Concrete Poetry – A form of poetry where the typographical layout and placement is important to the meaning.
While the term may be coined in the 1950s, Concrete Poetry goes back as far as Greek Alexandria.
In 2001, I read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which uses elements of Concrete Poetry to add meaning to the narrative story being told. Throughout the story, you watch as a physical irregularity begins to tear apart the house, the people inside the house, the life of the man writing the story about the house, the life of the man editing the story, and then the actual text of the physical printed book in your hands. It’s absolutely magical.
Last week, I picked up his latest work, The Familiar, the first of an upcoming series of 27, and I flipped through the pages with such excitement. The concrete poetry was back, this time with more fonts, more points of view, and more linguistic quirks varying between those points of view.
This isn’t a review of either of those books (I haven’t had a chance to read The Familiar yet). This is about the typographic stylization that turned novels into visual art.
Like poetry, the pace and tone and extra meanings are shaped and wrapped in line breaks and white space, and I really hope that’s a trend we’ll see continue into the future. The first few authors to do this will be considered copiers and derivative, but it’s such a useful form, pioneered so beautifully, that it is worth copying.
The only potential downside I can see is that concrete poetry and shapes are the translation into audio and digital formats. Continuing this kind of printed art will require us to find a way to retain the meaning in other formats or not use those formats at all.
Considering graphic novels and comic books are facing the same situation, I think a solution should be fairly quickly forthcoming. You can’t stop art.