A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Poems take form on the printed page.

Examples of experimental and visual poetry forms are as widespread and boundless as the category suggests. This selection of examples showcases the visual form that poetry can take on the printed page, while acknowledging the equally relevant and perhaps more visually exciting colored manuscript pages, mixed-media forms, broadsides, posters, artists’ books, and poetic sketchbooks that also inform experimental poetry.

Altar poetry.

While altar and pattern poetry found several practitioners in ancient cultures, such as Persia and Greece, they didn’t appear again in the Western world until the 16th century, when English, French, and German Renaissance poets started writing and printing their poems to specific shapes and patterns. Below is an example of an altar form from the latter Renaissance’s premier practitioner of the form, George Herbert. The shape replicates a wing – classic altar poetry.

From Easter Wings
George Herbert (1593-1633)

Lord, who createdest man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories,
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

Geometric representations.

Closely related to the altar poem, but more concerned with actual replication of poetic moment, was the pattern poem, also referred to as the shape poem. While altar poems were written more widely during the Renaissance, the pattern poem made it into the 20th century, thanks to e.e. cummings and Dylan Thomas. One pattern poem from each author is displayed below. Note the geometric representation of two praying hands.

O sweet spontaneous earth
e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

O sweet spontaneous

earth how often have
fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
beauty, how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and
buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


From Vision and Prayer
Dylan Thomas (1914-53)
Are you
Who is born
In the next room
So loud to my own
That I can hear the womb
Opening and the dark run
Over the ghost and the dropped son
Behind the wall thin as a wren’s bone?
In the birth bloody room unknown
To the burn and turn of time
And the heart print of man
Bows no baptism
But dark alone
Blessing on
The wild

Infinite variations.

Concrete poetry exploded into popularity between the 1920s and 1950s, with large movements forming in Germany, Brazil, and France. Two of the greatest practitioners were Max Bill and Bolivian-born Swiss poet Eugen Gomringer, who defined many variations of concrete poetry, wrote definitive texts and papers, and produced powerful pieces striking in their paucity of words, such as Gomringer’s famous "Silencio."

Eugen Gomringer (1925– )

silencio silencio silencio

silencio silencio silencio

silencio silencio silencio

silencio silencio silencio

silencio silencio silencio

One of concrete poetry’s many variations, acrostic verse, keys on the first letters of each line. When spelled vertically, they both title and describe the poem:
Robert Yehling (1959- )

Upon a glade of sun-sculpted

Pine forest, rooted in stone,
Layers of my bark peel away,
Inviting a softer surface to emerge. I climb
Far into the sky, following an eagle’s current
To the sun–
I melt into my sculptor...
Nestled by Her vision, I hear a new call:
"Go back to seed, and I will bring you Home."