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My idea this week was to cover something fun and easy. As we have already looked at the Nonet and the Cinquain, I thought it might be fun to try an Etheree. An Etheree forms a geometric as it is built of words or syllables ascending from one to ten or it can be inverted descending from ten to one or you can build one on top of the other making a double etheree and can keep going for as long as the topic requires.  Built of 10 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 syllables (or words). Etheree can also be reversed and written 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Or doubled: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. As you see when you get to the middle you double the line so if you begin with a reverse etheree 10 to 1, you would repeat 1 and ascend to 10.

However, I couldn’t stop there. While examining the idea of the etheree with the hourglass, diamond, and triangle shapes they make, I thought of all the clever poems I’ve seen that form shapes from apples to reclining figures by using only words. We have had many poets linking with OneStopPoetry and dVersePoets employing this form in extremely sophisticated ways.

I came to know these types of forms are referred to by many names – shape poems, pattern poems, concrete poems to name a few. They are also sometimes referred to as visual poems.  Some write about them using the terms interchangeably. Upon deeper research, however, I found there are some important distinctions made particularly regarding shape and concrete poems.

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol used the pattern form for The Mouse’s Tale which can be found here.  I found that writing poetry is sometimes introduced to school children through this method, giving them a shape such as a ball or an apple and having them write a poem inside that shape about that thing.  In an age of computers with html codes this makes sense. Here’s my take on a tennis ball in this method:

Serving Love

Several poets have written shape poems very effectively. Poets have actually been doing this for a very long time. In 1633, George Herbert’s Easter Wings was printed on two facing pages (one stanza per page), sideways, so that the lines would call to mind birds flying up with outstretched wings.  

And I found these two clever, modern “shape poems” by Patrick Winstanley:

The first definition of concrete poetry I found was this: A concrete poem is one that takes the shape of the object it describes. So the above poems fit that definition.

This became for some poets very serious poetry.  Not done for fun, or tongue in cheek as the two above. These visual poems are related to typewriter poems, and micrography.  There are many techniques involved in getting them done. Concrete poetry is a kind of multimedia beginning as I perceive it. Through it art and philosophy converge in poem. The term “concrete” was started in the 1950s by a group of  Brazilian poets called the Noigandres.  Its principal tenet is that using words as part of a specifically visual work allows for the words themselves to become part of the poetry, rather than just unseen vehicles for ideas. The original manifesto says:

Concrete poetry begins by assuming a total responsibility before language: accepting the premise of the historical idiom as the indispensable nucleus of communication, it refuses to absorb words as mere indifferent vehicles, without life, without personality without history — taboo-tombs in which convention insists on burying the idea.

The idea resonated with poets and artists of the period. Painters began to incorporate text into their work. Poets began thinking philosophically about the meaning of words. Just as Beth did for our Taboo topic in Poetics this week.  I was struck by her post as I was researching this piece at the time.

Richard Lanham argues that language itself must be made of simple parts. That is, the characters that are the building blocks of language must be easy to comprehend and the caligraphy unobtrusive. This is because a reader must be able to internalize an alphabet and effectively look “through” the characters to the meanings they convey. For example, when reading a book, one is often not aware of looking at marks of ink on paper. One is much more aware of the ideas that live under the surface of the words.

This typographical philosophy—simplicity, clarity, transparency—has dominated print culture since the advent of the printing press, Lanham argues. But the twentieth century saw several movements in art and poetry that called this philosophy into question, using typography itself as a medium for meaning, preventing people from looking “through” words and forcing readers to look “at” them.

Around the same time, Dada was gaining strength as a coherent artistic movement in Europe. Rebellious against traditional art forms, Dadaists were concerned with spontaneity, automatic writing, and chance operations. Collage became an important element in both art and poetry, as did typography. Dadaist Tristan Tzara urged poets to cut words out of newspapers, while artist Kurt Schwitters designed poems with anthropomorphic letters—the character “B” with feet and arms, for example. Dadaists were also interested in poems that were ephemeral and erasable, such as poems written in sand or on a blackboard.

Poetic interest in typography returned in the 1950s and 1960s in the form of Concrete Poetry. These were poems that took certain shapes and could only be grasped when seen on a page. Poet Reinhard Döhl, for example, wrote a concrete poem in the shape of an apple made up entirely of the word “apple” and one instance of the word “worm.” Eugen Gomringer’s 1954 poem “Schweigen,” which consists of iterations of the word “schweigen,” a German word relating to silence, which surround an empty, silent space in the third line:

The silent space in the third line is the crux of the poem, wrote scholar Roberto Simanowski in the essay “Concrete Poetry in Digital Media,” because, “strictly speaking, silence can only be articulated by the absence of any words.”

Investigate and decide if you would like to create this kind of poem. I did for the Taboo topic this week with my poem “Word Up“.  You can create it in an art application like photoshop or GIMP (a free program that works like photoshop). Or you can make it by hand or in another program and then scan it as a jpg file. It takes a little creativity but after all that’s what you are all so good at. Or build a geometric Etheree or a variation of it and then link here.