Forum 2

Please post here, as a comment, a 300-500 word response to any aspect of the reading we’ve done since the first forum. Posts are due by 11.59pm June 22nd. Keep in mind that more specific responses are nearly always more compelling – try, if you can, to quote or refer to particular passages to support your point.

Second, make sure you provide an engaged response to at least one classmates’ post by 11:59pm June 23rd. Feel free to respectfully disagree with each other if it’s in the interest of probing into an issue more deeply.


28 thoughts on “Forum 2

  1. Eugen Gomringer is a well-known for his concrete poetry such as “Silencio” and “Ping Pong”. Both pieces show strong evidence of emptiness. With each poem being just a single word being repeated throughout the poem, it’s clear he is trying to reinforce the root of each word for us.
    The empty spaces that are not filled with words in “Silencio” bring to our attention the idea that space and not only text is part of the creative process. This is common in concrete poetry, which came to fame in the 1950s in Switzerland, Brazil, Japan, and other countries. Gomringer clearly wants us, the reader to be engaged in the so-called ‘emptiness’ and with our sense of our own silence.
    “Silencio” can also be related to John Cage’s 4:33 performance, where the middle white space represents the orchestra and the text represents the audience, which listens in silence.
    ”Ping Pong” is similar to “Silenco”, in its use of white space around the words. It is different in that the words are in the middle rather than the blank space. The short pauses in between the words and the stepping-down shape of the right side of the poem illustrate the bouncing of a ping pong ball – it loses momentum and height with each bounce until it is returned by the opposing player.
    The indentation of the words from the left shows how the players are reacting to each other, hitting the ping-pong balls back and forth. The word ‘ping’ it is countered with the swift response of ‘pong’.
    In class, we read the whole thing at once and while it didn’t give a sense of direction, it made us experience a sense of non-linearity. The words, especially when read out loud, have a rhythmic quality and give a representation of signifier as signified, with no separation between them so they are overlapping each other.
    In this poem, the font is Helvetica, which I find too clean and lacking real representational power of the political world at time it was written.
    Each of these concrete poems has difference sense of direction. “Silencio” offers a sense of emptiness, while “Ping Pong” brings a simple back and forth into a more complex understanding of how ping pong is played.

    1. I like how you tied in John Cage’s work on 4:33 and Silencio together to reflect the different representations of poems on a similar topic. I agree with everything you said except the last sentence. While it might be true i think it’s much more than that. The ping pong piece i think was supposed to show us that there is more than one way to approach a poem from whichever way we choose to see it as we have explored in class. Of those things is understanding a more complex view of how ping pong is played, true, but my point is that its much more expansive.

  2. This is a response to the in-class writing we did on Eugen Gomringer’s “Silencio” and “Ping Pong” on June 14th.

    The first question to ask if how does one read these poems? For “Silencio” I believe that it isn’t meant to be read. Why would you read the same word over and over however many times it is written? I believe that the intent of the poem is to look at it and be silent, hence the title. This silence emanates from the blank space in the middle of the poem where you would believe another “silencio” would go. The purpose of it not being there is to impart the idea that the reader should remain silent when viewing the poem.

    When looking at “Ping Pong” I believe the reader is in fact expected to read the poem. The act of reading it, and reading it out loud especially, gives the poem its meaning. The alternation of the words and the syllables is the essence of the back and forth that goes on in the game of ping pong. When the poem is read out loud it almost sounds like a game is being played.

    What I believe Eugen is trying to do with these poems is to show that words and language can be played around with and arranged in a certain way to create a reality in itself. With the poem “Silencio” the only word in the poem is “silencio”. Eugen arranges the words so that a silence is created when looking at the poem. He is trying to impart the idea that words can create a reality of their own meaning. And then with the poem “Ping Pong” I believe that he is attempting to do the same thing. By arranging the words and syllables in a back and forth manner he actually creates the object that the words represent, the game of ping pong.

    1. Josh, I agree with your response to both poems. I like the way you explained the purpose of the empty space in the middle of the poem pointing out that the reader should remain silence and not read the poem out loud. For Ping-Pong I agree that reading it out loud makes it come alive because it sounds like what it is. You can imagine a game of ping-pong when you read it. When you wrote, “words and language can be played around with and arranged in a certain way to create a reality”, you said exactly what I was thinking.

  3. Recently we’ve been tasked with reading “A Humument.” An interesting appropriation of “A Human Document”. Initially I found it difficult to read this poem because of how unconventional it is and how different it is for me from reading a regular novel. In addition to the underlying loose narrative holding the poem together, I feel like there are subliminal messages hidden in the text. I could be understanding them incorrectly but in many pages the author uses random “speech bubbles” of letters that have no coherent meaning. An example of this can be seen in the bottom of page 114. The letters “l” “a” “b” and “k” float alone. In page 272 the letters “o” and “w” are used. In pages 194, 242, and 243 the letters “s” and “r” are used. This could be an incorporation of possible sounds the author wanted to introduce into his poem or more likely a way to have the reader return to the poem to piece together the hidden message within it.

