Concrete or Shape Poetry

The Oxford Dictionary defines concrete or shape poetry as that in which the poem’s meaning is conveyed partly or wholly by visual means using patterns, words, fonts and other typographical devices.   The choice to express the meaning not only through the words but also through the physical shape they form allows the visual elements to become as important as the text.



"Fallingwater," George Ella Lyon, King Library Press 


"Fallingwater," George Ella Lyon, King Library Press

Two shape poems by George Ella Lyon, printed by two different printers, are included in the exhibit, “Fallingwater,” printed by the King Library Press, and “Inviting the Queen,” by October Press.  The shape often comes to Lyon as part of her writing process: “It’s electrifying when the shape becomes possible. There’s a rightness and depth about it when it works.”  “Fallingwater” was inspired by a visit and subsequent fall at the architecturally iconic home with the same name designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The poem takes the form of the house, which is sited above a waterfall.  The lines of the poem suggest the cantilevered elements of the house and the movement of the waterfall.  The author created a typed version in her desired shape as a model for the King Library Press.  Normally, to achieve the desired effect, the typesetter must use spaces to create the blank space.  However, the apprentice working on the poem began the work without the use of the spaces.  Not wanting to undo the time consuming work, the King Library Press decided to use metal and wood “furniture” as place holders.  The “furniture” is used to hold the page in place as it is being printed.  The result is a unique image which also serves as the title photograph for this exhibit. 

Inviting the Queen

"Inviting the Queen," George Ella Lyon, October Press, illustration by Carolyn Whitesel 

"Inviting the Queen," George Ella Lyon, October Press, illustration by Carolyn Whitesel

For Deborah Kessler of October Press, the shape poem not only provides an image of the work from the poet, but it also presents an exciting challenge for the printer.  Lyon gave Kessler a word-processed document of the poem in the shape of a hive.  To achieve this shape, Kessler inserted spaces to lengthen the line where necessary, creating a difficult task for the printer.  The finished product was shown to the author for approval, and Lyon asked, “Where’s the door?”  Kessler had mistaken what was meant to be a door as spaces to lengthen the lines.  The entire poem had to be set again.  The result was perfect.  Carolyn Whitesel’s illustrated bees were a fitting addition to the broadside.