Day 10 Concrete Poetry (Calligrams)

Concrete poetry is sometimes called picture poetry or shape poetry. It combines poetic writing and drawing. The form that the poem is written in mirrors the topic of the poem. There are three traditional ways this is down: (1) the poem can follow the outline of the object, (2) the poem can fill a shape that is the subject of the poem, or (3) the poem can use the way words are written on the page to form an image.

Calligrams are typographic poems. In 1918 French poet Guillaume Apollinaire published a book of poems that did not look like poems. He named the book Calligrammes which means "beautiful writing". He used words and lines to form his poems. Sometimes the shape related to the subject of the poem.  But actually the calligram style of poem was written before then. It was called "shaped poetry" or "pattern poetry."  English poet George Herbert wrote two famous shaped poems, "Easter Wings" and "The Altar." The mouse-tail in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure in Wonderland might be considered a shaped poem.

Visual poetry takes many forms, simple graphic designs, poems actually formed from letters and words, and even animated or flash poems. The BBC Visual Poetry website includes a page of visual poetry.

A detailed lesson plan can be found at ReadWriteThink: "Discovering Poetic Form and Structure Using Concrete Poems."

Pantheon is a website that offers several modern examples, including a lovely set of commercial designs by Laura Ruggieri.

 

Easter Wings by George Herbert

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me

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Apfel
 
 

 
Forsythia by Mary Ellen Solt

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Lilac by Mary Ellen Solt

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Graphics by Seymour Chwasi
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Except
 
 

  

by Irving Weiss

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 Points Scored

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Chartres
 
 

 


by Laura Ruggueri

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Sailboat by Court Smith

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Butterfly by David Schondelmeyer

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Swan
 
   
 

Download a handout which includes additional examples such as "Suppose Columbus" by Charles Suhor and "Seal" by William Jay Smith, as well as directions for elementary students to create calligrams in WordArt.

Additional concrete poems include the following:

  • "Siesta of a Hungarian Snake" by Edwin Morgan
  • "Seal" by William Jay Smith
  • "Forsythia" by Mary Ellen Solt
  • "Poem" by Philip Tannenbaum
  • "Letter Slot" by John Updike
  • "like attracts like" and "She Loves Me" by Emmett Williams
  • "Apfel" by Reinhard Dohl
  • "400-Meter Freestyle" by Maxime Kumin
  • "Art" by Malcolm Glass
  • "40-Love" by Roger McGough
 

Your Turn: Now you get to try your hand at writing a concrete poem of your own. You may choose either of the three approaches. Be prepared to present your poem in class.

See below, an advertisement for Disneyland from Travel & Leisure magazine.
Recognize the mouse?

 

Mickey

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