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United States
Mary Ellen Solt

From Concrete Poetry: A World View (1968, Indiana University Press)

Although a few isolated poets have been making concrete poems for some time, it would be an exaggeration to speak of a concrete poetry movement in the United States. The American concrete poet finds himself in the strange position of being associated with a new formal movement whose origins are foreign and many of whose foundation stones were laid by e. e. cummings and Ezra Pound. Actually the impetus towards concretization has been strong in American poetry since Whitman began to make his long catalogues to name the objects in his New World, leaving the rose for Gertrude Stein.

Until now cummings has remained for the American poet in a place uniquely his own, admired for his original style, death to imitate. Pound, on the other hand, along with William Carlos Williams, has been the most significant influence in contemporary American poetry, particularly upon the development of what is called "Projective Verse," the principles of which were formulated by Charles Olson. Projective Verse differs from concrete poetry very significantly in that it keeps the line and its syntacticalgrammatical structures and because it is fundamentally expressionistic, personal, and concerned with speech--with articulating a series of related perceptions. Its method is "field composition" as opposed to filling in pre-conceived traditional patterns. It is called "open" verse because the poet is restricted by no formal rules except those which arise from the necessities of his perceptions, thoughts and feelings in relation to the breath, which controls the line. The concrete poem is also said to be "open," but that means open to the formal possibilities inherent in particular linguistic materials. The concrete poet concentrates upon the object he is making rather than upon the psychical or personal reasons which have compelled him to make it. This is not to say that Projective Verse neglects form, for like concrete poetry, it sees formal innovation as a present imperative.

Other common denominators can be found between Projective Verse and concrete poetry: the insistence upon the role of breath in the poem is akin to convictions held by phonic concrete poets such as Henri Chopin. Both concrete poetry and projective verse are concerned with atomization of the word, with the syllable. Olson's insistence that "form is never more than an extension of content" is but a hair's breadth away from the concept: form = content / content = form. And Projective Verse and concrete poetry share in common a conviction that some kind of break is necessary with old grammatical and syntactical forms to bring language in line with present human necessities. Olson writes:

. . . the conventions which logic has forced on syntax must be broken open as quietly as must the too set feet of the old line. But an analysis of how far a new poet can stretch the very conventions on which communication by language rests, is too big for these notes, which are meant, I hope it is obvious, merely to get things started.

But the concrete poet sees a need for moving farther away from grammar and syntax to a constellation of words with spatial syntax, or to the ideogram than does Olson, who stays with the line. Also the concrete poet has discovered greater possibilities in the space presented by the page and in the typewriter than Olson suggests:

The irony is, from the machine has come one gain not yet sufficiently observed or used but which leads directly on toward projective verse and its consequences. It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.

It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his own way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages.

It would appear that at the time when poets in Europe and Brazil felt the need in their languages for concretization, the American poet felt a greater need to learn to speak his own American language which, through the efforts of William Carlos Williams, he was just beginning to discover. But even in Williams, who was committed to the use of speech rhythms timed by a musical stress measure, there are strong impulses towards concretization: his insistence that a poem is made of words not of ideas; that it is a construction of language--a made object--a thing in its own right; his use of unedited samples from the real world of speech and daily affairs; the importance of the way his poems look on the page; and in the later poems his use of page space (pause) as a formal unit in the measure. Among Williams' poems there are some which seem almost to want to be concrete: the river passage in PATERSON ill, for instance, in which the lines slant in several directions on the page; or "For a Low Voice," which uses repetitions of "huh," "ha," "heh," "ho," and other devices, somewhat in the manner of the phonetic concrete poet. In "May 1st Tomorrow," the bird sounds, which the poet tells us originate in the mind, "a queer sponge," are strongly suggestive of phonetic poems by the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, whose experiments predate concrete phonetic poetry. "The Testament of Perpetual Change" is strongly kinetic.

Perhaps we were too close to concrete poetry to require a "movement," for with very little effort one can find concrete poems written by distinguished American poets simply included in their collections without its having occurred to anyone to attach a new label. "Julia's Wild" by Louis Zukofsky, constructed upon repetitions of words in a line from Shakespeare s THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (First Folio IV, iv, 202) is an outstanding example. It can be compared to Belloli's "acqua" from the standpoint of its force as meta-language. It is not, however, an audiovisual poem. Its force comes through as a composition of sounds based upon the ten syllables of "Come, shadow, come, and take this shadow up" created by the play of the mind among the words. All of Zukofsky's work, which concentrates upon the musical value of the syllable as the repository of sight, sound and intellection, presents a preoccupation with language as material of the highest and most complexly synthetic order. His Catullus translations, in which he attempts to bring Latin as language into English, may very well be the most concrete translations to date.

Louise Bogan's "Train Tune" is a series constellation published in 1951.

