The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature

By Richard Kostelanetz | Go to book overview

Concrete Sound Poetry 1950-1970

Bob Cobbing

The first use of the term "concrete poetry" in a manifesto was by Öyvind Fahlström ( Sweden) in 1953. He related it more to concrete music than to concrete "art." He emphasised rhythm as "the most elementary, directly physically grasping means of effect" because of its "connection with the pulsation of breathing, the blood, ejaculation." He opened the way not only for the structural aspects of concrete poetry, which plays such a prominent part in the theory and practice of Eugen Gomringer ( Switzerland), the Brazilians and the Germans, but for expressionist aspects which a second generation of concrete poets has found so potent. bpNichol ( Canada) says that "for too many people, concrete poetry is a head trip, which is to say an intellectual trip, and as such I can look at it and admire it. For most people I know it's a gut experience."

Fahlström in 1953 illustrated what he called a fundamental concrete principle by referring to Pierre Shaeffer's key discovery in concrete music when he isolated a small fragment of a sound and repeated it with a change of pitch, then returned to the first pitch, and so on. This anticipated one line of development in concrete sound poetry, the electronic-music one. Fahlström himself did not produce sound poetry until 1961.

The other line, the phonetic one, was anticipated much earlier by such poets as Lewis Carroll ('twas brillig, 1855), Morgenstern (kroklokwafzi, c. 1890), Sheerbart (kikakoku ! — ekoralaps ! 1897), Khlebnikov, Hugo Ball, Pierre Albert-Birot, Marinetti, Raoul Hausmann, Kurt Schwitters (Ur sonata, 1923-28), Michel Seuphor, Camille Bryen and, within the recent period, Antonin Artaud and Hans G. Helms.

____________________
Reprinted from ? Concrete Poetry ? ( Stedelijk Museum, 1970), by permission of the author. Copyright © 1970 by Bob Cobbing ( 262 Randolph Ave., London W. 9, England).

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