ACL 1002
Studying Poetry and Poetics
Semester 2 2012

Footscray Park

Week 9
Concrete Poetry and Cyberpoetry

by Ian Syson

Solt, Mary Ellen, ed. Concrete Poetry: A World View. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968. So far in the unit, we have looked at poems in a number of ways:
  • what they mean
  • how they mean
  • context
  • history
  • function
  • politics
We've paid attention to how the poems work and looked at their formal effects and how these contribute to the way we read them. But we've taken the way they look for granted.
  • Maybe we've thought about things like line-breaks and
  • perhaps even considered what the space between stanzas does,
But we haven't thought too deeply about
  • the way they look on the page (if indeed they are on a page)
  • the physicality of the poem
  • the way these contribute to what the poem is or means or the way that it is read.

The sensory way we come in contact with the poem is particularly significant and is often underestimated in criticism. What do things like layout, typography and paper quality do to our reading of the poem.

This concern with the sensory relates to the notion of

Concrete Poetry

The term concrete poetry was coined simultaneously in the early fifties by Eugen Gomringer in Switzerland and Öyvind Fahlström in Sweden.
In 1953, Gomringer published a book of spatially structured poems that used only one word and the arrangement of this word on the page signified the poem's meaning.

These he called constellations . . . They were part of a long tradition of visual poetry which stretched back to include such artists as Pound, Mallarmé , Lewis Carrol and, much earlier, George Herbert, and even further back to the beginnings of writing itself.

[Constellations as 3D.]

When we look back to earlier forms of writing we can see poems similarly written with

  • visual structure
  • as part of or subordinate to a visual message.
show herbert and other early poem

It might be argued that concrete poetry is an attempt to reclaim the iconic status that lettering once had and is still available in chinese and japanese and other script forms.

I wonder whether the attainment of concreteness is one of the important impulses of much poetry.

As a widely used term, Concrete Poetry came to prominence in the 1960s. According to Mary Ellen Solt, it describes

a variety of innovations and experiments following WWII which [arguably revolutionised] the art of the poem on a global scale and [enlarged] its possibilities for expression and communication. (7)
According to Mike Weaver there are three separate categories:
  1. visual (or optic)
  2. phonetic (or sound)
  3. kinetic (moving in a visual succession)
Whatever the difference between these there is
a fundamental requirement which the various kinds of concrete poetry meet: concentration upon the physical material from which the poem or text is made. Emotions and ideas are not the physical materials of poetry. (Solt)

This might help solve a problem experienced by people new to concrete poetry. They try to read beneath or into the text for its meaning, when in fact, the structuring of the materials is usually the whole point.

Solt again

no matter where the concrete poet stands with respect to semantics, he invariably came to concrete poetry holding the conviction that the old grammatical-syntactical structures are no longer adequate to advanced processes of thought and communication in our time. In other words the concrete poet seeks to relieve the poem of its centuries-old burden of ideas, symbolic reference, allusion and repetitious emotional content; of its servitude to disciplines outside itself as an object in its own right for its own sake. This, of course, asks a great deal of what used to be called the reader. He must now perceive the poem as an object and participate in the poet's act of creating it, for the concrete poem communicates first and foremost its structure. (Solt 7-8)
Our languages are on the road to formal simplification, abbreviated, restricted forms of language are emerging. The content of a sentence is often conveyed in a single word. Longer statements are often represented by a small group of letters. Moreover, there is a tendency among languages for the many to be replaced by a few which are generally valid. Does this mean the end of poetry? Certainly not.

These argumentsare interesting: they certainly pre-date a lot of the contemporary arguments about postmodern writing and reading patterns and competition between media for our attention.

They also seem logically to lead us to the internet and hypertext.

But they also sound like the noises made by advertising gurus and the proponents of the media grab a short pithy phrase which seems to sum up or capture an event or news item without necessarily getting to the core of that event.

See the following critical article:

Concrete Poetry can also sometimes resemble corporate logos.

As someone who values extended, complex and elaborated prose as well as poetry, I'm not sure I like the arguments but nor am I sure that they are invalid.


The logic of many of the arguments around concrete poetry leads us to the electronic media and especially the internet.

Cyberspace is the place where concrete poetry has found another outlet in the form of cyberpoetry.