And in Robert Creeley's "Le Fou" (for Charles Olson) we find a fascinating counterpointing (conflict) of the too-slow movement of the old grammar and syntax against the propulsive energy of the new, which moves through the poem in a succession of key words repeated somewhat in the manner of the concrete poem: breath moving slowly breath slow slowly slowly moving slower moving. It is possible to take these words in their exact order in "Le Fou," to arrange them in a spatial structure imitative of the serial poems of Haroldo de Campos, and to make an embryonic ideogram of the essential message of "Le Fou":











Of course Creeley's "ideogram" cannot be fully realized in a reduced concrete structure because its meaning is organic to the more fully stated conflict of structures in "Le Foul" Notice in the poet's final statement ("So slowly . . . we are moving/ away from . . . the usual,/ which is slower than this"), in which the movement of the old and the new run parallel to each other, how the skillfully-placed comma stops the slower grammatical-syntactical movement and throws the poem into the new more propulsive movement:

So slowly (they are waving

we are moving (the trees

away from (go by

which is slower than this, is


(we are moving!

In "Le Fou" form is so little "an extension of content" that one could almost say here ''form = content," for too much grammar in the slower statements in the poem is part of the meaning. Also this very-close to-concrete poem makes us realize that kineticism in the poem is a matter of progression of energy as well as of visual succession.

Impulses toward concrete poetry have, then, been strong in American poetry, but none of the above poets would wish to be or could be labeled "concrete." Concrete tendencies are present, I am sure, in any number of other American poets, in the calligraphic poems of Bob Brown, for instance.

Our painting like our poetry has been dominated by expressionism, but here, too, a strong kinship with certain aspects of the concrete movement can be felt. Jackson Pollock's paintings are, for instance, a kind of writing, which creates a surface analogous to the poetry of surface defended by Franz Mon; and they are related to the TYPOACTIONEN of Hansjorg Mayer. Concrete poets acknowledge the influence of Pollock, as we have seen in the title of Ladislav Novák's book. As was the case in our poetry, strong impulses relating to the concrete movement in art have been felt. Josef Albers, who has used the label "structural constellations," was mentioned in the Brazilian "Pilot Plan" and is greatly admired among concrete poets, also Charles Biederman. Optical painting, which is a reaction to highly subjective and emotional abstract expressionism, belongs to the immediate family of concrete poetry, and we have noted an occasional link with pop art.

When we attempt to assess the role of the United States in the international concrete poetry movement, we run into some difficulty even where poets who are considered to be concrete are concerned; for a complete lack of unity presents itself with respect to both commitment and method. This is due to a large extent, probably, to the fact that American concrete poets have worked in isolation from each other, unaware, for the most part, of other Americans following the same tendencies. Robert Lax, for instance, began writing "vertical" poems with "one word to a line" and others using "typographical innovations" in 1934. "Poem", which is strongly concrete in its repetitions, linguistic play-activity, and ability almost to be read backwards, appeared in the AMERICAN SCHOLAR in 1941. But Lax wasn't thinking "concrete" at the time, and to this day, after having been published on several occasions as a concrete poet, he does not feel ready to make a general statement about concrete poetry. "quiet,/silence", a concrete poem using the mirroring technique, seems to say that there is a quiet, a silence, to which the poem aspires beyond the meaning of words.

Emmett Williams is the first American poet who can properly be called concrete in terms of commitment and consistency of method. He states that he was always "profoundly interested in poetry" and that he came to concrete poetry after having learned "to assess the manipulation of linguistic materials by major poets of the past (under the tutelage of john crowe ransom)." He supposes he saw "no reason to continue manipulating material in the same old way. that is to say, 'make it new' meant, ultimately, to the traditionbound poets of our century, make it as new as you can without stepping on grandpa's toes." He was able to perceive that language as material substance has a poetic content that is entirely its own apart from "poetic" contents to which it can be made to refer: "material meant material to me," Williams states,

and i felt that i could do anything i wanted to with it. collage it, paint it over, isolate every detail and look at it that way, throw it together at random, put it together according to a strict system. it wasn't so much a protest as finding a way, my way, to be a poet under the circumstances of my place and time.

Emmett Williams' "place and time" from 1949 on was to be Europe. There, he writes:

i soon found kindred souls--daniel spoerri, clause bremer, diter rot, gerhard rühm, etc. the results (for daniel, claus and myself) was the darmstadt circle of concrete poets, which flourished from 1957 to 1959, and brought forth the first international anthology of concrete poetry (1958) and books by diter rot and myself.

Strange as it may seem, Emmett Williams wrote most of his first concrete poems in German:

it didn't have to be in german, but i was there, and it seemed the thing to do it in. it wasn't really a german thing we were doing, of course. spoerri was romanian, bremer was german but more oriented toward france, and i was an expatriated american, diter rot was a swiss-oriented german living in iceland.

