Category Archives: concrete poetry

the people yes

people-yesA word cloud based on lines from Carl Sandburg’s ‘The People Yes’, created with help from Wordle.

I’ve written about the poem previously, and said how it ‘describes me and most of my days’. Of late that has been more true than ever as I’ve been able to watch good people work hard to try to make a difference, while bad people seem to be able to make a difference (of a different kind) seemingly effortlessly. We’re all people, it’s the choices we make that sends us on different paths. Once we get on our respective path getting off it is difficult, no matter who we are; and no matter whether we do good or do evil.

One of my colleagues used to regularly ask me, ‘How are you?’

My standard answer was/is, ‘I’m doing good.’

And he would always laugh and give me a bit of a hard time about doing good. I’m still confused by the question and by his response. Perhaps it was the work context where doing good is something of a work-in-progress kind of concept. I don’t care – it’s not a work-in-progress for me. I am very clear. Do good, my people, do good.

walk shorts

Way back, wa-a-a-a-ay back, on June 30, I wrote my first short story over in at Sychronicity of Indeterminacy. The deal with the short stories is that they should be able to be read in one minute. That means about 180 (or slightly less) words – that’s about how many words can be read aloud. Fewer words allows for nice white noise spaces. TV and radio commercials normally clip at the 3 words per second (180wpm) rate; those-faster-sounding-ads are probably recorded ‘normally’ and then sped up digitally. I’ve used software that allowed you to say 30 seconds long, fit this sound bit here – and it stretched/shrunk the sound bite to suit – with the subsequent aberrations in the sound.

So, where does the inspiration for the stories come from? In something of a reversal of the traditional ‘write the story, grab an illustrator’ approach, this method starts from an image, and the story ebbs and flows accordingly. I have to say some images provoke instant stories (see below), while other images provoke a sense of ‘hmmm, perhaps next week’. Well, you know what? You get that. Sometimes it’s fun to play, other times I just want to watch.

Often, when I go for a walk, I overhear snippets of conversation, and I like to weave these strands into the stories. I think of it as verbal patchwork – speaking of which, I found the color chart and filter thing, so my colours will be happier now. The story below includes a few such ‘found’ sound clips – it’s become a form of concrete poetry, captured sounds and words reconstructed and recontextualised.

image from

“Jin,” she said, “Like the otter, not like the drink.”

“You’re so boring,” I said.

“Am I? Am I really?” And she laughed like she didn’t believe me.

The noise of construction started – 12:48 – lunchtime over.

She sighed. “You could’ve done more to save the place you know.”

“Look, it’s just some scrubby willows and grasses – hardly on the World Heritage list – some environmental jewel in the crown…”

She cut me off short. “You’ve quoted him a bit too much! There were otters here!”


“They could be here again.”

“That’s just not possible…” She fixed me with one of her looks. “…or at least not very likely. At least, not at the moment…” My voice trailed off. I felt cold and lost, and dammit, now I was missing the otters. I’ve never so much as seen an otter, let alone seen an otter here.

Even the construction noise stopped.

The damp smell of willow leaves enshrouded us. I shivered. “You know what? I wouldn’t be very disappointed if the airport was closed.”

random poetry

I’m interested in the use of digital devices to produce random aesthetic constructions. In my office through the day I get to enjoy music that might well have been composed by John Cage. There’s a fine selection of weird beeps, brings, chortles, digobartok, pseudomozart, discomama, and chundarama, all counterpointed with syncopated vibropercussion. It goes on all day long, a concert played very slowly. Cage would’ve loved it. My cellphone ring tone sounds like starlings chatting before going to roost. It’s fine indoors, but if I’m waiting for Marica in the early evening inevitably I try to answer the birds… as an aside, I enjoy the accurate irony of the cellphone, we’re imprisoned by a device simply so other people can know where we are, having been captured by telcos who convince us these devices will do all the things for us that if we’d been told by spammers we would’ve simply deleted and cranked the filters up another notch. Marica wrote about how one of the telcos has created an ad explaining that life is short, you better phone someone. Yeah, cool. As if a multinational can genuinely make a contribution to our lives…

I have been secretly enjoying (and trying to figure out how to bring such an interesting idea over to here) the randomy concrete-y controlly poems from Beverley Charles Rowe’s Queneau sonnets. When I first found them I was delighted by they way they work, and the carefully constructed way they allow you to enjoy the sonnet in French and/or English. I shared the link with my colleagues as seeing as a number of them have high degrees of fluency in other languages (including French). Ok. Well I thought the sonnets were cool. And it’s not as though there isn’t a selection – “a sonnet can be combined with any from the nine others, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. It would take some 200,000,000 years to read them all, even reading twenty-four hours a day”. Don’t take my word for it, enjoy ’em all for your own good self.

