VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shaped Poems

A former student of this class, Zach Mendelson, made the following poem in conversation with the work of Joseph Cornell last spring. It was an interesting response to the challenge of this course, which is for writing students to think of language as material to make and shape with, in the way visual artists use their materials to make and modify objects.

I recently came across this poem in some old class papers, and it brought to mind several other shaped poems I've seen over the years. For example "Swan and Shadow," by John Hollander (b. 1929):

Or this one, from the Frenchman Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918), who is commonly credited with coining the term "surrealism":

Apollinaire called these picture poems calligrammes, a portmanteau of calligraphy and telegram. It's a name that blends allusions to ancient technology (writing) and, at the time, the cutting-edge (telegraphy). To give you a sense of the range of the work, here's a screenshot from a Google image search using his name + "calligrammes":

Of course, one of the most famous of these kinds of poems is "Easter Wings," crafted a few hundred years earlier than Apollinaire by George Herbert (1593 - 1633), from his book The Temple:

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