    The letters I refer to above are not part of the partial letter usage the author uses such as in creating the name of the main character “toge” from the word “together”. Nor do I refer to individual letters from a page to create a word such as in the assembly of the word “Hiroshima” in page 141. The reason I think the random letters do not fit into these categories is due to the fact they are in a bubble of their own. A reader is able to understand that every “speech bubble” most of the time represents a complete thought or idea that when combined with other “speech bubbles” in the page tells a small story. The author’s use of these random letters still baffles me.

    In the end I remain undecided on what these random letters are supposed to mean. On the one hand when I read the “Notes from A Humument” in the end of the book I had the impression that Tom Philips likes to use humor in his work. The very origin of the name “Bill Toge” was supposed to be a play on the name of the author of “A Human Document”. When one considers that argument, it could be that the letters are supposed to throw the reader off. On the other hand as Matt has mentioned in his presentation, “A Humument” is Tom Philips’ life’s work amended over many editions so it may be unlikely that the letters are merely random.

    One thing is for certain, “A Humument” was an interesting read and I hope to explore a similar approach for the final group project.

    1. This is a really cool point. Honestly, when I was reading the poems and saw all of the single letters floating on their own, I attempted to smash them all together to make a singular word, but when I couldn’t, I just immediately kept reading on. I think this has to do with the fact that I instantly assumed that I wouldn’t be able to figure it out. When I read your post, it made me think that maybe I should have treated the stand alone letters with more respect. Rather than just skimming them over and treating them as nonsense, maybe I should take a moment to figure out why they’re there. However, even now as I sit here legitimately trying to figure out what they mean, I still struggle. I wonder if they could be initials for something else. For example, in some of my poems if I want to talk about a person without saying their name, I will just use the first letter of it. Phillips could be leaving any number of incredibly deep messages that the reader will hardly ever be able to crack, or he could also potentially be spouting gibberish.

    2. I wonder if Phillips added these single letters in their own places to draw the reader’s attention to the materiality of the written word. The words and letters themselves in the book, as he chose them, don’t fit in to what we have been regarding as “visual poetry”, but the whole Humument is a very visual experience. And so maybe Phillips introduced these occasional words as a way of drawing the reader’s attention to the words themselves, without doing so in the way that echoed visual poetry. He incorporates many instances of self-reference and layers of representation. Perhaps outlining the single letters is just one level on this hierarchy of representation.

  4. This course has given me a significantly greater appreciation for the written word. I have always had a tacit interest in typography, but Helvetica (the film and the typeface) really made my interest explicit. The typeface is fascinating. It embodies many of the core values of Dada, and echoes themes we discuss in this course.

    Helvetica is everywhere. On my walk home after class last Friday, I noticed no fewer than ten different applications of the typeface. I noticed it on parking lot signs, maps, company vehicles, gas station pumps, and a bag of sand. I pulled out my iPhone and I took pictures of these things. I texted some of them to a friend, only to discover, much to my delight and dismay, that the iOS font is Helvetica! (Actually it is Helvetica Neue, but close enough!).

    The film effectively communicated Helvetica’s ubiquity. In addition to these commonplace uses, it is also employed in high end clothing stores and restaurants. This immediately made me think of Duchamp’s fountain, and the reversal of high society and low society. Duchamp’s fountain is explicit in the reversal itself. Helvetica is less a reversal and more a blurring of the lines between the two different societies. It breaks the distinction between the two, and exists in every facet in between.

    I think what I have found most compelling about Helvetica speaks to my recent awareness (thanks to this class) to graphic design in general. In our daily lives, we are constantly bombarded with messages, notifications, suggestions, and commands. And behind every one is a decision. And in front of every one is a decision. It is the decision of typeface. We are surrounded by it. Surely some of the decisions are more deliberate than others, but they are all still decisions. And in that moment of decision, the words themselves and the letters themselves are everything. That moment is inescapable. No word can be printed without it. I think that is so incredibly beautiful. And so often, much more often than I am comfortable with, that decision is Helvetica.

    This is not to say I dislike Helvetica. It is just so many things. It simultaneously excites, confuses, and terrifies me. This speaks to another theme from this course; art has potential to compel the viewer to harness their own perception. It allows the viewer to be the creator. Helvetica does this. One word on a blank page written in Helvetica can be so many things. One word in any font can do this, but the simplicity and sobriety of Helvetica is different. Near the end of the movie, one of the interviews mentioned a curiosity regarding the science of typeface. How could specific geometric qualities of a typeface compel so much. A thicker line here, a thinner curve there. It is so simple. And yet it can be just about anything.

