Concrete Poetry/ Extended Project brief

Introduction (from the brief)
Concrete poetry – which can also be conceived and referred to
as ‘conceptual writing’ – is an art and design practice whereby
language is conceived and manipulated in its ‘concrete’ form,
that is as it is seen and presented to us as text, type, words and
letters. Ever since the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s
experiments with movable type in 1897 (see module presentation),
artists and designers have for progressively explored language’s
concrete existence through all manner of material innovations, all of
which focus on what language does, or can do, when what it ‘says’
(its ‘content’) and what it ‘is’ (its ‘form’, or how it exists) are merged
conceptually under the influence of the artist or designer.
In this workshop you are asked to produce one or more concrete
poems using the knowledge and practical skills that you have
learned so far, documenting your work in your process book.

22/2/22 lecture notes


  • Adam presented to us the Concrete Poetry brief, then introduced us to the extended project of the module. (The 2 are connected).
  • The first presentaion focused on the background of concrete poetry itself. What it is, how it came about and how it has been used by different designers and artists.
  • For this project, we can use methods we used before for the un-creative writing.
  • ‘Conceptual writing’ is a phrase used by Kenneth Goldsmith.
  • Looking at language as text, form, meaning. what language does rather than what it says. Breaking it down.
  • Painters and writers looking at each others work.

Stephane Mallarme

From the Poetry Foundation website:

Stéphane Mallarmé was recognized as one of France’s four major poets of the second half of the 19th century. Much of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. His poetry became highly influential in France and beyond, including in the United States, among poets looking for new and innovative ways to write, during the turbulent times of the early 1900s.

1897 A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance. First time someone thought about placing text differently.

‘Mallarmé’s autograph “maquette” for the the book showing the proportion, layout, and type sizes and typestyles he wanted the typesetter to follow.’

This passage explains the poem:

No one agrees on how it should be read. It spreads out in all directions on the page, inverts normal French word order, eschews ordinary punctuation, and presents a variety of fonts, typefaces, and letter sizes. It surprises its reader with oddly placed italics and eccentric full-word capitalizations. It offers, in short, a cornucopia of visual oddities that seem arbitrary yet torment the reader because they suggest the possibility of meaning. It induces a thoroughgoing bewilderment that borders on mystification.’   

I really like the way the poem is drifting across the page. It reminds me of how the current of a river pulls the water in one direction.

EE Cummings was an American poet. His poems written on a typewriter 1930s, show us an example of instant publication. Before this period, writers only had pen and paper to plan a poem, and they needed to trust the printmaker to produce the work from their instructions. EE Cummings, having use of a typewriter, was suddenly in charge of the poem’s lay out and see the publication instantly on the page.

Both poems by Cummings:

I find it interesting, how easy this poem is to read, given that the letters fall on completely different lines.

Convergence of design and poetry.

Book design innovation- typographic experimentation. Kamensky (below)

Tango with Cows: cubo-futurist art by Vasily Kamenski’

Conceptual artists also produce books of text. In these books, they are speaking for the sake of speaking. Literally uncreative writing.

Bruce Nauman uses analogical, handwritten techniques. He also produces neon installations, usually spelling out words.

Alan Fletcher

Eugen Gomringer

‘Eugene Gomringer (Cachuela Esperanza, Bolivia, 1925). Eugene Gomringer is often presented as one of the fathers of Concrete poetry. In the 1950s, his art studies led him to nonrepresentational paintings, from which he emulated his first poems. In 1960 he founded his own magazine “Konkrete Poesie”, and begin a decades long period of intensive writing that continues into present day.’
«Tree» and «wind» – the eight letters of these two words serve Eugen Gomringer as building blocks for the square word picture from 1961/2014, which can be viewed as an exemplary example of visual poetry. Inspired by the Zurich Konkreten - Gomringer was once Max Bill's secretary at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm - the language artist, who was born in Bolivia in 1925 and grew up in Switzerland, initiated the concept of concrete poetry in the German-speaking world. In the work baumwind, the eight black letters can be found in 13 different views in a square arrangement – ​​as if the “wind” had rushed into the “tree” and twirled its letters like leaves. The apparently accidental combinations of black characters on a white background allow for various reading variants and associations. – And the viewers can let their eyes wander through Gomringer’s forest of letters as one walks through blown leaves in autumn.

Ian Hamilton Finlay

Other interesting designers:

My concrete poetry experimentations

What is your strategy?
Knowing your strategy is an important learning outcome for this
module. Even if you don’t feel able define or conceive a strategy – that
is to say, identifying what you’re seeking to do to/with the material at
hand, or how you might practically archive a specific goal – before
you begin working (which is not at all unusual), it will be important
for you to record your reflection on what may be at stake in the work
retrospectively, as you work and after you complete the poem.
What media could you use?
The most innovative use of media can produce the most effective
concrete poetry. Take some time to consider what exactly could be
used; a media’s not conventionally being associated with typographic
design (such as photography) might lead to interesting innovations.
What are the deeper questions at stake?
As well as thinking about how you can conduct visual research –
working with different media a techniques to produce innovations – you
may want to stop to consider some of the philosophical implications
of conceptual writing and concrete poetry: What is writing?, Where
do/might we find it? What does writing do? What could writing do?