In Australia, the ideas and practices of cyberpoetry we led by the poet Komninos in the mid 1990s. In ' Techno-literatures on the internet' published in 1997, he summed up the extent to which poetry as a whole has moved onto the internet.

The advent and accessibility of internet communication technology over recent years has seen the translation of many traditional literary print publications to the internet and the proliferation of new journals and other forms of electronic publishing like the e-zine or electronic magazine which exists solely on the net without a print equivalent.

Sites dedicated to poetry are providing a new and larger audience to poets worldwide and many Australian poets have established home pages to take advantage of the greater global exposure. As well there are on-line magazines and sites that publish everything that is sent and also cater for participatory poetry from many contributors. 

On-line home pages of poetry organisations and online poetry writing workshops provide a valuable resource for beginners and veterans alike the internet also allows tertiary institutions formally teaching creative writing courses a forum for outlining their courses and presenting the work of their students. 

There are many sites which just search the internet and find poetry sites which they then recommend through their links. These sites are performing a filtering, scrutinizing and reviewing role in the domain of techno-literature.

He suggests that there is a whole virtual public sphere of poetry that has been opened up by the internet. More specifically to concrete poetry, Komninos believes that the internet

has given rise to new kinds of techno-literature and to the means of performance of new forms of multimedia literature.

A literature, a poetry has developed that can not be published in the traditional print medium.

A use of words that previous to high powered graphic computers and the multimedia capabilities of the internet could not be conceived or achieved. 

There are

  • poetries on the internet which move with time and space, that jitter and jump, that appear in various layers of text revealed by the viewer and their mouse clicks, that jump via active links to other blocks of text of a site,
  • poetries that defy linear progression,
  • poetries made up of words but words not used in the same way as on a printed page. 

These poetries use all the old literary devices of metaphor, rhyme, rhythm, allusion, alliteration, assonance, to create images, evoke emotions and tell stories, as well as new ones of colour of words, movement of words, spatial placement of words in a 3D environment, sounds, music, voices, images, video and scanned artifacts.

Komninos came to the conclusion that cyberpoetry, or the new forms of techno-literature, falls into seven categories.

The following links go from the lame to the interesting.

  1. hypertext poetry
    Medical notes of an illegal doctor
  2. hypermedia poetry
    Browning poems
  3. the random poetry generator
    Poetry generator 1
  4. (holopoetry) 3d stereogram poetry
    chaos and others
  5. animated text type cyberpoem
  6. spoken word poetry / performance poetry
  7. sound poetry


Chaos: Holopoem


I think it's telling that cyberpoetry as an area of growth and interest has seemed to stagnate. The better examples of what used to be called cyberpoetry are tending to move into some other classification.

There are interesting things happening on the web but there's a lot of disinterest and broken links as well. Every time I give this lecture I need to get rid of the broken links. There's a lot hyperspace junk floating around the net.

I recently found this material which calls itself cyberpoetry but seems to be a more conventional form of concrete and sound poetry that uses cyberspace as its subject matter and not its form:

Here are some more links to what I consider to be interesting cyberpoetry

Sound Poetry
  • definition of sound poetry (wikipedia)

    Sound poetry is a form of literary or musical composition in which the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded at the expense of more conventional semantic and syntactic values; "verse without words". By definition, sound poetry is intended primarily for performance.

None of which should be taken to suggest that sound poems don't have meaning. There is a radical suggestion that sounds do have inherent meaning and that this meaning is -- one way or another -- communicated to us.

Let's listen to some -- remembering that the pattern of sound is probably more important that anything else:


"Dada is a state of mind... Dada is artistic free thinking... Dada gives itself to nothing... ." So is Dada defined by André Breton. This is not to say that Dada is definable, for it was one of the primary goals of Dada to avoid the labeling and legitimizing of the establishment. Early on in the development of the trend, Hugo Ball made it quite clear, "How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, Europeanized, enervated? By saying Dada..." The principles of Dada had existed before in the schools of Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism, but the principles had a change in language. The formation of these ideas are worth further examination.

dadist poetry characterised by

  • nonsense
  • babytalk
  • joyous rejection of rules, conventional forms and meaning
  • political anarchism