    1. Helvetica does seem to appear everywhere and does seem to carry many feelings with it. How and where its used can elicit certain feelings. I agree that the qualities of typeface seem to be so simple, yet there is so much detail put into each letter. Like the documentary said, typeface is about the negative spaces in between each letter because that is what puts meaning into the typeface.

      Like you said, we are constantly surrounded by Helvetica and we still get influenced by this text. If we are constantly exposed to Helvetica, then how have we not become desensitized to it? The reason that Helvetica seems to be so universal and used for so long seems to come from the fact that it can continually bring new feelings and meanings, based on what words are used and what they are used for.

    2. I agree with how important typeface is and that it’s amazing just how influential Helvetica has become. I also kept seeing just how many websites and street signs actually use this font too after we watched the film. I really like how in the movie they had many different opinions on Helvetica. Some people thought it was a great universal font while others really couldn’t stand it.

      I feel like Helvetica has some very strong advantages and disadvantages. For one, I agree that it’s one of the best simplistic fonts that can easily get the point across but at the same time I agree with the people in the film that said that this can be misused by many companies. It just depends on who’s using it and what they’re using it for.

  5. When reading Silencio, I don’t exactly read it at all. Instead, I simply look at it and my brain recognizes the words for what they are. I don’t have to go through and read each individual word because I know what it says and I don’t think that it exactly matters how many of them there are. What does matter is what they mean and where they are on the page. When I look at Silencio, I don’t go directly to the rectangle that they make, but rather my eye is drawn to the empty space in the middle. I interpret this blank space as silence, the absence of anything invading it. I wonder if this is why Silencio was made in this shape. To keep the center pure and “silent”. If somebody were to read it word for word, they would stumble on the blank space, literally choking on the silence that it creates.

    The same is true when I read ping pong. However, with Ping Pong it becomes more about the sound. And although I may not read the entire thing in exact order, I still hear the words bouncing back and forth in my head. Ping Pong Ping Pong Ping. . . The way that it is written on the page mirrors the sound, as well as the game, going from one side to the other.

    In my opinion, poems like these are more visual than anything else. Since most of them only contain one word anyway, it becomes more important that the reader concentrate on format and space. One thing that I wonder is what inspires people to make these poems at all. I love poetry and I think that all styles of it are equal in their own right, but from my own experience of writing poetry, I cant imagine how writing the word ping pong over and over could help me release any kind of emotion. Perhaps its because for me poetry is a release of tension that builds in my brain, but for others it can be more of a puzzle.

  6. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Wave/rock” is an interesting example of concrete poetry. The visual element is an important and vital element in understanding the poem. The shape of the text as well as its color help to create meaning to the poem. The word “wave” is repeated, and the peaks of letters “w” and “v” seem to form the peaks of waves. As the word “wave” gets closer to the word “rock” the word’s form changes, almost creating a wave about to crash onto the shore. The “wave’s” structure is loose and open, while the “rock’s” structure is uniform and dense. This structure of the words represent the fluidity of the water and the firmness of the rock. The colors of the words are also an important part in understanding the poem, especially where the waves blend into the rock. The colors do not mix, but still have the sense of waves going onto the shore.

    Concrete poetry seems to redefine poetry and exploit the structure of a poem. In “Wave/rock”, the visual aspect is important in creating a figurative meaning. This poem cannot be read and just seeing the words or hearing the poem takes away the significance and purpose of the poem. Even taking away the color in this poem changes it and takes away some of its visual meaning. Finlay’s poetry is a great example of concrete poetry because it exaggerates the physical element of the poem, and almost relies on this entirely in order to create a meaning. The work is looked at as a whole, rather than reading line by line and interpreting the poem in pieces.

    Concrete poetry puts emphasis on the words themselves rather than the meaning of the words or on the language. There is no correct structure, like a haiku or a sonnet, for this type of poetry, which brings varying different works of art together under this title. The definition of concrete poetry is broad, which allows for the expression varying different forms of visual poetry, such as Finlay’s.

    1. I also found the concept of concrete poetry redefining poetry as a visual method very interesting. Like I talked about in my original forum post, concrete poetry seems to derive its essence and its underlying meaning through visual characteristics such as color, form, shape, etc. I believe that without these visual characteristics concrete poetry would lose its meaning similarly to what you described with Finlay’s “Wave/Rock” if it were to be produced without color. By focusing on these visual characteristics concrete poets have discovered a new way of expressing the materiality of language, similarly to what the earlier modernist movements intended. I like your last point about how there is no correct structure for concrete poetry as well, and I think this is another aspect that concrete poets derived from the earlier modernist movements.

