UbuWeb | UbuWeb Papers

The Poem as Functional Object (1960)
Eugen Gomringer, Switzerland

from Concrete Poetry: A World View, (1968, Indiana University Press)

Some years ago I defined the new poem as a functional object. This definition was accepted by some as a sign of the times and misguided youth and by others as a working hypothesis for different developmental procedures. At the same time in South America, or more exactly, in São Paulo, a group was formed whose definition of tile poem coincided with mine. I called my poems "constellations" omitting reference to earlier poems with the same title by other poets. Later, after similar and different forms had been created, my friends in São Paulo and I grouped all our experiments under the term "Concrete Poetry." One reason for this was to honor the concrete Painters in Zürich--Bill, Graeser, Lohse, Vreni, Loewensberg and others--a strong group from which impulses felt throughout the world had been emitted uninterruptedly since the early forties. Since 1942 my creation of the constellations has been decisively influenced by this group. Today "Concrete Poetry" is the general term which included a large number of poetic-linguistic experiments characterized with either constellation, ideogram, stochastic poetry" etc.,-by conscious study of the material and its structure (for a short time there was a magazine with this name linateriall in Darmstadt): material means the sum of all the signs with which we make poems. Today you find concrete poetry in Japan, Brazil, Portugal, Paris, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

For some younger poets the constellation is already old hat. That is it does not go far enough for them. Some of them work typographically more freely; others work typographically less imaginatively. Still others criticiez me for trying to say too much. In spite of the fact that many of my purer constellations (for example "avenidas"/ "baum kind hund haus" (tree child dog house)/ "mist mountain butterfly" were preceded by divers experiments. Even today, again and again, I make logical, atomistic and graphic experiments, which serve only as stimulation and discipline.

I find it wisest to stay with the word, even with the usual meanings of the word. By doing this I hope, in spite of tile apparent scarcity d my words as compared to the verbosity of non-concrete poetry, to stay in continuity with poetry which emphasizes formal pattern. The purpose of reduced language is not the reduction of language itself but the achievement of greater flexibility and freedom of communication (with its inherent need for rules and regulations). The resulting poems should be, if possible, as easily understood as signs in airports and traffic signs. I see danger in taking away from Concrete Poetry its useful, aesthetic-communicative character on the one side by not understanding the simpler linguistic phenomena (by being over-fed -with words, and by lack of artistic sensibility) and on the other side by following the new esoteric of the typographic poets in whom one can sometimes notice a certain lack of imagination. To date I see only in the experiments of Claus Bremer, in his poems in the form of ideograms, genuine enrichment of the constellation. This selection is not comprised of pure constellation only. Each poem contains elements of constellation: the direct juxtaposition of words; repetitions and combinations; questioning of equivalent statements; over-all unity of themes; analysis and svnthesis as poetic subject; minimal-maximal tension in the smallest space. I want especially, to show through this small variety that the constellation can be the rallying point as well as the point of departure. Anyone who makes use of the freedoms of the art of poetry in a reasonable way will see that the constellation is not a dead-end or an end at all, as the literary people have said, but on the contrary that it uses thinking and structural methods which can connect artistic intuition with scientific specialization.

Concrete poetry, in general, as well as the constellation, hopes to relate literature as art less to "literature" and inore to earlier developments in the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, industrial design-in other words to developments whose basis is critical but positively-defined thinking.

Note: Originals of Gomringer’s manifestoes and statements are printed without capitals.

Translation lrène Montjoye Sinor, Mary Ellen Solt

(From the Foreword to 33 konstellationen)