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Approaches to Teaching Concrete Poetry: An Annotated Bibliography
Thom Swiss
College English, Vol. 38, No. 1. (Sep., 1976), pp. 46-49.

It is an unfortunate fact that many contemporary poetry courses fail to examine concrete poetry. It is unfortunate because a knowledge of concrete poetry not only provides valuable insight and inspiration for creative activity concerning language and words, but is absolutely necessary in these times because of the effect concrete poetry is having on metaphor, poetry, and language in general.

Concrete poetry is primarily concerned with the process of human perception and the interdisciplinary cross-over of mediums and aesthetics. By teaching concrete poetry, teachers can encourage students to develop a more flexible and creative attitude toward communication and a dynamic sensibility regarding perceptual experience.

Three types of concrete poetry are generally distinguishable: (1) visual (or optic); (2) phonetic (or sound); and (3) kinetic (moving in a visual succession). The visual poem is intended to be seen like a painting; the sound poem is composed to be listened to like music; and the kinetic poem is constructed to be viewed with a sense of succession, as in a motion picture.

To understand concrete poetry is to realize how dependent the concept of concreteness is on the abstract concepts of space and time. Briefly stated, optic poetry relies on the spatial distinction between form and background, our perception of the dimensions of surface (page, poster, glass, or whatever the material of the poem) as a whole. In phonetic poetry the figure (sound) rises off the ground (silence), producing a configuration of filled time against empty time. And in kinetic poetry the dimensions of the visual figure are extended to produce a temporal configuration only possible through the sense of succession.

Although many people believe the roots of concrete poetry to be media based, concrete poetry can be traced to such diverse origins as the picture writing of Chinese characters and the anagrams of early Christian monks, and later to developments in the fields of architecture, painting, music, sculpture, and industrial design. In its present form, concrete poetry has been with us since the middle 1950s, but too few teachers have explored the areas it opens or adapted the benefits it offers.

It is hoped that the approaches and resources described in this bibliography will serve as a starting point for more thought and research by those teachers interested in developing the use of concrete poetry in the classroom. Concrete poetry, if given the chance, can inspire creativity and give our students further insight into the important processes of language and art.

Beiman, Abbie W. "Concrete Poetry: A Study in Metaphor." Visible Language 8 (Summer 1974): 197-233. [CS 701647][1]

Describes how the advent of concrete poetry has brought about the need to redefine what is meant by metaphor, one of the basic elements of figurative language in all poetry.

Bolton, Gerce M. English 5-6, 7-8: Film Study and Film Making. San Diego, Calif.: San Diego City Schools, 1971. [ED 101 379, 76p.]

Designed as course outline for teaching poetry through film. Approaches for using film as a visual representation for written poems and for using films as visual and kinetic poems in themselves are discussed.

Cameron, Jack and Plattor, Emma. The Literate in the Age of Mass Media. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Reading Association, Kansas City, Mo., 1969. [ED 032 208, 7p.]

Asserts that multisensory stimuli are essential to a concept of literacy broad enough to encompass all aspects of critical and creative communication. One of the poetry projects discussed involves a multisensory approach to student-written haiku.

------. "A Photographic Approach to Poetry." English Journal 62 (January 1973): 60-63. [EJ 074 743]

The same authors outline a course in which students are taught to think directly in terms of visual and kinetic images and then are directed in the use of still and motion picture cameras.

Henderson, David. "Oral Poetry." Coda: Poets and Writers Newsletter 2 (March 1975). Free from Poets and Writers Inc., 201 West 54th St., New York, N.Y. 10019

Discusses the tradition of oral poetry which has come down to us through oracles, troubadors, African drummers, blues singers, and jazz players. An examination of oral poetry can be used in the classroom as a prelude to teaching the history of sound poetry.

Kaufman, Mabel. "Teaching with Artists." The Elementary School Journal 75 (March 1975): 360-356. [PS 503 917]

Describes a program in a New York school in Manhattan in which several visual artists and writers conducted a series of seminars and workshops. Discusses activities valuable for getting students involved with the process of perception and the concept of space.

Layer, Harold A. "Space Language—Three Dimensional Concrete Poetry." Media and Methods 8 (January 1972): 34-36. [EJ 052 032]

Stereopsis is a unique means of depth perception in humans. This article describes various techniques for developing concrete poems by means of a three-dimensional image produced on a typewriter and viewed through a stereoscope.

McLaughlin, Frank. "You Are Looking at the World's First 3-D Concrete Poetry." Media and Methods 9 (October 1972): 80-81. [EJ 064 905]

A follow-up to the article by Layer containing photographs of concrete poems employing stereopsis.

Poggenpohl, Sharon H. "Visible Language: An Experimental Course." Visible Language 7 (Winter 1973): 51-61. [EJ 073561]

In a course at the Institute of Design in Chicago, students learned to depend on associations and invention by relating objects and language in terms of spatial and form relationships.

Powell, Brian. English through Poetry Writing. Itasca, Ill.: F. E. Peacock, Inc., 1968. [ED 033 130, 136p.]

In the unit for writing optic poems, it is suggested that students start by writing poems in particular concrete shapes such as an umbrella or centipede, and later try writing poems using more complex or multiple shapes.

Toomey, Kathleen E. "Poetry Yet Lives." Media and Methods 9 (May 1973): 59-60. [EJ 078 024]

Describes a course entitled "Exploring, Experiencing, and Explicating Contemporary Poetry," which dealt with poetry and sound and the use of various media and audio devices.


Klonsky, Milton, ed. Speaking Pictures: A Gallery of Pictorial Poetry from the Sixteenth Century to the Present. New York: Harmony Books, 1975.

Soit, Mary Ellen. Concrete Poetry: A World View. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1971.

Wildman, Eugene, ed. Anthology of Concretism. Chicago, Ill.: Swallow, 1970.

Williams, Emmett, ed. Anthology of Concrete Poetry. New York: Something Else Press, 1967.

[1] Documents with ED numbers are indexed in Resources in Education. Those with EJ numbers are indexed in Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE). And those with CS and PS numbers are recently acquired materials; ED or EJ numbers will soon be assigned.

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