The term concrete poetry was coined simultaneously in the early fifties by Eugen Gomringer in Switzerland and Öyvind Fahlström in Sweden [1]. Gomringer had known several concrete painters in the forties -- in particular Max Bill, to whom he eventually became secretary. In 1953, Gomringer published a book of spatially structured poems that used only one word and which the arrangement of this word on the page signified the poem's meaning. These he called constellations and they were part of the concrete movement which Bill represented but also were part of a long tradition of visual poetry which stretched back to include such artists as Ezra Pound [2], Theo Van Doesburg [3], Guillaume Apollinaire [4], Stephane Mallarmé [5], Charles L. Dodgson (Lewis Carrol) [6], George Herbert [7], and further back to the beginnings of writing itself [8].

* At the same time as Gomringer was developing poetry emphasizing the visual aspects of words, a group of three poets in Brazil, Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari formed the group Noigandres [9]. They defined a poetry which explored the ideogram as a three-dimensional, verbivocovisual object [10]. They produced a literary magazine Invençao in which they published their experimental work which Haroldo de Campos began to call Poesia Concreta in 1955, and from which the term concrete poetry was derived to described this type of work from the late fifties through the sixties.

Concrete poetry had been developed independently a few years earlier, by Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström who wrote a Manifesto for Concrete Poetry in 1953 [11] to describe a poetry which intended to use words much as a painter would use representational forms. The manifesto anticipated both the term for and many of the features of a new visual linguistic art form. It appears that neither Gomringer or Noigandres had any knowledge of Fahlström's manifesto which had only been circulated in Swedish in mimeographed form.

* *Influences between sound poetry and visual poetry form an intricate interchange of ideas. Many practitioners have done and do both kinds of art. The historical maze gets even more dense when one realizes that not only were Gomringer and Noigandres influenced by Concrete Art, but Fahlström had probably been influenced by Pierre Schaeffer's development of musique concrète as well. The relationship between these two ways of working, continues to be a complex one [12].


Last Modified 20 January 1998