But he had discovered the impulse towards concretization in his poems before he went to live in Europe. In an unpublished novel THE CLOUDS (1954-55), Aristophanes, "a deceased button-hole puncher" administers the following eye-ear test to the hero:






By making a progressive exchange of letters, the poet transforms sense into sound, sound into sense. From this simple permutational poem, Emmett Williams would go on to become a master of the concrete permutational method.

His originality within this strict systematic method became apparent with the publication of material 3, from which the permutational text constructed with the letter "e" is taken. material was the magazine put out by the Darmstadt Circle, but no. 3 contained only the permutational poems of Emmett Williams. An attempt was made to show the system operating in each text by means of a cut out. An ingenious use of the rubber band in place of conventional binding gave material 3 a distinctively new character as book object. All of the poems were reproduced from a "typewritten original." The significance of the use of the typewriter was explained by Bremer, someone named Riekert, and Spoerri in the introduction:

emmett williams' concretions take their form from the regularity of the machine, they achieve their meanings through the systematic employment of signs. of the available signs of the machine' only the letters of the alphabet and fixed spaces are employed.

The "meanings" of the poems were said to be contained in the "systems" and to "presuppose the systems." Since the "concretions" were "systematic in themselves and related only to themselves, their position on the page [was] left to chance." The text constructed from the letter "e" was said to be:

a concretion showing all possible transportations of four units . . . built with the letter e. the units consist of one, two, three or four letters. the first twelve transpositions read from left to right top to bottom, mirror the second twelve, read from right to left bottom to top.

Emmett Williams has made a variety of experiments. Our small selection cannot begin to do justice to his originality and versatility. His works include "universal poems" made with rubber stamps by spectators in the gallery, a "poetry clock," and a "cellar song for five voices" made of five phrases which operate within a system of 120 permutations:

first voice: somewhere

second voice: bluebirds are flying

third voice: high in the sky

fourth voice: in the cellar

fifth voice: even blackbirds are extinct

During the course of operations the bluebirds and the blackbirds exchange places. "cellar song for five voices" is both a typesetter's and a performer's nightmare, but it emerges visually as a beautiful typographical design entirely organic to the progression of thought within the poem, and it is meant to be performed. It is reported that during its first performance in the Living Theater in New York, the performers became so confused trying to keep the permutations straight they started to giggle; and the director, Jackson Mac Low, had to stop the performance and begin all over again.

The poem "do you remember" operates within a less complex system. The poet's explanation of it appears in the WORD GLOSS. It was "'translated' into a beautiful 6-color, 24-foot long collage" by Alison Knowles, to whom it is dedicated.

In the long kinetic book SWEETHEARTS, one of the most remarkable achievements in concrete poetry to date, Emmett Williams shows us how much can be said with one word of eleven letters within the play activity made possible by a strictly-defined system.

We are able to present only a short sequence. The poet's explanatory notes reveal a great deal about the book:

the structural and textural characteristics of this erotic poem cycle derive from the 11 letters of the word sweethearts. unluckily for the poet 3 or these 11 letters are es and 2 others occur twice so that there are only 7 different ones for word building. from these letters are extracted all the words that make the poem. the position of each letter on the page is determined by its place in the word sweethearts. no single poem can be more than 11 letters wide or 11 letters deep. in addition to the word poems there are kinetic metaphors also constructed from the 11 letters of sweethearts.

The cinematic organizational principle of the book, which is to be read back to front, contributes greatly to the succession of surprises of which the poem consists:

these sections can be animated by flipping the pages fast enough to achieve a primitive cinematic effect. the words and the kinetic visual metaphors work hand in hand to express what the poem is all about. the author feels that this fusion is best achieved by beginning the book where in the west books traditionally end.

To read a book backwards is a renewing experience. But above and beyond this SWEETHEARTS is Iyrical, metaphorical, witty, thoroughly delightful. It was interpreted typographically by Hansjörg Mayer.

Emmett Williams is also the editor of the large hard-cover: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONCRETE POETRY, recently published by the Something Else Press, New York.

Three other American poets working as part of the international movement--another Williams, Jonathan, publisher of Jargon books, Ronald Johnson, and myself--also became aware of concrete poetry through European contacts, specifically Ian Hamilton Finlay. Jonathan Williams' "The Crooked Cake of Leo Cesspooch; or How I Survived Bucolic Plague & Came unto Concrete" is the closest thing we have to date to an American manifesto. Jonathan Williams states that he began corresponding with Ian Hamilton Finlay in 1960 and began writing in the concrete manner in 1962 during a hike through the Lake District with Ronald Johnson. He had previously been associated with Projective Verse as the result of his having attended Black Mountain College.

Jonathan Williams is fascinated by the kind of word play that allows the poet to make new words from old, to substitute new words for expected old words, or to find words within words, as in "From Colonel Bert Brecht's Alabama Song Bag", "Be My Bloody Valentine", and "news from other small worlds". He likes to make poems from whatever is at hand in the world around him, whether it is segregationist signs for public facilities--"black only white only"--or the tiny miracle the "instant". The Civil Rights poems protesting the tragic brutalities of the attempts to keep dead Jim Crow attitudes towards the American Negro alive are as savagely humorous and damning as the brief "instant" of words is delicate and Iyrical. Jonathan Williams along with Emmett Williams signed Garnier's POSITION I DU MOUVEMENT INTERNATIONAL.

