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Ian Hamilton Finlay, Wave Rock, 1966, by courtesy of the estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay

Waves from Ceri-Anne on Vimeo.

Wave Rock

In concrete poetry the arrangement of words and letters is as important as the words’ meaning and sound. This is why concrete poems can be understood as pieces of visual art as much as they are poems. The arrangement of words may be used to contrast their meaning or to provide witty visual puns. Concrete poems ask their readers to oscillate between reading and viewing, and sometimes looking at a concrete poem can be like looking at a puzzle as we try to work out the connection between the visual elements and the words.

The term concrete poetry was coined by the Brazilian Noigandres poets in their ‘Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry’ from 1958. However poems that used language to create a visual effect existed long before this – for example French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘calligrammes‘ (1918) were poems in which the spatial arrangement of the words on the page created a visual image related to what the words said. We can see a similar effect in Wave Rock by Ian Hamilton Finlay, where the layout of the words reflects the content. The density where the words overlap suggests the solidity of the rock compared to the froth of the sea implied by the spread out letters of ‘wave’.

Watch the animation above by Ceri-Anne van der Geer to see Wave Rock come to life!