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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Tuesday, August 19

Concrete Poetry & e. e. cummings

How about a quick examination of concrete/shaped/visual poetry. It seems that not everyone agrees on the differences between these terms. So, I’ll give you a brief explanation as I understand it.

Concrete poems depend almost entirely on the visual aspects as seen on a page and are often paired with drawings or photos that enhance the poet’s meaning. Concrete poems can be a fun exercise, and children are often given this assignment as a way to stretch their imaginations, cute but without much poetic value (their poems, not the children).

Also, concrete poems, when read aloud, lose most of their intended meaning. For example:

Shape poems arrange the words of the poem into a pre-determined shape. Shape poems go back as far as poetry itself. For example, George Herbert in the seventeenth century, wrote “The Altar” in the shape of an altar.

Other traditional shapes are the cross, egg, taper, diamond, lozenge, etc. And then there’s visual poetry, which seems to be a term that incorporates all visual poems.

Some concrete poems simply can’t be read aloud. So far so good? All this is leading up to an examination of one such poem by e. e. cummings, one that depends almost entirely on how the words and punctuation marks are placed on the page.
The poem is a clever use of spacing and punctuation to get across a universal experience, but it doesn’t have much meaningful substance, sort of like most of the poems by the imagists. If you’ve ever been in a grassy field on a warm summer day, you may have seen something in the grass that doesn’t at first register. But then you notice movement as this something gathers itself for a leap, which it does, and then your mind sees it for what it is—a grasshopper. The words are split up by parenthetical marks suggesting blades of grass. The capital letters in the fifth line suggest surprise or alarm. And then the leap, or leaps, during which our surprise or alarm goes down. Then the grasshopper rearranges itself, probably gathering its legs under itself, with the final semicolon suggesting that it will do it again, leap that is. Clever, as are many of cummings’ poems, but no deeper than the grass hiding the grasshopper.

Cummings is such a good example of what modern poets were doing in the last century—breaking with tradition, avoiding poetic diction, using traditional forms but then twisting them into new forms. If you’ve never read any of the poetry of e. e. cummings (his way of saying he’s not important enough for capital letters), you should find him and taste him for yourself.
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