Ronald Johnson sees "The Round Earth on Flat Paper." His influences have been:

Samuel Palmer: his "thirty-three moons and vast flaming suns but never a cast shadow," the curved arrows on black and yellow road signs, both Thoreau's square yard of earth and Agassiz's fish, and Charles Olson, Ian Finlay and the typewriter.

Although the typewriter is essential to his work in the more traditional modes, his impetus towards concretization is calligraphic:

As I am unable to think except on the typewriter, my poems have been, from the beginning, all 8 1/2" X 11". This is not only misunderstood by the printers, it is ignored. And if one should happen to bring it to their attention they say--do it yourself. So I have. I have begun to make my own letters and to think in ink. Besides 8 1/2" X 11" is too small, or too large, or the wrong shape for a barn, an ant, or the sun above them.

The letters of both "eyelevel" and MAZE, MANE, WANE were made by the poet himself. The latter "is a maze mostly," the poet writes, because:

one tends to read left to right at first & it makes no sense. Then one sees the vertical words: MAZE, MANE, WANE & thinks, trapped as I planned, to read it that way. But the way out of the maze is a visual one & one sees at last that it is simply three words MAZE (since the M's & W are made exactly alike, as are the Z & N's, so that the W is simply an upside down M, etc.) So it is actually the word maze making itself into one. And as an added delight, there are the handsome words MAZE, MANE, WANE.

What delights Johnson about the new poetry that suddenly we can see the poem:

Till recently, poetry, like prose, has been invisible. We can now make a line of poetry as visible as a row of trees. We may see, not through, but with the letters. (The 't' leaves. An 'r' branches. The 'e's' have annual rings. Beloqv, the snake believes it is an 's'.) It is a magical world where all is possible. And placed properly on the page an 'I' can not merely resemble but have all the structural capabilities of an I-beam. An 'O' can rise, like the real moon, over the word 'moon'.... One could spend a lifetime writing with just the 26 letters of the alphabet.

"Most people," he goes on to say, "think of concrete poetry as an art of exclusion, but this is only true in that the poet is seeing the world in a grain of sand. The preceding 'period' is the grain of sand? It is the poet's business to make us believe it."
Like Emmett Williams I learned from the New Critics to stay with the text. I could go along with them very well as long as "poetry" was being discussed, but when the dialogue got down to specifics, we never seemed to be talking about the same "poem." They were defending T. S. Eliot, the tradition, and the metrical line; I kept trying to say that William Carlos Williams had made it possible to use the space at the beginning of the line as a structural unit in the measure. The New Critics thought Williams was a poet who somehow managed to make it in spite of the fact that he couldn't or couldn't be bothered to learn his "meters." But from R. P. Blackmur, who was associated with the New Critics, I learned two very valuable things: (1) that whatever a poem is, it is revealed in its language and (2) that any poem is not so much a statement as it is, as Fahlström also said, a net of interacting linguistic relations or "reticulations." Meter was essential, he claimed, because it enabled the poet to achieve a tighter rhythmic organization and, consequently, more "reticulations."

William Carlos Williams objected to the metrical line on the grounds that it couldn't accommodate the rhythms of the American speech idiom and that it forced the poet to use words he didn't need just to fill in the pattern. The word the poet doesn't need isn't poetry. Pattern, of some kind is essential to poetry, he claimed, but it should be structural, organic to the poet's thoughts and feelings, not superimposed from the outside. Furthermore he said that the "spaces between the words" must now be taken into account as part of the measure. When I insisted that William Carlos Williams had brought space into his measure as a "variable foot," no one was convinced. "Space can't be a foot," they would argue. I now agree with them. It can be a great deal more. But I was convinced Williams had used space as pause, somehow, in his later poems; he insisted there was structural pattern in his poetry; so it behooved me to find out what kind.

I devised a system with the help of linguistics for transcribing the patterns of William Carlos Williams' speech as he read his poems on records or tapes. When I started to translate the symbols back into words, I found a patterned use of pause (space) in the late step-down line poems and semantic serial patterns running vertically through all the poems-- embryonic poems within the larger structure. These serial patterns were made up, for the most part, of single words and simple grammatical structures. There was a good deal of word repetition, and the grammatical elements which grouped themselves together tended to be of the same construction. It was these interacting serial patterns that held Williams' poems together structurally; and in the late poems he was able to bring space (pause) into the structure as a formal element. The horizontal "line" or "measure" was simply a timing device based upon the isochronic speech accents inherited from Anglo-Saxon, which are spaced wider apart than metrical stresses. This meant that William Carlos Williams could accommodate more speech rhythms in his line; and the lack of set metrical pattern eliminated the necessity for padding. When I tried to analyze traditional metrical poems using my own speech, I found essentially the same things. There was less pattern where pause was concerned, there were more so-called iambic patterns, the rhythmic units were shorter for the most part, but there were the same kinds of semantic serial patterns running vertically through the poem made up of single, often repeated, words and simple, often parallel, grammatical constructions. I now believe that William Carlos Williams carried the stress line as far as it can go. The next step is prose or a new concept of structural organization. Projective Verse substituted a breath line for the stress line and kept much of the old grammatical baggage. What did concrete poetry do?