View Amélie details at AmazonIn all of these apparently random events, the only relevance is if we notice, and then ascribe a meaning to the event, and then retain some learning from it. I’ve been described as a behaviourist (ok, so I press the lever to take a pee), but my conception of learning is that it is a remembered response to a stimulation. I’m not sure what a documented, but forgotten, response to stimulation might be. The documentation would mean it was preserved, but forgotten? What is a photograph I have, that I could’ve made, but have no memory of making? What is my response to that? The context is familiar, but unknown. Is it apophenia, or is that a genuine bunny or bear in the cloud? If my cellphone was genuinely cool, while the person calling was waiting for me to interpret that it is a phone call and not the starlings, it’d say to the caller, “It is September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute has just landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre, where this phone is presently located. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace…” It’d make it worth calling people, just because their cellphones have a more interesting life than they do. And it would be helpful if it gave the correct date, time, and location of the phone. And the latin name of the bluebottle fly, because there is more than one kind. This level of precision is possible, assuming telecom don’t do, as they have done, publish my cellphone number as the number of a real estate agent in Stratford. No flies on them. Would you like to buy a dairy farm? Trust me, I can help, as I do the many people who call me, in my office in downtown Wellington … thanks telecom, you add richness to my randomness.

So, how should we respond to random? If something random happens and no one is around to witness it, was it random? Did it even happen? Is your response to it what validates its happening at all? How could you respond to it if you didn’t see it happen? Could this be an expression of Cage’s Indeterminacy? “Indeterminacy is ninety stories read by Cage, each told within the space of a minute, and none having anything to do with the next. They are inadvertently punctuated by tape, piano and radio provided by David Tudor, and became points of reference on a map of magic and invention.” To think he died without being able to blog! Apparently Indeterminacy is available on CD, but I’ve been unable to locate it. I have been enjoying is the Synchronicity of Indeterminacy photo blog – a synchronous experiment in creativity and indeterminacy, featuring photos randomly found paired with an ultra-short story inspired by the found photograph. Real lives and imagined stories linked by visual images captured for all eternity. Well, until the levee breaks anyway. But who hasn’t found an object and imagined a story, maybe even written a story, inspired by the suggested message contained in the inaccessible meta associated with the object? Perhaps this is why we become attached to objects, why we feel the urge for souvenirs. And there’s no reason why they can’t be digital souvenirs.

concrete poetry – a world view

It’s sometimes difficult to find good information on the net. Lot’s of information, yes, good information is rather more difficult to uncover. And all the more reason for joy when it is found.

Mary Ellen Solt has published her 1968 Concrete Poetry – A World View at From the introduction:

The term “concrete poetry” is now being used to refer to a variety of innovations and experiments following World War II which are revolutionizing the art of the poem on a global scale and enlarging its possibilities for expression and communication. There are now so many kinds of experimental poetry being labeled “concrete” that it is difficult to say what the word means.

Side Bar Soap Opera

Once upon a time, there was a far, far off land where most of the countryside was covered in fir trees. The fir trees covered the top of the hills and the bottom of the valleys. Some of the land was farmland, and the asparagus green grass glowed in the sun like a bright gem surrounded by the dark jade of the fir trees.

A rather strange man lived in this far off land. He spent his days planning more forests and his nights writing soap opera styled concrete poems. It was a desperate time and it showed in his writing. It was such a long time ago that the OC wasn’t on the television, even though television had been invented. Just.

Time passed and eventually the end of the century came and went, along with the mantra of the time: Why Decay? The man couldn’t understand Why Decay, so he concentrated on his poems, at least to a degree.