  7. Concrete poets always strive to establish a relationship between the written word and the space that it is written on. The Wave/Rock poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay achieves this by not only being visual but by leaving room for interpretation.

    The word wave looks like an actual wave crashing into a rock. The spacing between the letters gives the word wave a liquid nature because each letter is placed far apart from the other much like the molecules in liquid water. Furthermore, the letters at the top of the wave are not only separated but also go up and down in a zig-zag motion much like actual waves. Also, the spacing between the letters also give a sort of frothy nature to the words. The letters at the bottom of the wave are close together much like how in the ocean the deeper you dive the more stable and calm the water is. The close spacing of the letters and the words themselves solidify the rock because the particles in solids are also closely spaced. The arrangement of the word rock gives shape to the rock that the waves crash into.

    The words wave and rock overlap in the center of the poem crashing into one another like a wave hitting an actual rock. The fact that wave is blue and the rock is brown allows the reader to note the difference between the two and enables us to see the two come together. Other versions of this poem are in black and white making wave and rock the same color which really takes away meaning from the poem because when the two are the same color the stark contrast between the two isn’t seen which lessens the impact of the wave crashing into the rock.

    The fold in the middle represents the division between the water and the rock. The poem takes up less than half of the page leaving a lot of room. The blank space that Finlay leaves is meant to allow the reader to be able to imagine or fill it out themselves like a blank canvas.

    There is also another version of this poem where the words wave and rock are written diagonally across the page. While here you can still see the difference in color between the word wave and the word rock placing the words diagonally across the page takes away the visual nature of this poem which is the best part.

    Wave/Rock by Ian Hamilton Finlay establishes itself as not only poetry but also art incorporating the optic nature of the letters in the words as well as the colors of the words. It’s amazing that Finlay was able to make something with so much meaning out of two simple words.

    1. The minimalism of Finlay’s work is really amazing. He makes so much with so little. What you’re saying about “Wave/rock” really hits the nail on the head. Finlay uses just a few colors and only two words to create an image that works both as abstract art and as a poem consisting of legible words. To a degree, it even works when read aloud — “wave” feels liquid on the tongue, and “rock” is sharper.

      I definitely agree that the second arrangement, where the poem is just printed diagonally on the page, loses some effectiveness.

  8. Ian Finaly’s visual poetry is a very intriguing example of the amount of depth that can be achieved in a work of art marked by simplicity. As remarked about his poetry, “The point is to give the reader a shock not of recognition but of cognition.” At first glance, his poems seem like a nonsensical amalgamation of words and visual elements, not inspiring any sense of immediate recognition in the reader. However, as people always do with art, this lack of recognition excites a longer, more thoughtful inspection into the work. Through experiencing the art and breaking down its element to try to understand it, the readers find their own meanings for it, meanings which may or may not have been intended by the author. The creation of visual poetry that invites such open interpretation is no easy feat, and it just goes to show what a creative mind Finlay possessed.

    His poem with the sails and waves is very open to possible interpretations. The way I view it, the words sails and waves with the adjacent arrows looks a lot like the shape of a boat. This boat is floating on the waves underneath it. The arrow next to sails is pointing to the figure to its right which to me looks like sails fully billowing in the wind. The shape of these sails would indicate that the wind is blowing left, which would cause waves to go left. This matches with the arrow next to the word waves which is pointing left. It is as if to say, “if the sails look like this, the waves will blow in this direction.” Something else that caught my eye is that the figure I interpret as billowing sails is very symmetric, all three arcs that make up the figure are the same size and shape. This contrasts with the waves, whose which are not uniform with each other. This could be commenting on the fact that sails are man-made and precise while waves are natural and random, even though both shapes are created by the wind. This poem could be interpreted completely differently though, the figure I interpreted as billowing sails could also be seen as blowing wind and the arrows could be interpreted differently. The way I personally interpret the poem is a way for me to observe my own thought processes, and the observation of other people’s interpretation could tell me more about the way they think, like a poetic Rorschach test.

    His other poems invite such open interpretation in much the same way, inspiring a childlike sense of wonder in the fact that so much meaning could be hidden right in front of you and that there may always be more if you don’t stop looking.

  9. The concrete poems created by Eugen Gomringer deftly marry the ideas of simplicity and hidden meaning. ‘Reading between the lines’ is an age old concept that he expands and tackles in a new way. His use of a single word in an abstract medium allows for the reader to personally draw an individualistic conclusion or experience. He neither forces a meaning nor demands for there to be one. This concept of allowing the viewer to have control of the experience directly ties into Dadaism and the transfer of power from artist to the common man.