As I see it, concrete poetry as defined by Gomringer, Fahlstrom, and the Noigandres group, Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and Pignatari, keeps the three essential elements of poetry: pattern, semantic serial structure, and the net of interacting linguistic relations--reticulation or "play-activity," as Gomringer defined it. The innate serial organization of poetic thought is given form in "constellations" or "ideograms" whose "meter" ( or framework ) is space, structurally accommodated space. The play-activity of linguistic elements operates within this controlled spatial area. Belloli has been able to organize semantic serial patterns by means of a structural use of typography. In "cristal fome" and "fala prata cala ouro" by Haroldo de Campos, the serial patterns achieve form in a manner remarkably close to idiomatic speech structure. The kinship the Noigandres poets felt with the serial compositions of Webern, as in our cover poem, was central to their endeavors and not "inspiration."

I was having a great deal of trouble with my own poetry when I found the serial patterns in the poems of William Carlos Williams and in traditional poems. But it didn't occur to me, as it occurred to Gomringer and the Brazilians, to get rid of the line, which never seemed to want to stay where I put it. It didn't occur to me either that I could get rid of the too-many words that were glutting the lines of my poems by isolating essential serial structures. But one day in March of 1963, I wanted to write a poem about some yellow crocuses blooming outside my window in the snow. I had been trying to read the Portuguese anthology of Brazilian concrete poetry, POESIA CONCRETA, with the aid of a dictionary. (Ian Hamilton Finlay had introduced me to Brazilian concrete poetry when I visited him in Edinburgh the preceding August.) I had probably read the "Pilot Plan," but I didn't begin to understand it. I began to make a poem from words beginning with the letters of YELLOW CROCUS. When I had finished the first series of words, another series seemed to want to be made from words beginning with the final letters of the words I had made from YELLOW CROCUS. Also the form seemed to want to be circular, moving out from center, so I found myself turning the page around and around. When I had finished, the serial order of the words and the page turning round and round seemed important to me; also I felt that making my own letters and from them a visual object had brought me closer to words than I had ever been before. But I knew immediately there was something wrong with the poem. The circular form moving out from center had nothing to do with the way crocuses grow, and the words were not closely enough related to each other. It occurred to me, though, that the form I had just made was suitable for a poem about a rose, for the rose grows in circles out from center. So I wrote a poem called WHITE ROSE, which I sent to Finlay. To my surprise he printed it in POOR OLD TIRED HORSE. I went on to make a book of flower poems in which I attempted to relate the word as object to the object to which it refers by studying the law of growth of the flower and making a visual equivalent. If there was a text, I used the serial method based on the letters in the name of the flower. When the text could not be incorporated within the visual pattern, I made two poems: a serial text and a visual object. There were some one-word poems, and in two instances I found an identity between the form of the letter and the form of the flower. The poems were primarily expressionistic, but I felt the need for a formal system inherent in the words.

FORSYTHIA, made from the letters of the word and their equivalents in the Morse Code, is one of these poems. When John Dearstyne was able to make typographical versions of all but one of the calligraphic originals ( "DOGWOOD" ), I knew I would have to face up to the problem of typography. There is no doubt in my mind that I feel closer to words when I make my own letters, but the machine makes them so much better. Unless, like Ronald Johnson, the poet is a good enough calligrapher to compete with printed letters, I think he should give up calligraphy. Occasionally, as in "bleiben" by Gerhard Rühm and in the "calligrams" of Julio Campal, the gesture of writing with the human hand is of semantic significance and entirely justified.

"moonshot sonnet" was made from the scientists' markings on the first photos of the moon. I noticed that by simply copying these symbols I could make a visual sonnet. No one has been able to write a sonnet to the moon since the Renaissance, and I could not do it unless I was willing to incorporate its new scientific content. The moon has become a different object.

The sonnet was a supra-national, supra-lingual form like the concrete poem. "moonshot sonnet" is both a spoof of old forms and a statement about the necessity for new ones.

The pure concrete poems we have looked at would seem to have proved Gomringer's thesis that reduced language reveals man as a sane, rational being. This is a poetry primarily of nouns, as though man now has the need to say the unqualified names of things over and over again to restore life to words and actuality to objects. The other parts of speech and simple grammatical constructions are used with the utmost care and economy. In "animals yes animals", Dick Higgins illustrates the point in a different way. Using most of the parts of speech, one interrogative sentence, and prepositional and participial phrases, he shows us that by adding a minimum of grammatical construction man can be revealed as an irrational if not insane animal.

