Friday, April 09, 2010


Michael J. Vaughn, a Writer's Digest contributor) continues today with more teaching and ideas for creating our own concrete poems. Hope you're learning as much as I am. And I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get started writing one.


In Hollander’s 1969 “Swan and Shadow,” he uses the text to create the silhouette of a swan, the surface of a lake and the swan’s upside-down shadow. Hollander relates the words of the poem to their physical location within the image. (The swan’s head, for example, describes “Dusk / Above the / water … ”).

“One certainly needs no artistic talent in order to draw a good bit, and certainly not to rough out a silhouette,” Hollander says. “It’s not a lack of talent, but an absolutely dreadful educational system that prevents everyone from being able to draw a little.”

Through laborious trial-and-error experiments, I’ve devised a process for creating a shape poem, with two inherent biases. First, my process gives precedence to preserving the integrity of the original poem, applying the visual image afterward. Second, my process takes advantage of two modern advances: the image reduction/enlargement capabilities of today’s copiers, and the conveniences offered by computer word-processing programs.

1. Write a poem. Try free verse or prose forms. For this article, I used “Papageno’s Complaint,” a free-verse poem I recently wrote. It was inspired by the bird catcher in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

2. Imagine a shape. It doesn’t have to reflect the primary subject of the poem. Sometimes it’s more effective to choose a shape that reflects a small detail or provides a subtle comment on the discourse. I chose the object of my character’s occupation: a bird. Because Papageno is a catcher of exotic birds, I settled on a toucan.

3. Find an image. In addition to the Internet, you might try magazines, photo books, children’s coloring books or craft stores. In my case, I found a photo of a toucan at a zoo’s website.

4. Get the right size. Run the lines of your poem together, inserting punctuation as needed, and print it out as a single prose paragraph. Compare the area taken up by your poem and that provided by your image. Use a copy machine to reduce or enlarge the image accordingly.

5. Cut and paste. Cut your poem into one-line strips and paste them over your image with a glue stick, beginning each line at the left margin of the image, and ending it at or slightly past the right margin. If you run out of words before you run out of image—or vice versa—return to the copier, adjust your image size and cut and past again. This is the most arduous step, but it’ll make the final two steps much easier.

6. Head to your computer. Identify your most leftward line. Beginning at flush left, type the entire line; then work your way upward and downward, using your space bar to position each line’s first letter according to its relationship to adjoining letters. For the tip of the beak, “down,” for instance, the letter “d” is directly beneath the “n” in “and.”

7. Edit. Once you’ve typed out the poem, you may want to adjust or change words to polish the silhouette.

Thank you Mr. Vaughn for your knowledge on the subject of concrete poems. And I hope everyone is excited to try their hand at creating one for themselves.

Love ya,


... Paige said...

Hi, here by way of a link in the Write Ingredients newsletter.

Glad you meet ya and can't figure out how I've miss ya

... Paige said...

oops...that should be gald "to" meet ya...blah blah blah :-)

Caleb's mom said...

Wow. I like the idea of combining shape and poem. I've done it before but by accident! And it wasn't so hot. The Oklahoma judge gave a thumbs down! Can you believe that? Yep. I'll try again, with some knowledge this time! Thanks!