One day he looked up and found he’d finished his degree, the fir trees had given way to interesting yellow flowered bushes, and it seemed like his poems were long gone.

But not all, he found just one and he decided to share it once again with the whole world. In the side bar. And the whole world rejoiced.

magnetic poetry

One of the coolest things I was given at xmas was a couple of sets of fridge magnet poetry – words to compose with while I drink milk sraight from the carton. Breakfasting from the fridge, no appliances or tools required – that’s why humans evolved fingers…

Here’s a couple of works – the first by Marica, the second by me in an adbusters moment, the third, a thought for the day…

[ scent ] [ shall ] [ ricochet ] [ across ] [ the ] [ cloud ]

[ come ]
    [ lick ]
      [ love ]
        [ from ]
          [ my ]
            [ concrete ]
              [ television ]
                [ commercial ]
                  [ thrill ]

[ order ] [ today ]
    [ is ] [ yesterday ] [ s ] [ chaos ]
[ gone ] [ stale ]

The reason for the extra fridge opening and closing today is that it’s Marica’s father’s (Mate) 80th birthday. He doesn’t look or act 80 – he’s spry. Now that’s something to aspire to…

Happy birthday Mate!


everything about it was good

Concrete poetry in Oriental Bay

Everything about it was good; the tugging wind trapped and cornered by buildings, steep short cuts bordered by garden escapes, precipitous green gullies where throttling green creepers blanketed the trees beneath.

Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson’s concrete poetry can be found in a little park away from the city in Oriental Bay. It’s not exactly hidden, but like all the other concrete poems, is not immediately obvious. That’s ok – you need the exercise anyway.

where a type of magic can be made

image of Bruce Mason's concrete poetry

I ask not only that my city,
but all, give themselves
to the essence of our cult –
the ritual assembly of an
interested coterie in space
where magic can be made
and miracles occur.

Bruce Mason – Omens and Portents

This work can be found on the north side of the Circa Theatre, set flat in the pavement. It’s not hard to find, once you get used to the idea that it is flat on the ground, as opposed to being set on a wall, or some rather more inaccessible location. Perhaps that’s part of Bruce Mason’s charm – his work is accessible.

The typeface used here is Optima – a very elegant font with graciously shaped letters – and quite surprising to see it used imprinted into the concrete. The font used in the other Wellington Writers’ Walk concrete poetry looks like a condensed Helvetica. With the Helvetica face the letterforms are set in relief, and casts shadows. The result causes strange, but not unpleasant, results in the negative spaces between the letters and lines. I think this effect is most obvious in the James K Baxter ‘Maori Jesus’ work, set with the concrete letters floating in the water.

One of the very subtle differences between the use of Optima here is that it looks different to how it might be used incised into a public building. The imprinting process, I believe, has allowed for a more delicate set of letter forms, particularly noticeable around ‘inner’ points e.g. the inside form of the capital ‘A’. If one was cutting this with a chisel it would be very easy for the point to flake off. The serifs are also set more in the traditional style of letterpress on to paper – the sides are square, and not cut in a ‘vee’ as would be required if chiselled into stone. The effect, then, is like the letters have been sandblasted into the concrete. But it somehow looks more delicate than that technique achieves.

Honey, this is not the side of a building any more, and it sure ain’t no headstone.

edges and margins

I live at the edge - Bill Manhire
I live at the edge
of the universe.
Like everybody else.

          Bill Manhire

Concrete poetry found on Wellington Writers’ Walk. Quite a challenge to find, it’s on the corner where the Taranaki Street wharf starts, near the floating crane, just below the edge of the wharf, by the reproduction of the on-off ferry loading ramp. The concrete poetry collection blogged here has been picked up by a fan of concrete and visual poetry (click for vispo blog).

I find the word spacings quite unusual. No bad, unusual. The first line feels like someone is shouting from the hill tops. The second line feels a little more subdued. Perhaps like the echo back. But not a mutter. Just quieter. Shyer. Like a typical kiwi bloke bellowing at the dogs and then getting all dew eyed at those inconvenient moments. Yeah, right. It’s poetry. Don’t be getting soppy about it.