"animals yes animals" meets Gomringer's overall requirements for the constellation. First of all it states a thesis at the beginning, which is joined by the middle and the end of the poem: "animals yes animals/ wi th ba by y c a rriag es/ hot anima is." Its antithesis is a question, the one grammatical sentence in the poem: "how come animals." "animals yes animals" and "how come animals" are counterpointed against each other here and there throughout the poem. The rest of the poem develops the thesis and antithesis. It shows man behaving as an irrational animal. And since he behaves like one, that's "how come" he is one. Man's tools and machines are identified with his animal nature. "Winches" could easily be a slightly wrong pronunciation of "wenches"; "toots" could easily be read also as "toots," the somewhat derogatory slang word for a girl, echoing also, in some contexts, "tits"; "animals animals observing drills" suggests the herd, and the animals also climb drills. Their "car riages" carry baby animals. Clothes serve either to reveal the animal (bikinis) or to hide it by dressing it up ("elegant" animals). Newspapers do nothing but describe man's animal nature. But there are some higher-thananimal achievements. The animals have made stamp collections, to save something of value from their communications, and light bulbs (but the word breaks down: "bu lbs" to suggest "boo"--they are afraid of the light). The man in the animal hears the "tick sock" of his time running out, and he is moved in some kind of direction by tugboats pulling him along.

In addition to its thesis-antithesis thought organization, "animals yes animals" meets Gomringer's requirement that the long concrete poem must be organized in a manner resembling traditional poetry so that it can be read without difficulty in the way in which we are accustomed to read poems. "animals yes animals" proceeds in spatially-punctuated unheroic "couplets." But it adds a spatial (graphic) dimension taken over from the shorter visual concrete poem. As the number of spaces within the line and the number of words decreases while the word play gradually reduces man from an animal with a "baby car riage" (suggesting "rage") to a baby animal babbling in a baby carriage, space intrudes more and more into the poem until the baby animal says "by y" ("be" /"bye"), and there is nothing but space left at the center of the poem. Having been abandoned in space, the baby animal man speaks at the beginning of the second half of the poem in senseless broken down sounds of the word "carriages." "rriag" is almost "rage." The poem begins to push itself back into space with a restatement of the thesis-antithesis: "animals how come animals" followed by an acceleration of pace, accomplished for the most part by breaking apart the words at the ends of the lines and by an increase in the number of short interjections. As the result of this acceleration to fill in page space and let more space back into the poem, "tick sock" begins to fall apart, isolating the hard sound of the word for time and at the same time increasing its hollow sound. The fractured state of language in the second part of the poem and the accompanying acceleration in speed suggest that if this should go on indefinitely, the poem (and the animals) would eventually be catapulted into madness. But the poem stops. The word "cheers" is brought in to replace "toots" at the end of the poem: "animals ea tiny cheers shoo skat animals wow hot anima [ted] is." The only thing that brings them to life (animation) is lust. The space of the page has, then, been used semantically. Within the poem, space serves as punctuation creating semantic-syntactic structures. This process creates also highly accentuated, accelerating-decelerating rhythms. A riot of linguistic play-activity goes on within the horizontal spatially-organized visual structure, which bears some resemblance to couplets and stanzas.

The irrationality in "animals yes animals" is kept under control by still more formal conventions we have learned to associate with the constellation and the ideogram: repetition and serial composition. There are seven serial structures running through this poem; and when one examines them, its meaning as realized in its structure becomes clearer. The serial patterns are organized as follows:

(1) The repeated noun "animals." This is the most obvious constant, but it is varied on occasion by repeating the word more quickly: "animals animals" or "animals animals animals."

(2) A counterpointed series thesis-antithesis: "animals yes animals"--"how come animals." The fracturing or atomizing of the word in this series occurs in the word "animals" ("anim als" "and mals). The way the word is atomized suggests that the words "animate" and "animated" are unable to complete themselves. "yes" is separated from its phrase twice for emphasis: "yes animals."

(3) The word animals + a prepositional phrase beginning with "with": animals with newspapers, stamp collections, bikinis, baby carriages, baby car riages, light bu Ibs, ba by y c a rriag es, st amp collections, light bulbs, wi th stamp collections, little noses. The atomized words here say a great deal. We have discussed the break down of "bulbs" and "baby carriages" except to say that the latter atomized phrase is not put back together again after man has been reduced to a babbling infant in a carriage at the center of the poem. "light bu lb," on the other hand, is atomized first (suggesting fear of the light) and made whole again to suggest that man has at least the little light he is able to manufacture. The breaking apart of "st amp collections" and "wi th stamp collections" in the last half of the poem suggests that the little things man has managed to collect from the envelopes (surfaces) of his communications are now disintegrating.

