By May Huang
Poets employ various means to get their message across in their poems, ranging from rhyme scheme to alliteration. However, poetic meaning can also be translated visually through a form termed “concrete poetry;” indeed, numerous poets experiment with line breaks and typography to present their work in a way that ‘looks’ the way it is supposed to ‘mean.’ Here are 10 poems whose meanings lie in their appearances:
1) George Herbert – Easter Wings
Published in 1633, George Herbert’s Easter Wings is the oldest concrete poem in this list. A poem about flight in its metaphorical sense, Easter Wings aptly takes the form of a pair of wings (the likeness is even more remarkable if you rotate the poem 90 degrees to the right).
2) 40-Love by Roger McGough
The English poet Roger McGough sends readers’ eyes travelling to and fro the way a tennis ball would across a net when they read 40-Love. Indeed, the poem itself – like the “middle aged couple” he writes about – is split by such a ‘net.’
3) Grasshopper by E.E. Cummings
Erratically spaced and scattered all over the page, E E Cummings’ Grasshopper conveys a strong sense of vibrancy that parallels the liveliness of a leaping grasshopper. The words indeed seem to ‘jump’ from line to line.
4) Bob Cobbing – Square Poem
Bob Cobbing’s Square Poem speaks for itself. Apart from experimenting with visual poetry, Cobbing was also known for his work in sound poetry. More of his poems can be read, or listened to, here: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/cobbing/
5) Ezra pound – In a Station of the Metro
In a Station of the Metro is Ezra Pound’s classic imagist poem. As Pound himself said,
“I was careful, I think, to indicate spaces between the rhythmic units, and I want them observed.” Indeed, the physical structuring of the poem itself contributes to the way readers ‘read’ and visualize the otherwise simple two-line poem.
6) A Mouse’s Tale by Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll’s A Mouse’s Tale appears in the third chapter of his best-known work, Alice in Wonderland. Many refer to it as a “quadruplepun” since it is a “tale” about a “tail,” features the “tail rhyme” rhyme structure and – of course- looks like a tail.
7) John Hollander – Kitty and Bug
Poet and critic John Hollander has penned a number of collections during his lifetime, as well as teaching at Yale University. His poem Kitty and Bug is self-explanatory in its simplicity. The cat’s unpunctuated, almost stream-of-consciousness thoughts fit into a physical ‘cat’ shape, while the bug – in sharp contrast – is but a 3-letter word near the edge of the page.
8) Shel Silverstein – Lazy Jane
Best known for his works Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein is famous for his children’s poetry and illustrations. Put both elements together and you get a poem like Lazy Jane, where words and drawings integrate to visually convey meaning. Indeed, the word ‘rain’ hovers just above Jane’s open mouth, as the string of words above it seems to represent the trickle of water she longs for.
9) Susan Howe – Thorow
This extract from Susan Howe’s poem Thorow embodies what she aimed to achieve when she declared in this interview to characterize her poems by “a hybridity of disparate elements, blurring for example the boundaries between visual and verbal art. “ Indeed, Howe’s trademark “overlapping” and disjointing of lines emphasizes the varied subject matter she writes about in the poem, from “a very deep Rabbit” to a simple “coin.”
10) Guillaume Apollinaire – Il Pleut
French poet Guillaume Apollinaire coined another name for concrete poems: “calligrammes.” In his poem Il Pleut (it rains,) the slanted letters cascade down the page like falling rain and spell out a poem about – you guessed it – raining.
The poems featured in this list represent but a sliver of the concrete poems in the ever-expanding realm of poetry – feel free to share more in the comments below!