The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature

By Richard Kostelanetz | Go to book overview

Visual Poetry

Paul de Vree

In order to obviate all misunderstanding as to visual poetry (i.e., the form) which, in its concrete manifestation, obviously tends toward graphic and plastic art, well have to elucidate the difference with the current trend in plastic art to use lettering and printed texts (cf. Cubism and Merz), i.e., semantics 1 as constituent material for a composition and/or structure. In both cases, we are concerned with the phenomenon of "Vermischungen" (amalgamations, fusions) which Helmut Heissenbüttel views as characteristic of the development of art in the twentieth century, and which has spawned as yet unnamed forms of art. In the former instance, however, the poets still adhere to the notion of poetry, because through the texthowever rudimentary, reduced or truncated they are confronted with an optical process. The text remains primary. It appears often difficult to differentiate clearly in these matters. For not infrequently, visual poetry is practised by poets who are also painters or inversely. A great number of these works may therefore be labeled as standing "between poetry and painting."

In general terms, the definition as formulated by the Bolivian Swiss Eugen Gomringer and the Brasilian Noigandres group is central to the visual aspect of concrete poetry: the conscious perception of the material and its structure, the material as the sum total of all the signs with which we make poetry. This vision of poetry did not come out of the blue around 1955. Since Stéphan Mallarmé (Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard), it developed via futurism ( F. T. Marinetti), Dadaism ( H. Ball, R. Hausmann, Tristan Tzara), Sic ( P. Albert-Birot)

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Reprinted from ? Concrete Poetry ? (Stedelijk Museum, 1970) by permission of the author. Copyright © 1970 by Paul de Vree.

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