Extended Project brief: Rethinking the magazine

Lecture notes-

  • Experimenting with magazine design because of redundancy of magazine (because of digital age.)
  • Create a mini monograph magazine
  • anthology of concrete poetry
  • Experiment with this as much as possible
  • Can use given poetry, or make your own. must also include 2000 word essay by Goldsmith. ‘Why conceptual writing- why now’- goldsmith. it is introductionary.
  • playing with type
  • Could produce your own with bookbinding techniques or go with the newspaper club and order from them and they make it for you. (more industry based option) Tabloid, digital, broad
  • Need to work within a grid, will need to be ordered early because of production and delivery time.
  • Choosing bookbinding, you have more time. Own binding- you can print on newspaper paper.
  • Could be helpful to do the newspaper route because you don’t need to think about binding/ format etc. Allow for production time, more than 1 week.
  • Before you start: Make a project plan. (Consider when and how you will proceed.)
  • Research magazine design.
  • early formal experiments- can combine with process book because playing with type. Think early on about production.
  • Due 26th April
  • Magazine/ newspaper/ zine
  • Can open PDF file of text in illustrator
  • Could use just one font. Could include the introductionary paragraphs to each poem.
  • Neat or radical.

My first thoughts are to use rubber letter stamps, label machine, embossed words, staple words, stitched words. To maybe use a different method for each poem or each few poems.

Rubber stamp experiment:

Concrete poem experiments (using labels)

When writing the concrete poem, I used text from a book for my un-creative writing process. In this case, the novel A Man Called Ove.

I approached the exercise like picking lottery numbers: Randomly and from my head.

I counted the number of lines on a page and number of words in a line roughly. I made a note of the number of total pages. I then chose numbers at random for each category, to select 6 words:

I re-arranged these words to form sentences.

I got old my embossing label maker:

I stuck the words in a neat order, which naturally cannot be 100% precise. I chose red for the word ‘change’ to give it emphasis and create a visual pattern.

Scan of the experiment:

The page held against the window on a sunny day:

I was inspired by the adhesive element of the labels. I wondered how I could use a different surface to lay out the words.

The fashion design poster designed by Letman (earlier in this blog post) , shows the idea of using the surface of the body to display text.

I made more labels with the embossing tool, this time using the green tape. I stuck these onto my hand and took photos in different hand positions. (below)

I then opened the images in photoshop, to remove the background from the text.

I used the direct selection tool to select the labels. I copied and pasted them onto a new layer, then deleted the background.

I layered the words from the photos into one image:

I removed the backgrounds of the photos and kept the hands in. I adjusted the photos to greyscale and adjusted the levels:

I used the posterise tool in this image. I like the way the words lead off into the distance, getting smaller gradually.

After taking the photos with the labels on my hand, I stuck the labels onto paper.

I photocopied the labels in colour onto another page. I then turned the paper and photocopied the same labels in black and white onto the page. This meant the words were upside down.

I then used rubber stamps to add the same selection of words onto the photocopy:

I stuck white labels on top of the embossed labels.

I placed this into the printer and photocopied my earlier experiment on top in black and white. (below)

I removed the labels and stuck them to the side of the page:

Speculative Typography: Relief printing

Produce your own speculative or ‘a-semic’ writing system –
consisting of 10-20 pieces – using the skills that you have
developed so far. You must then produce a series of prints using
your writing system, which you are asked to cut out of found
manufactured items such as cardboard packaging, instruction
pamphlets, small and large manufactured objects found on
campus or around the studio or at home. Think about how
manufactured objects effectively lend partly ‘semic’ information
that you can appropriate for your writing system.

Abstract compositions:
Karel Martens

Where the prints overlap, the colour is darker and this gives the image some solidity.

Week 4

In today’s lecture, we were working with the prints from the previous ‘Speculative typography’ workshop. I printed the scans of these prints onto art paper. I had the option of printing these designs in different colours than the originals, by using the colour settings on the printer.

For example, in the below image I printed the design in its original colour (blue). I then replaced the paper into the paper tray, rotating it around. I placed the original print into the scanning bed and selected the 2 colour option, then selected yellow and black. This came out on the paper as a shade of green. I also resized the print by changing the percentage, and photocopied this onto the previous print.

I selected blue and yellow for these prints as I liked the way these colours merged when overlapping:

I creating this image from 2 photocopies. (green and magenta). I like the fine lines created by the edge of the paper.

The main part of this workshop, was the relief printing technique.

I was not happy with most of the prints from this half of the workshop. I think this is because the method was new to me, I didn’t have the chance to practice and plan the pieces because of time restrictions. I found that my classmates took to the process and got on well with it, whereas I struggled. (This was also the case when I first screen-printed, at the beginning of semester 1. But with time and practice, I got more confident.)

I maybe rushed the process and didn’t anticipate what the outcome would be when I chose certain colours and placements. I could have slowed down and really thought about what would compliment the composition.

Step 1- Was to soak the paper in water, for about 5 minutes. This made the paper softer, more pliant so that it bends to the shapes of the materials used for printing on top. After soaking the paper, it needed to be sandwiched between blotting paper. This removes the excess water.