(4) The word animals + an adjectival, participial phrase. Participles are the closest we get to verbs in the poem. The animals are not acting so much as describing themselves by what they are doing:
observing winches [wenches], drills, hair

riding winches [wenches], toots, toots

eating toots, tugboats, toots, toots, toots, hair, cheers

collecting winches [wenches], winches [wenches], tugboats

climbing hair, drills

rapi [ng] dly animals (relates to series no. 5)

coming with tugboats, animals coming with tugboats

(both relate to series no. 3.)

Word atomizations in series 4 are provocative:

animals climbing ha ir

animals rapi [ng]

animals riding toots dly animals

animals eat ing toots

an imals collecting winches [wenches]

animal s observ ing hair

animal s eating toots

animals coming wit h tugboats (This is the one note of hope in the poem. Whatever it is that is pulling the animals along may be "coming wit" [evolving reason or intelligence], which the organization of the poem also suggests.

animals collecting tugb oats

ani mals collecting tugboats

animals ea tiny hair

animals ea tiny cheers

There is a progression of sound from "toots" to "ing toots" to "ea tiny hair" to "ea tiny cheers" which suggests that even the animals' noises are getting less and less loud and strong and more and more tinkling and nonsensical. The poem ends with "cheers" instead of "toots."

(5) Adverbs + the word "animals." Since there aren't any real actions (verbs) to modify, the adverbs qualify the noun "animals": quickly animals, soupily animals, hardly animals, rapidly animals. Word atomization in this series produces: ra[h] pi[d] dly animals rap[ing] rapidly animals.
q uickly animals (suggesting "wickly" -- a brief,

fluttering light; perhaps, also, "wickedly.")

soupily anima[ted] Is

s[t] oupi[d]ly animals

(6) Adjectives + the word "animals." Choosy, big, elegant, hot, bo red. Word atomizations suggest:

ele gant (elegant gaunt animals)

bo red (empty sex)

an imals (nonsense)

ani mals (any + the prefix "mal")

hot anima [ted] Is (animals animated by lust)

(7) A series of words for special effects--usually interjections--but including sound words, commands. Since these words usually function in relation to the surrounding syntax, we will include it but not attempt ro reproduce the spacing. Words in series 7 will be italicized:

quickly animals shoo skat

hardly animals ouch

animals ouch animals shoo skat

tick tock yes animals

quickly animals hey oh animals eating toots

tick tock yes animals

animals eating toots wow eleganr animals ouch

animals collecting tugboats ouch

animals hey hot animals ho red animals (bo[y] red ani


wow animals eating hair

shoo skat animals wow hot animals

Word atomizations in series 7 are:

o uch animals

hey o h animals

tick toc k yes

tugb oats ouch (here rhe word game landed the poet

in a bad combination, which he


bo rcd animals (functions also in series 6).

It should be noted that in the first section of the poem often the "lines" end in semantic-syntactic pairs and in nonsense, when it's apt. In the second section, in which the language seems to be breaking apart, semantic combinations at the ends of lines are less frequent.

In "animals yes animals" Higgins has enlarged the possibilities of the long constellation by showing us that the long serially-structured poem need not be restricted to a long straight line of variations within one grammatical pattern. Using space semantically, as is done in shorter concrete poems, he has at the same time shown us that by employing concrete methods of word repetition and serial composition in relation to a wider variety of grammatical elements, a complex subject can be handled concretely. The result is, of course, a more rhythmic and complex play-activity which reintroduces some of the rhythmic elements and complexity of the traditionally-structured poem. The short concrete poem has achieved simplification and clarification of language, but it isn't likely that the poem will rest entirely content in this rarefied zone. Gomringer has insisted that the concrete poem is capable of accommodating content of equal significance to the traditional poem. In some of his latest work he seems also to be returning to more complex syntacticalgrammatical relationships.

Dick Higgins was born in England, but he has lived in the United States since 1958. He is the publisher of Emmett Williams' AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONCRETE POETRY and other avant-garde works (Something Else Press).

Aram Saroyan, who is the son of William Saroyan, places the word in the most literally autonomous position of all the poets in this selection. He depends while working completely on the typewriter and the word. His "obsolete red-top Royal Portable," he states, "is the biggest influence on my work." If its typeface, "standard pica," were different, he believes that he would write " ( subtly ) different poems." He is "sure" that when the "ribbon gets dull', his poems "change." The remarks below indicate that Saroyan takes the McLuhan approach to the word: "the medium is the massage":

I began as a "regular" poet, imitating effects I liked in Creeley, Ashbery, everybody. Then one night by accident I typed eyeye. I didn't know what it was. Someone else saw it and said--yes! That was about two years ago. For a year after that I did plenty of visual poems. But differently than the concrete poets....

