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-tale 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.

“42 Clever Calligrams That Visualize the Meanings of Various Words”

 

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

m
 
Apfel
 
 

 forsythia
Forsythia by Mary Ellen Solt

 
 

 

lilac
Lilac by Mary Ellen Solt

 
 

 

concrete
Graphics by Seymour Chwasi

 
 
Except
 
 

  

weiss

by Irving Weiss

 
 

 Points Scored
m

 
 

 

 cat

m
 
 
Chartres
 
 

 

laura
More by Laura Ruggueri

 
 

 

smith
Sailboat by Court Smith

 
 

sea
Butterfly by David Schondelmeyer

 
 
Swan
 
 
40 love
 
 

after

Afterword by B P Nichol

 
 

Knot

Knot by John Updike

 
 

 

lion

Lion by Al-Mutanabbi

arabic

Islamic custom does not forbid representational art, but drawings of humans and animals have been discouraged. For example, you will not see traditional paintings and drawings in a mosque. Arabic calligraphy manages to transcend that restriction by creating images from letters, often working scripture or poetry into the design. The drawing above uses a well-known poem, "Lion” by Al-Mutanabbi: “If you see the lion bare / show its teeth, do not assume the lion is smiling at you.”

 
 

 

Social Distancing by Juan Felipe Herrer

Social Distancing

 

 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this take on the concrete poem is multi-faceted. Start reading wherever you think best.

Then, listen to Hererr read the poem.

 

Download a handout which includes additional examples such as “Suppose Columbus” by Charles Suhor, “400-Meter Freestyle” by Maxime Kumin, “The Mouse’s Tale” by Lewis Carroll, and “Seal” by William Jay Smith, as well as directions for students to create calligrams in Microsort WordArt.

Your Turn: Now you get to try your hand at writing a concrete / visual 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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Updated 30 August 2020.