    In the poem, Silencio, I personally felt Gomringer was telling a story through the use of form instead context. Several repetitions of the word silence are constructed into a box that encloses an empty space. This poem leaves a lot open for interpretation. It is up to the reader to see this simply as a ring of repeated words or to read between the white spaces and come up with a hidden message. Reading the poem is unlike any other traditional literary experience. This concrete poem is, in its nature, unnatural to read as you would any other text. The viewer sees the poem and can grasp a meaning without reading it in a linear fashion. It takes a poem and turns it into visible art. In this piece it was really apparent that both the word silence and its form of a box needed each other. The word silence would not tell a story by itself and if the box had been made of lines it would have resembled a meaningless square. In forming a ring of silence it led me to believe that Gomgringer suggests silence is the pursuit of nothingness and no sound. However, silence is always circling and getting closer to true emptiness but there can be no such thing as true silence. All silence is filled with little sounds. Each actual repeated form of the word silence is varied in the version I read. This supports my theory that silence is the collection of tiny contrasting noises of the every day world. Eugen is giving the word and idea of silence a physical form. No one can see a sound or the lack of a sound, but in his poem the word is tangible and visible. However, I still believe that the meaning behind the poem is subjective and many conclusions can be drawn by any individual.

    The poem, Ping Pong, is also open ended and relies on the viewer for interpretation. Just as in the former concrete poem, Ping Pong could easily be argued as a summation of scattered “pings” and “pongs”. However, with a little imagination a deeper take away can be achieved. The structure of this concrete poem has a layout that slopes back and forth across the page until the words are formed like a staircase. The individual pings and pongs bounce back and forth to resemble the movement of an actual ball during a game. The change in elevation on the page suggests a slowing of momentum or a physical representation of how the ball is moving. The life the concrete poem gives the word is one of a kinetic quality. In the last poem the word silence is given physicality and objectivity. In Ping Pong not only can we see the ball, but we can actually see it move.

    Concrete Poetry is the seamless marriage of words, visual art, and the imagination of the viewer. There is a symbiotic relationship at play with these pieces, because each of those components is essential to the success of the poem. Eugen Gomringer is almost magical in his ability to work with form. He gives the word silence a physical nature and the word ping pong movement. Yet, the simplicity still allows the viewer to be the one in charge without putting the creator on a pedestal. Concrete poetry is a simple art form with incredibly vast potential. It encourages the reader to move a little out of their comfort zone and into a way of thinking that almost doesn’t exist in every day life. It is not a form to be overlooked. It is a form to be looked at very closely and with an open mind.

    1. I really liked the way that you interpreted Eugen Gomringer’s “Silencio”. I never really thought about how the shape of the poem had meaning. I think it’s entirely plausible that it is a ring of silence that Gomringer make using the words silencio. If you look at the structure of the poem all of the words go in a sort of circle all leading to the empty space in the middle. The empty space in the middle represents complete silence. But as you stated there can never be complete silence because silence is also filled with noise. The words surrounding the empty space represents this because even though the word silencio means silence reading it in your mind or reading it out loud creates noise. You are right in the fact that Gomringer gives Ping Pong a kinetic quality with the movement of the words. In Ping Pong you can visually see the movement of the balls. Gomringer really manages to achieve the end goal of concrete poetry by making two poems that are visual art.

  10. On June 14 in class we did some free-writing and reflection on Eugen Gomringer’s “Ping Pong” and “Silencio”.
    While looking over “Ping Pong” I had the overwhelming feeling that it wasn’t meant to be read, but rather listened to and heard. I interpreted the piece as mind game. We are meant to listen to the poem within our mind, and interpret it as a game. It’s not to be read aloud, but read internally. Nothing to be spoken, just to be listened to. The poem entices the reader to hear the battle between players, the ball and the paddle. Back and forth, back and forth, ping pong, ping pong. As if the words are bouncing all around the space on the page. Even though Gomringer doesn’t use the whole space on the page, the words almost sound as though they fill up the entire page with the bouncing feeling you get from the movement. The poem is a mixture of visual and sound poetry. You can view it as both, or one or the other.
    In “Silencio” it is more about reading between the lines, and exploring silence. The poem draws your eye to the center, where there is a blank space, the absence of everything. If the poem is read, you would eventually hit the blank space and literally be silent. This is a visual poem, and is completely silent. But even silence can be heard, just as the orchestra video we watched with 4 minutes of silence. Maybe he is allowing us to explore the silence in our mind with “Silencio” as nothing is ever really completely quiet, we still have an internal voice that reads the words on the page, such as he does with “Ping Pong”. We aren’t reading the poem aloud, but rather internally, there is no silence.
    Gomringer is inviting us us to get our mind to move past the linearity of the poem and towards a constellation of sound. He is proving that a poem can more than read left to right, up to down, straight across the page. There is more to discover in poetry, and these poems really do that. It is the era of concrete poetry and exploring sound, visuals, and interpreting words and space on the page.

