Concrete poems are a great exercise for writers to think about writing and communicating from a visual standpoint. By looking at some examples of concrete poems, writers can learn a lot about using visuals or visual language to better communicate to their readers. First, however, it’s important to understand why visual communication is important.
Show, Don’t Tell
Many writers have heard the famous writing advice, “Show, don’t tell.” For many writers, especially storytellers, it’s a mantra to live by. The idea is that you engage your reader much more when you’re able to get them to imagine what is going on in the story rather than just telling them everything that happens. For example, if a character in a story you’re writing is sad, you could easily communicate the information about your character’s sadness to the reader by writing, “She felt sad.” But how engaged is the reader with that? You want a reader to have to imagine what’s going on, and while they may imagine your character could possibly have a frown on their face or some tears coming out of their eyes when you tell them the character is sad, why not use the opportunity to get them to feel the character’s sadness? Check out this course for more info about taking your ideas and turning them into stories.
Which is better?
She felt sad.
As she hung up the phone, her mother’s cold words still ringing in her head, she fought to keep her hands from shaking. Her stomach felt tight as the tears began lining the edges of her eyes. Though she wanted to scream, she wanted to fight it also. Why waste more tears on a woman who wished you were never born? She thought of her father and how loved she felt by him. Of course, cancer took that all away six months ago. If only he were here now. She wondered what he would say. Just imagining what it would be like to see him again was too much. She buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
The first example takes all the imaginative work out of the reader experience, but the second one takes the reader on an emotional journey of experiencing just what the character feels. This makes better storytelling because it engages the reader’s interest in a way that simply telling them what happens doesn’t. Though writers deal in words, the words we use can actually have a powerful visual impact upon a reader. That’s why it’s important to show and don’t tell.
Examples of Concrete Poems as the Ultimate Visual Expression
Concrete poems take the “show, don’t tell” concept to the next level and gives readers a highly visual expression of the poem’s subject. It does this by making the poem’s content more “concrete” to the reader by using a visual representation to enhance the reader’s experience of the poem. With a concrete poem, you’re not just writing words. You’re arranging those words on the page in such a way that they form an image or a picture that represents what you’ve written in the poem. For example, if you were writing a poem about someone you love and giving your heart to that person, you could arrange the words of the poem to form a heart. In fact, hearts are one of the most common concrete poem forms. Concrete poems are also often called shape poems. Poetry uses highly visual language to communicate a message or story to the reader, so concrete poetry takes this even further. Check out this course to get a better grasp of the poetic form by studying the Romantic poets.
By forming the poem into a shape or pattern that represents the poem’s content, you have the ability to reinforce the content of your poem and give the reader a more interesting reader experience. For this reason, much of the effect of the poem is lost if it is read out loud without seeing the image that it forms.
Though the foundations of the concept of concrete poetry have been around since probably the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, concrete poetry emerged as a distinct poetic form in the 1900s with some early examples showing up in the 1800s. In today’s visually oriented world, concrete has a way of making words a unique visual experience rather than just vehicles for communicated ideas.
Two Famous Examples of Concrete Poems
Lewis Carroll, the famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland popularized the form of concrete poetry with a concrete poem he included in his most famous book. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains a poem called The Mouse’s Tale that is written in the visual form of a mouse’s tail. In the story, Alice meets a mouse in Wonderland who wants to tell her a “long and sad tale.” As the mouse tells the story, the words he uses form a long and curled tail down the page. This helps to reinforce the content of the mouse’s story for the reader. When Lewis Carroll did this, it was an innovative idea and helped to shape the concept of concrete poetry. Carroll was a famous children’s author, and this course will show you how to write specifically for children.
Stephen Neville wrote a poem called Star Light that is in the shape of, you guessed it, a star. The poem is about the star that shined over Jesus after he was born and led the wise man to where he was located. The way the words are arranged into the shape of a star keeps the visual concept of a start always before the reader’s mind as they read about this famous star. In order to keep the shape of the start until the very end, the words at the end of the poem are broken up. With concrete poetry, the visual is important and allows for the breaking up of words in order to maintain the image.
Write Your Own Concrete Poem
Writing concrete poetry can be a lot of fun because of the creativity you have to utilize in order to work within the limitation you impose upon yourself with the image you choose. To write your own concrete poem, begin with an image. Think of something important that’s important to you that might act as a symbol. For example, if you love to create music and you love to play guitar, you could write a poem about playing music in the shape of a guitar. After you select your image, sketch the image onto a piece of paper. On a separate sheet of paper, you might want to outline some ideas of what your poem could be about related to your image. Though sketching an image for your concrete poem doesn’t require an exceptional ability to draw, any drawing skill will be helpful, especially for more complex images. Check out this course for some basics of drawing. Now, using the sketched image, begin writing your poem inside the sketch. Erase the lines of your sketch when you’re finished. You now have your own visually represented poem, and you’ve taken the old writing adage, “Show, Don’t Tell,” to the next level.