As McLuhan says, you can't make the new medium do the old job. The information in a new poem can't be the same as the information in an old poem In a visual poem an "imitation" of the shape of an object outside the poem, let's say like the horizon of Holland (to use Finlay), well that's the same type of describing, really, as an old linear poem does. In a good visual poem there are no horizons, fields, kisses, hugs, sentiments etc. bur those implicitly inside the shape of the word constellation, which never never never should refer outside--to anything outside it. After all they've been doing shaped poems for centuries. That's entirely old--ruinously old.

What interests me now is that new poetry isn't going to be poetry for reading. It's going to be for looking at, that is if it's poetry to be printed and not taped. I mean book, print culture, is finished. Words disappeared in sentences, meanings, information, in the process that is reading (a boring, very boring moving of the eyes) that is the same in a poem by Edgar Guest as it is in a poem by Creeley--and, yes The Media Is The Message, and reading is nothing as a medium at all, it's finished if literature is an art form because the process of moving the eyes is antique, has nothing to do with what eyes are doing now--like in painting, really since impressionism, the eyes haven't been directed. And I mean, still, there's no such thing as looking at writing--looking at words on a page--you have to start at the beginning and READ! That has absolutely nothing to do with words, and they (these) are the message. No information in them but themselves.

I mean for real! No more reading! If you have to read, resolve any structure of language into a meaning, well that's just it--it resolves! The words disappear into a meaning. What are words?

If the next step beyond William Carlos Williams is prose or non-linear form, what is the next step beyond Saroyan? Out of words? Back to more words? Where? There can be no doubt that "etc." says it. The question is, could it be said with less? More could be said with less: "etc."

Also Saroyan's statement that his typewriter is his strongest influence raises interesting questions. Does this mean that his poems should be presented as typewriter poems? Which is truer, the beautiful typographical version of "crickets" made by Gregory Hull at the Bath School of Art under the direction of Hansjörg Mayer or the typewriter version made by the poet? The typographical artist was able to show us more clearly the geometrical visual structure Saroyan put in his poem, which is more difficult to see in the columnar typewriter arrangement. The reader, the individual poet, will have to decide for himself, but the typewriter poet seems to be in much the same position as the calligraphic poet. Can he really compete with the resources of typography unless he is making a work of art on the typewriter like Kolar, Valoch, the Garniers, or Houédard? What is suggested by the two versions of "crickets" is that the presentation medium is the message as well as the word, that there is poetry to be made from it. The artist typographer can't make a good visual poem out of a poor visual-linguistic conception, but he can interpret a good visual poem as a pianist interprets a musical score, perhaps better than the composer. This is probably the most basic problem the visual poet must come to terms with, for questions of artistic integrity are involved.

Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim is the most experimental of the American poets in this selection. He does not consider himself a concrete poet in the strict definition of the term. He seems to be interested in bringing into the poem materials and methods made available by technology in both visual and phonetic poetry. In the catalogue for an exhibition at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, THE ARTS IN FUSION, organized, I believe, by Flarsheim, it was stated that "such works as Flarsheim's conceptual clouds, Rot's ideograms, and Flynt's concept-art point the way," perhaps, "for an eventual fusion of the arts and sciences." "PØEM 1' is one of two "poems for creative and non-creative computers." Flarsheim refers to them as "programs for computer" since they are not "computer generated." "I am not particularly interested in computer activity, the poet writes:

the program, since it is written in Fortran, is quite interesting in itself. So far as I am concerned, it could be considered a poem since it is strongly structured due to the inflexibility of the language....

The languages with which we address the computer are of two types: low level (example: S. P. S., Autocoder) or high level (example: Cobol, FORTRAN, Pl/1 (the latter is an adaptation or dialect of ALGOL). We can program a computer to react by some type of logic to a RANDOM structured input. Then the result--seemingly unpredictable--is as predictable as the score in a baseball game if we make up the rules and have no control over who comes up to bat and who is out in field. The "Random Generator Program" is an input tape which feeds a large group of random symbols to the machine and lets the machine react to those symbols under the control of our program. The question arises: If the score is a poem, why not the program which controls the score? Or to put it more cosmically: if we are allowed to write poems, why not God?

We have yet to see an impressive poem or word object made by the computer, although it has achieved provocative results in graphics and musical composition. Both of our so-called computer poems were poet generated.

There is a kinship in Flarsheim's "Saturday, August 27" with William Carlos Williams' method of jotting down notes and samples of actual speech on prescription slips, the backs of envelopes, appointments calendars, etc., which he would often later incorporate into poems. Flarsheim goes one step farther by bringing the calendar page itself into the poem as part of its material, so that we are made aware of the relationship of particular things to particular events in particular time. Considering what is written upon it, the calendar page is more important than any other piece of paper with words written or printed on it on the poet's desk on Saturday, August 27; for when the scientist finds it necessary to make a revision of the rules, so does the poet.

The "Mirror Field" is created by predominately large letters which reverse themselves in pattern groups. The same kind of "mirroring" can also be found within the "Random Field" of predominately small letters.

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