Technology has a lifespan, and only once it has passed from usefulness in a larger economic system does it move into an artistic one. Once ubiquitous in business and graphic design environments, Letraset is now an antiquated cultural artefact denigrated to artist production. Only once the business community rejected Letraset in favour of computerized graphic design technologies did dry-transfer lettering enter a artistic vocabulary. Ironically, that transition only occurred once the medium was deemed not cost effective by its manufacturers and is slipping out of production. I view poetry, as typified by concrete poetry, as the architectural structuring of the material of language; the unfamiliar fitting together of fragments, searching for structure.
Both Eugen Gomringer & Mary Ellen Solt sought simplicity & clarity in their materialist use of semantic particles (Gomringer’s “Silencio” & Solt’s “Flowers in Concrete” are examples). Gomringer argues that concrete poetry is an essentially modernist gesture that “realize[s] the idea of a universal poetry” & can “unite the view of the world expressed in the mother tongue with physical reality”. His poetic is created by a dictatorial author-function, the modernist concrete poem limits & sanctions the role of the reader according to strict formulations; the reading space is “ordered by the poet […h]e determines the play-area, the field or force & suggests its possibilities”. Writing in 1954, Gomringer argued for a poetic which both reflects & augments commercial advertisements & graphic design, “[h]eadlines, slogans, groups of sounds & letters give rise to forms which could be models of a new poetry just waiting to be taken up for meaningful use […] So the new poem is simple & can be perceived visually as a whole as well as in its parts.”
Gomringer proposes that “languages are on the road to formal simplification; abbreviated, restricted forms of language are emerging”. This reduction & “simplification” of language—this attempt to create a universal poetic based on headlines & slogans—is now completely submerged into contemporary graphic design & advertising. In many ways Gomringer was correct, poetry today must learn from the insightful use of language which is typicfied by contemporary graphic design and advertising. Marjorie Perloff states, “this call for what Eugen Gomringer has characterized as ‘reduced language’ for ‘poems […] as easily understood as signs in airports & traffic signs,’ runs the risk of producing poems ‘poems’ that are airport & traffic signs.” We should be so lucky.
Author of five books of poetry (most recently the visual poem suite silence), three volumes of conceptual fiction (most recently Local Colour: Ghosts, Variations) and over 150 chapbooks, derek beaulieu's work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. Toro magazine recently wrote "using techniques drawn from graphic design, fine art and experimental writing, [beaulieu] vigorously tests the restrictions, conventions, and denotations of the letters of the alphabet." His next book, Please, No more poetry: selected poetry of derek beaulieu (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2013; edited by Kit Dobson) is an overview of his concrete and conceptual poetics. beaulieu has performed his work at festivals and universities across Canada, the United States and Europe. He can be found online at www.derekbeaulieu.wordpress.com
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