    1. I really liked how you talked about “Ping Pong” as being a poem that is meant to be heard. When we read it in class it did feel rather uncomfortable to be read aloud. Since ping pong itself is something that is very known in our world I felt that I didn’t even need to read it in order to understand what it was. I also felt that I could almost hear the ball hitting the paddle with each exchange in my head. In “Silencio” I would have to agree that the poem is more of an exploration of the inner voice in our heads. When you hit that blank space in the middle you realize that it was very loud in your head even if the word wasn’t spoken aloud and even if that word was “Silencio”. I agree that he is inviting is to get our minds to expand with the new forms of visual and audible literature.

    2. I really enjoyed your interpretation of Gomringer’s concrete poems. Your mention of the “constellation of sound” and the author’s movement towards bringing the mind into a different point of viewing brought about a whole different perspective. I agree with you now that sound is a huge element when it comes to these concrete poems. The movement beyond linearity is very visible in the poem of Ping Pong when the syllables and words can be understood through a different sense. He makes amazing use of both a visual art and an auditory one. I believe that his concrete poems toe the line of taking an idea and projecting it into something more tangible. He takes words and helps the viewer see objects or events without context or description through literary means. The sound aids the poem ping pong to bring it from not just an object but a moment in time where an actual scene is taking place. You can hear the match and see the kinetic quality of the art when you go into your mind and visualize the meaning. I like how you’ve approached the concrete poems with delving into the images the reader makes within their own head. This correlates with dadaism and giving the power back to the people. If most of the art is taking place in your mind then the viewer truly becomes the essential medium for all transmission and creation of new thoughts.

  11. In class we have been discussing Tom Phillips, “A Humument”. After finishing this book I reflected upon the narrative quality that is relatively apparent throughout the book but at some points is not noticeable at all. Throughout the book there are a multitude of characters that appear including names like Ted Wink, Eve Sardine, Mrs. Mornspot and others. But the two main characters are Irma and Toge. In class we talked about the making of Toge’s name which comes from the original word of together. I think this can hold some significance as the book itself is about Irma and Toge’s love story and in a sense their togetherness. Irma on the other hand was a character in the original form of the book.

    Even though the love story of Toge and Irma spans the majority of the work there are also parts where I feel like Phillips is really integrating his life into the novel. In our group work on Thursday we talked about Phillips referring to his book as itself. On page 10 it states, “The found friend a book to be recast”. Then again on page 125 in the newest edition he talks of his, “poor little book” which I imagined to be “The Humument”. He does this a few times throughout the book where he will mention either himself and break away from the love story narrative.

    There are other parts of “The Humument” where Phillips creates a scene of the art world in London at the time. On page 91 he mentions London and throughout the book talks about the current state of Europe in general. On page 125 it states, “art, art so much unknown contained” Again on page 183, “o art sing the wild truths of mind fruits”. Lastly, on 296 he mentions the, “artist’s hand.” I imagined throughout the book that Toge was an artist and at the end of the book had gained quite a bit of fame in London.

    Overall I found that the book had three main areas that were not necessarily broken up evenly but more so interspersed between each other creating a loose book. The book teeters between Phillips talking of the book itself and sometimes talking about himself, it also bounces to talk of the love story between Toge and Irma, and it jumps to talk about art and the qualities of art. After thinking about this for some time I came to the conclusion that the way it is organized can be seen as Phillips’ stream of consciousness and his unique creativity. Instead of the book strictly following the characters it instead exemplifies Phillips as a person and his thought process.