Step 2- was to ink up the materials used for printing. We used mainly carboard packaging for this purpose. The ink were rolled onto the worktop and I used a roller to transfer the ink onto the cardboard.

Step 3- I then carried the damp paper and inked up pieces over to the printing press. I arranged the pieces onto the paper, after placing these pieces, I did not have the option of removing and replacing the pieces. When I was satisfied, I laid a few sheets of paper over the top, followed by a couple of blankets.

Step 4- It was important that the blanket wouldn’t crease or fold. Therefore, we worked in pairs for the printing process. One person, held onto the blanket, pulling it straight and the other person turned the wheel. A swift action is best for this.

Step 5- After removing the blanket and paper, we could start removing the shapes from the print to see our results. Sometimes it was enough for the work to be pulled under the press once. It was at this point that I saw the paper had ripped in some parts. This is because the paper was too wet.

my work, right
my first print was unsuccessful because there was no harmony or balance.

I tried to use the striped cardboard markings to unify the composition with blue ink. However, I felt the print still looked too busy:

I liked this print because the peach colour was very different in tone and temperature to the mossy green. The circle in the cardboard worked well with the circles in the underlying print. I allowed white space.

Experimental bookbinding

After being introduced to the extended project brief, this was fresh in my mind when approaching this bookbinding workshop.

From the brief-

Create a mini-monograph magazine anthology of concrete
poems (a minimum of x5 poems chosen from a collection
provided for you) with the accompanying 2,000 word
introductory essay consisting of at least 8 printed-pages.

If I were to decided on 16 pages for the magazine/newspaper, this would mean using 4 sheets of paper.

We were given a selection of printed pages, some double-sided and others not. The paragraphs were printed with red, blue, green and black text, in a variety of weights, pt size and placement. We were then challenged to put them together into books, using experimental techniques.

Things to consider in the workshop:

  • The middle page will show double spread as the page is printed
  • Think about how to place the pages together. How will the different colours and textures match across a spread?
  • The cover could be shorter than pages.
  • Staggered pages
  • Cut areas out
  • The thickness of the coloured paper we use for the cover may influence the method want to use for binding.
  • We could use letterpress onto a coloured paper cover for our final magazines. Most papers can be printed on digitally, but the thicker papers might be more appropriate to letter press on instead.
  • We could make pockets for 4 separate pieces.
  • Stitch or staple pieces onto the folds
  • Loose covers
  • Different sizes paper
  • Mini books inside
  • Concertina
  • Shapes and colours of the type, what textures etc to consider

I looked at this book in the workshop. The brown paper cover intrigued me because it is unusual for a book cover.

I really like the peach-coloured narrow pages within the book.

The first book I made was based around the idea of staggering the width of the pages. This is the book as seen from the front. I cut the outside page so that it is narrower all the way around the cover. It wouldn’t be readable, because half of the page is around the back of the book. I have used the grey card as a tougher cover for the book, with the very outside page functioning as a decoration rather than a page to read. The words here might function as a taster as to the theme of the book.

I have cut the edge of grey cover, on the front side, to reveal the contents of the book.

I have left the other page of grey cover at its full width. I cut the edge of the paper within the book, to create the staggered page effect.

The bolder text peeking out from the grey cover is effective, as it is in between the darker tone of the cover.

I placed the pages of red text in the second half of the book and pages of black text in the first half.

To bind this book, I chose to use a needle and tough thread. I held the sheets of paper together with bulldog clips. After punching 3 holes into the spine, I stitched the pages using the basic bookbinding stitch.

The last stage of stitching the book.

The second book I made. The colours of the book markers complement the black text on the cover.

The markers can be seen at the edge of the book.

Centre of the book. The staples can be seen here at the centre. I used 2 staples to keep it simple. 1 staple for each bookmark.
I aligned the top of the marker with the top of the paragraph on the opposite page.
This is where the marker appeared on the other side of the book.
Orange marker. I like the neatness of attaching markers in this way, as the staples are not visible here.
I aligned the orange marker with the start and end of these paragraphs.

The third book I made:

I used a pair of compasses to draw a semi-circle on the front cover. I then used scissors to cut along this line.

Trimming the last pages of text, allowed the coloured card to be visible from the front when the book is closed.

I used a scalpel and ruler to trim the edges of the paper.

However, this snagged at the paper. I thought this might have been due to the angle of me sitting down. I stood up to redo the cut, but this had the same effect. I then figured out that pressing on the scalpel harder and using a swifter motion, was enough to make a clean cut.

For the fourth book of the workshop, I made a smaller cover with blue card that acted like a belly band.

I feel that the colours work well together (red text and turquoise-blue cover)

The cover wraps around the pages and so the pages fit within the folds. (see below)

The blue text can still be read, with the band folded in.

Centre staples. The page on the right folds in from the edge of the page. I used double-sided tape to attach it.
I placed this half page within the book to allow the information to be read alone of as part of the page behind it.

I can see the potential of binding my own book. It allows more creativity and imagination, also inspiring the content as much as the content could inspire the format.