reality. Concrete poetry is founded upon the contemporary scientific -technical view of the world and will conic into its own in the synthetic-rationalistic world of tomorrow. If concrete poetry is still considered strange (aesthetically meager or overly-simplified) this is probably due to a lack of insight into the new directions in which our society is developing in thought and action, which in essence contain a new total view of the world.
International-supra national. It is a significant characteristic of the existential necessity of concrete poetry that creations such as those brought together in this volume began to appear almost simultaneously in Europe and South America and that the attitude which made the creation and defense of such structures possible manifested itself here as it did there.
I am therefore convinced that concrete poetry is in the process of realizing the idea of a universal poetry. The time has therefore probably, come for a thorough revision of concepts, knowledge, faith and lack of faith in poetics, if poetry is to exist in earnest and positively in modern society. Unfortunately one can still notice that even intelligent people pretend that they are more naive than they really are as soon as they appear as poets or conic into contact with poetry. As if one would have to speak naively about fundamental questions.
The main languages in this book are German and English. But this should not be considered a final choice of preferred languages. Besides these Spanish and French are also used. This intentional polyglotisim shall bring some living languages into contact with each other as at a party, for instance, or on a flight people from different backgrounds, abilities, and languages as well as outward appearances can be observed. Therefore we also take into consideration modern dialect poetry knowing that dialects represent the linguistic storehouse out of which individual forms and fundamental linguistic experience can be won.
Translated by lrène Montjoye Sinor, Mary Ellen Solt