  12. At first, I found it difficult to decipher the difference between Concrete Poetry, and the other forms of visual poetry we have been studying. Whenever reading a work of Concrete Poetry, such as Eugen Gromringer’s Constellations, I would often think to myself, “Concrete poetry is just a continuation of Dada, Futurism, and even Mallarme’s, A Throw of the Dice.” I have made this mistake more than once, only to realize that Mary Ellen Solt explains what sets Concrete Poetry apart from similar forms of visual poetry.
    In the introduction of Concrete Poetry: A World View, Solt describes the essence of concrete poetry as “reduced language,” and she even explains how the “degree of reduction varies from poet to poet.” To a degree authors such as Tristan Tzara, Marinetti, and even Mallarme have been reducing language to its most basic components: sound, letter, and the visual aspects of the typeface itself. These authors were experimenting with language for the sole purpose of breaking apart from the rules and restrictions that have existed in writing for centuries. These authors also reduced language to an almost indecipherable level, making irrational poems that were not supposed to convey any particular meaning at all.
    As opposed to these earlier modernist movements, Concrete Poetry seems to be reducing language in its own, unique way. Instead of just looking at the linguistic characteristics (Sound, letter, typeface, spacing) concrete poets looked at the non-linguistic characteristics (form, the shape of the poem, color) as well. A good example of this using visual characteristics in order to convey the same meaning that words potentially could is in the short poem Spyrytual, by Russell Atkins. In this poem, Atkins uses quotation marks and apostrophes to convey raindrops falling from the sky. Certainly, he could have written a paragraph about a rain storm and we would have felt a similar effect, but this method is quicker, and much more effective.
    Although Concrete Poetry is seen as a unique and specific form of visual poetry, we can realize that it still derives some of its values, and its purpose, from earlier movements within the modernist period like Dada and Futurism. Eugen Gromringer realizes this connection, and he believes that Concrete Poetry is “fitted to make just as momentous statements about human existence in our times and about our mental attitudes, as other forms of poetry did in previous periods.”

  13. bpNichol shares collections of his concrete and visual poetry pieces in The Alphabet Game. The poems which I will be discussing are from “ABC: The Aleph Beth Book.”
    The book begins with a manifesto which discusses the death of the poem and the need for a reconstruction of how people view poetry. The manifesto states, “what has been constant till now have been the artificial boundaries between ourselves & the poem.” The manifesto itself is bounded by a black box, which distorts the spacing of the words in each sentence. The reader can clearly see how the boundaries surrounding the text limit its ability to be read easily. As bpNichol states, “we must be to free ourselves from the necessity of placing boundaries between ourselves & the poem,” the reader is inclined to agree, as they can understand how the boundary is not only unnecessary, but slightly annoying.
    The pages which follow the manifesto depict letters which are overlapping. On some pages, the overlapping letters create entirely new shapes, such as on page 37 and 38 where the letters create shapes similar to Celtic knots. On others, the way the letters are laid on top of one another create existing letters within them. An example of this is on the page where the uppercase “B” is overlapping with itself, and four capital “D” letters are created as a result of the placement. By placing the letters in this way, bpNichol is demonstrating a new way in which the reader can view the alphabet. In traditional poems, letters are placed next to one another to create words. However, bpNichol declared in his manifesto that “poetry being at a dead end poetry is dead.” He is breaking from the traditional way that letters are used in the English language and straying from the traditional, dead form of English poetry.
    Finally, bpNichol uses the title of the book to demonstrate how he aims to change the way the reader views poetry. Referring to the ABC’s as an “aleph beth” brings the word back to its Greek and Phoenician roots. By referring to the roots of the word “alphabet” in the title, bpNichol is almost introducing the reader to how his poems will transform the way the reader views the English alphabet, and is perhaps suggesting a rebirth of language. He states, “The poem will live again when we accept finally the fact of the poem’s death.” The death of the poem and the way letters are used to make words leave the reader with just the letters themselves. In this way, they are brought back to the simplest form of the letters: the aleph beth.

    1. I agree with your sentiment that the boundary that bpNichol places around the poem on the first page “ABC: The Aleph Beth Book” encourages the thought that the boundaries or ‘rules’ that we place on poetry limits poetry as an artistic form. As a result of the words being spaced so that the first and last letters are flush along the boundary, the words are spaced in a way that makes it very difficult to read, so he may be saying that ‘rules’ we place on poetry to specify its limits as an art form and take away from its purity and the essence of what poetry truly is, just as this boundary and the resulting spacing makes the poem hard to understand.
      However, I do not agree with your idea that his overlapping letters are trying to create a rebirth of language, I think that he is simply trying to explore the beauty of the letters themselves, and our understanding of the look of these letters goes further than the rules placed on their creation since they are modified far from their typical form but we can still tell what they are.

  14. The Humument by Tom Philips comes off as a very intimidating read at first due to its length and confusing word streams. Despite this, once you start reading it you will find that although it takes very little time to get through, there is much to analyze. The background images give meaning to the text and every aspect of the book is thought through including word placement.

    Every page is a unique tale of its own despite being part of a whole overarching love story. The phrases range from beautiful, “Even the Piano listened with admiration” to appalling, “look at that photograph of animal sex”. This shows that you’re never quite sure what exactly you’re reading.

