NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 46/47

Opinion - III

Inside a Poem

Roshanak Keyghobadi

While a graduate student at Indiana University at Bloomington, I discovered Concrete Poetry by chance. A book entitled Concrete Poetry: A World View edited by Mary Ellen Solt (1920–2007) was on sale at the library. I was immediately drawn into the pages of poems — with letters and words moving in every direction creating lines, patterns, textures and sounds.  As a graphic design student, I have been experimenting with typography and typesetting; Concrete Poetry introduced me to new possibilities in re-thinking the relationship between visual and verbal design in relationship to space and time.
Solt’s book is one of the major anthologies of Concrete Poetry and was published at Indiana University Press in1968, where she taught for twenty-five years. In the introduction Solt explains: “generally speaking the material of the concrete poem is language: words reduced to their elements of letters (to see) syllables (to hear). Some concrete poets stay with whole words, Others find fragments of letters or individual speech sounds more suited to their needs. The essential is Reduced Language.” She states that in addition to this “reduction” which varies in poems, the concrete poet searches for new relationships to space (page) and time (non linear). “The visual poem is intended to be seen like a painting; the sound poem is composed to be listened to like music… the concrete poet seeks to relieve the poem of it centuries-old burden of ideas, symbolic reference, allusion and repetitious emotional content.” Solt believed that: “There is another poem above, below, or beyond the words that the poet manages to get down on the paper.” She called her readers Poet-Readers since a visual poem challenges the creativity of the readers and it is up to the reader to create the poem and explore the “interior” structure of it and experience it in an active way of reading and understanding.
Solt emphasized the importance of a concrete poet’s knowledge of typography. She believed that the form, weight and scale of letters and words are used to become physically part of what the poet has to say. For example, she pointed out that constructivist poets mostly use lower case, and simply-constructed letters which “seems to intrude least upon the poem” and “afford the poet most semantic freedom, particularly in relation to space.”
In her own poems, Solt masterfully employed typography and used the properties of typefaces as a tool to highlight her concepts. She composed a number of poems in the shape of flowers such as Lilac, Zinnia, Marigold, Lobelia and Geranium and published them as a collection titled 'Flowers in Concret' in 1966.
Her Forsythia poem is most well known, where she has designed the shape of this flower from letters and their equivalents in Morse Code, with dots and dashes flowing upward and growing. A group of words (Forsythia, Out, Race, Spring, Yellow, Telegram, Hope, Insists, Action) are at the root of the poem which describe the essence of the flower. The Forsythia poem fits the description that Solt has proposed for a concrete poem: ”pure concrete poem extracts from language an essential meaning structure and arranges it in space as an ideogram or a constellation--as a structural word design--within which there are reticulations or play-activity.”

Roshanak Keyghobadi

holds a doctoral degree in Art and Art Education from Columbia University, New York and her MFA and BFA are both in Graphic Design. She teaches Visual Communications and History of Graphic Design at State University of New York and is also a research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Roshanak writes about Iranian contemporary art and artists with special focus on design and typography. Her essays have appeared in a number of publications including AIGA’s VOICE as well as Design Observer and her artworks have been exhibited internationally.


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