Concrete Poetry Form: Shape Thoughts in Words

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Here’s what the Concrete poetry form is:

Concrete poetry is a unique form of poetry in which the words on the page form some meaningful image or shape that complements the poem itself.

Concrete poetry is also known as shape poetry.

So if you want to learn all about the Concrete poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get right to it!

Concrete Poetry Poem Type: Simply Explained

Forms of Poetry: Concrete Poetry

Concrete poetry, also known as shape poetry, is a unique form of poetry in which the words on the page form some meaningful image or shape that complements the poem itself.

So, as an example, a poem about the pyramids might purposely have a very short line on top, followed by a slightly longer line, a slightly longer one, and so on until it eventually forms a triangle of text on the page.

Basic Properties of Concrete

Vermeer woman writing
Rhyme StructureRarely
OriginAt least as early as BCE Greece
PopularityUsually niche; enjoys spontaneous bursts of popularity across history
ThemeVaries; usually based around a specific clear image

Example of Concrete Poetry

beautiful succulent plant in white pot and small book with poems

|Where there be a square|
|perhaps I might too care|
|for I would know where|
|to restrain a block of air|
|and keep it right in there|
|within that happy square|

While the above example may not be especially graceful, it should give some immediate insight into exactly what a concrete poem is.

As the alternate name (shape poetry) might suggest, the poem simply takes on a shape relevant to the poem itself.

The example above is a rather simple poem that uses a rectangular shape to contain a short poem about squares.

The connection is immediately obvious as you read the poem.

Note that the use of punctuation, such as vertical bars (featured above) or slashes is not uncommon in concrete poetry but is by no means a standard.

Writers must decide for themselves whether the use of punctuation helps or hinders the clarity of the shape and the content.

While the above poem does feature rhyme on every line, this is only a stylistic choice.

It shows that you still have space to play with the conventions of poetry within concrete poems.

But a vast number of concrete poems opt to completely do away with traditional expectations in order to make the shape used work.

How Is Concrete Poetry Structured?

On a wooden background, an open book, next to a rose and a cup of tea.

This is an interesting question since concrete poetry actually is a structure.

Rather than being built up from meters and rhymes and traditional techniques, concrete poetry actually attempts to take on a physical form of its own on the page.

This, in essence, allows concrete poems to act as their own illustration in a sense.

The juxtaposition of the font and the white space on the page is just as important as the content of the poem itself.

Concrete poems traditionally form some specific shape relevant to the poem itself, but not always.

Occasionally the physical form of the poem may represent the tone of the poem in some way.

A poem might literally spiral out of control or trail off the page if it matches the voice of the speaker.

If a shape is used, it will almost always be designed to be as iconic and immediately recognizable as possible.

The silhouette of a front view of a flamingo lacks the immediacy of the side view that we’re all so used to seeing, for example.

History of Concrete Poems

woman in white gown writes at a small table

While we think of concrete poetry as a modern form, matching up nicely with the rather recent postmodernist movement, the idea of writing poems in a meaningful shape goes far back into antiquity.

It is only the term “concrete poetry” that is new.

In fact, shape poetry was quite popular as early as the 3rd century BCE Greece.

It did experience a bit of a recession after the end of the classical era but started popping up again in the Baroque period when poets were experimenting with merging their own art form with the visual arts.

The form has since had an odd on-again, off-again relationship with poets, emerging in brief flashes before disappearing for a while, but never completely fading out.

Advances in print technology and digital technology have made concrete poetry more accessible than ever before, so it has seen new experimentation in the last century.

Tips for Writing Concrete Poetry

vintage blank notepad writer workplace mistletoe

Before even starting, make sure the intended platform or publication can support your poem.

If a contest explicitly demands that poems be left-justified 12pt Times New Roman font, then that may not be the time to flex your talent for shape poetry.

Make sure the publisher you’re submitting to will be comfortable with accommodating your font and formatting choices.

This can be especially problematic in instances where you and your editor use different but similar word processors or in cases where the font you based your poem around simply isn’t widely available.

Concrete poetry is easier to share in forms like .pdf (which is essentially a screenshot of the document in file form) and is notoriously hard to keep consistent as it moves from computer to computer.

As for writing the poem, stick with simple shapes for your earliest attempts.

There’s no sense in trying to write a poem that forms a detailed representation of the Eiffel Tower if you haven’t gotten a feel for the form with simple imitations of circles and squares first.

Use a font that you’re used to.

Monospaced (fixed-width) fonts may seem tempting at first, but take note that this restricts your ability to adjust the physical line length by using words with thicker or narrower letters.

“M” is significantly wider than “I” in a variable-width font and you may find this utility useful as you get accustomed to the form.

On a similar note to starting with simple shapes, you may want to use justification as your sole formatting tool for your first few attempts.

Beautiful young woman with red hair in a white medieval dress holding guitar and walking through the sunny field at warm light of sunset.

By making a poem that’s entirely left, right, or center justified, you can comfortably adapt to where the next line will go on its own.

You may eventually graduate to using various formatting tricks but start simple at first.

Make sure the image or shape you choose is relevant to your poem in some way.

It would be a bit strange if a poem explicitly dealing with trees and birds and nature were shaped like a Spanish guitar.

Seriously consider the physical form that best fits the image you’re going for.

From there, allow yourself to use enjambment.

Let the sentences break apart in strange ways that you normally wouldn’t if it allows you to maintain the integrity of the shape.

It is generally wise to keep each word intact, though.

You can consider a single word, especially short ones, to be your smallest unit of measurement when building the poem.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

My hat is off to anyone with the patience to handwrite concrete poetry.

I can barely be bothered to change the font size, while some people actually paint poems onto a canvas.

Imagine the dedication. The conviction.

The cost of supplies when you screw up the width of the third line.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

Vintage poetry book on wooden platform

Dare to traverse the entire spectrum of poetic forms, from the commonplace to the extraordinary?

Venture from the quintessential Sonnet to the elusive Mistress Bradstreet stanza, right through to the daunting complexity of Cro Cumaisc Etir Casbairdni Ocus Lethrannaigecht.

For those with a zeal to encounter the full breadth of poetry’s forms, this invitation is yours.

Start exploring the vast universe of poetic ingenuity with our comprehensive array of poetry forms right now!