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Mary Ellen Solt

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

The concrete poetry movement got under way in Belgium with the Exposition of Objective Poetry in Antwerp in 1962, organized by Paul de Vree and Henri Chopin of France. An audition of phonetic poetry was presented. But it should not be assumed that this collaboration between De Vree and Chopin implies a descent of Belgian sound poetry from the French experiments, for De Vree's poems had been sonorized prior to his meeting Chopin in 1962. De Vree's work differs from French sound poetry in that it "is based on rhythmic spoken words and syllables and uses mechanical expedients." One would not suspect, seeing "Vertigo Gli" on the page, that it is a "score" intended for electronic sonorization.

The sonorized poem implies an entirely new concept of collaborative "reading." "It is a collaboration in this sense," De Vree writes, "the poem is prepared completely by me. In the studio I control the diction and the recitation and work out the different tapes, the sound material. The composer makes the sonorization (mixture)." "Vertigo Gli" was sonorized by Jan Bryndonckx. The performance would, then, vary somewhat with different voices (readers) and a different composer, so the subjective element is present even on the level of mechanical production.

"Vertigo Gli" defines the international descriptive noun of our century, VERTIGO, in metaphorical terms. "Gli" is from "glisser": the vertigo of "glide" or "slide." Our life is a dizzy slide down a ski-run ("skibann"). We make a mere dot ("stip") on the snowy horizon against the sky and disappear. Or, moving into the master image of the poem, which sees life as an airplane journey, we are born, we rise ("stijgt") to shine like the airplane brightly in the sunlight ("blinkt"); we exchange a glance ("blik") with someone--we are in love--we slide ("glijbaan") going into orbit; we fly away gliding (glijvlucht); shinning like faience (gleis), transfigured, we live for a time in the high glittering, glimmering zone of love ("glinstert," "glimpt" ); we glide ( "glist" ) and slip ( "glipt" ); we begin to lower ( "straight"--strike sail ); the horizon stretches out, and with the sound of the motor in our ears ( "woeng" ) we touch earth ( "grond" ), we die. De Vree speaks of the poem as being "primarily concerned with our encounter with love (erotic) during our passage from birth to death in our short lifetime-- the essential fragments: a sudden wonder as well as a sudden reality and the not-to-be-averted fall."

Mike Weaver has interpreted rightly, I believe, "de wing" ("the wing"), "de won"" (onomatopoetic play on "de wan""--"the cheek"); and "de wimper" ("the eyelash") as metaphoric identification of the airplane with the body of the lover: the arms ("de wing"); the cheek ("de won"") and the eyelash (the propeller) ("dewimper").

The sonorized poem, like all of the recent experiments with sound poetry, is an entirely new experience in listening where poetry is concerned. We are accustomed to the interpretative use of sound on the sound track of the motion picture and television show, why not make it available to the poem? The new dimension of sound opens the way for new dimensions of content or new articulations of the timeless content of poetry. "Vertigo Gli," although made on the machine, is excitingly human and lyrical.

"A rose," presented here in English, is equally effective in the poet's native language. It has also been sonorized, but it conveys its full message visually as well. Gertrude Stein's classic, non-symbolic statement is seen to be true in any language expressed by any medium. De Vree also makes typewriter poems and edits DE TAFELRONDE.

Ivo Vroom, also of Belgium, shows us that the words of the title of Mondrian's famous painting are also able to make an aesthetic statement that suggests the structure of the painting. Leon van Essche makes us aware of the formal similarities of several letter forms. Vroom and Van Essche are associated with the magazine LABRIS.

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