    The page that I want to focus on is 256 which I felt was one of the more interesting reads that shows much of what I’ve been talking about above. This page I feel is a bit more confusing since the art that’s behind the words is just more words. You don’t know where to look and you’re not completely sure if the words in the background are meant to be read as well or are just there for affect. At the top of the page you have a bunch of sentences clumped together that are cut in half and flipped upside down including the title at the top to give a very nervous tone. This expresses exactly what the main character is feeling. “Mind, gross mind talk sense” “toge lost in words?” both of these phrases repeat twice. The first time they are written, they are on top of the light blue background but the second time, it shows the text that they are taken from with the words directly next to them scratched out. This page isn’t as artistic as the other pages, lacking illustrations and purely going off of the art that the words inherently make. Toge is obviously anxious and this page perfectly describes what that feels like to him. There’s a lot of blank space to possibly signifying that he has a sense of unknowing and yet there’s parts that have so many words that it’s difficult to develop meaning. Despite this, the color of the background is light probably because he isn’t anxious about something frightening him but anxious about something involving Irma, who was mentioned in the pages before.

    The more you look at this book and analyze each page, the more you will see. This book should not be read just once, not even twice but many times. You may find beauty on a page that seemed like nonsense the first time you saw it or a phrase may have significant meaning to you the more times you read it.

  15. Lawrence Weiner’s exhibit Statements is a beautiful example of conceptual art. However, Weiner’s statement that “the artist might not construct the work and that the work might not, in fact, be constructed at all” forces the question as to where the bar for art is set. Is it possible that art can be merely an idea? The Statements exhibit is twenty-four self-described short phrases, but I feel they are more akin to ideas than phrases.

    To me, the most vivid statement is “one pint gloss white lacquer poured directly upon the floor and allowed to dry”. Each of Weiner’s statement is occurs in the past, without an agent of the action, and has sense of importance or significance. By framing the statements as recent occurrences, he evokes a sense of immediacy.

    Weiner’s exhibit is full of phrases that, through language, you feel you can see, and feel. By solely reading a statement I cannot truly feel or see the ideas described, my mind can create the experience in my head. Through language, I am able to imagine myself pouring glossy white lacquer on the floor. While I see it as a milk jug, rather than a paint can, therein lies the beauty of his art. I’m able to appreciate the idea, and create my own version of what my cheap, plastic-tiled floor would look like covered in a glossy white lacquer, without the mess or interjection from Weiner’s life experience. The action of pouring lacquer was once Weiner’s experience, but through his words, has shifted into my own experience – where I pour the lacquer. The simplicity of the shared experience is satisfying, and is something none of the other art has been able to achieve. The simplicity of the canvas makes the experience possible. As Duchamp said, “it depended on things other than the retina”. My eye did not have much to take in, so my brain had plenty of room to cull from my experiences, and create something my own. After reviewing Weiner’s works, I feel that, without a doubt, an idea can be art.

  16. One thing I’ve particularly enjoyed in our recent reading is the experimental spacing some artists use. I’m thinking of pieces like “Spyrytual”, “Carnival”, some bpNichol pieces, even Eugen Gomringer’s “Ping Pong” or Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Wave/rock”. The quality I want to highlight is how the text is situated on the page, and how that positioning can be used.

    In “Carnival” we see characters used similarly to pixels to create abstract imagery that conveys a sense of movement. “Spyrytual” mixes three characters – quotation marks, a period, and arguably a couple apostrophes – with readable text, creating the effect of a hymn text obscured by falling rain. “Wave/rock” is wholly text, but uses color and spacing to show movement. I’ve listed these works in order of decreasing abstraction. (“Ping Pong” fits at the same end as “Wave/rock”, and the bpNichol pieces I’m thinking of fall at the same end as “Carnival”.)

    What “Carnival” reminded me of, the first time I saw it, was an artform with similar roots to concrete poetry, which was obsolescent when I knew it and is almost extinct on today’s internet. I’m talking about ASCII art, which uses the characters of monospaced fonts to create recognizable forms. (You can read a more detailed explanation on Wikipedia.) ASCII art had its real heyday in the 1980s, but enjoyed usage in limited contexts into the mid-2000s – as more and more web areas began to use proportional fonts, ASCII art entered a decline from which it has never recovered.

    While the poems I’ve mentioned were firmly in the space of “art”, ASCII art wasn’t thought of in that way. It had a practical use, for displaying images before it was easy to display large image files in emails and on forums, and wasn’t thought of as serious art. Before tools were invented to aid its creation, creating ASCII art took a similar kind of effort as creating “Carnival” did, since it required planning the whole work prior to beginning on it, and using the shapes of individual characters as brushstrokes within that work. These poems use the same tool set as ASCII art does, but they occupy a different conceptual space. I’m uncertain if anyone has exploited that and sought to make “serious” ASCII art.

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