Concrete Poetry: UK Networks & Connections – Research Symposium

A CCW & CSM research event part of University of the Arts London (UAL) Research Fortnight 2017

Date: 15 March 2017
Venue: Chelsea College of Arts (Banqueting Hall), University of the Arts London
Admission free 
After decades of scarce academic interest in Concrete poetry, over the last few years a
number of UK-based researchers have started to produce new work, including several
PhD projects (some now completed), approaching this complex subject from both
artistic and literary perspectives.

Concrete poetry, originally a literary movement heavily influenced by Modernist art
(Constructivism and Concrete art), appeared in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland in
the mid-1950s, and was characterized for privileging the visual (typographical)
arrangement of words over more traditional elements of the poem (sound and
meaning). It was adopted by visual artists and incorporated into art practice during
the early and mid-1960s, becoming an international phenomenon through a network
of little magazines, self-publishing and a few influential exhibitions, with the UK
playing an important role in this development.

This would be the first symposium held in the UK aiming at bringing together
academic researchers working in the field of Concrete poetry. Presenters will be
invited to talk about their current topics of work, with panel discussions providing an
overview of the current state of the investigation. There will be a general theme, UK
networks and connections in Concrete poetry, but the emphasis would be for
researchers active in this area to present their recent work.

The symposium will present new, original contributions to our knowledge of the
complex relations of literature and the visual arts, making explicit multiple forms and
examples of mutual influence within experimental practices during the 1960s.
Although the perspective would be primarily historical, it will also be relevant to
current expanding fields like conceptual writing and artists’ writing and publishing.

Programme:
9.45 Welcome/Opening: Prof. Oriana Baddeley, Dean of Research, UAL
Morning panel
Chair: Dr Michael Asbury 10.00 Paper 1 Dr Steve Willey
10.30 Paper 2 Nicola Simpson
11.00 Paper 3 Gustavo Grandal Montero

(Break 11.30-11.45)

11.45 Paper 4 Dr Greg Thomas
12.15 Paper 5 Alice Tarbuck
12.45 Panel discussion
(1.00pm Lunch break)

Afternoon panel
Chair: Dr Alison Green
2.00pm Paper 6 Dr Michael Asbury
2.30pm Paper 7 Dr Viviane Carvalho da Annunciação 3.00pm Paper 8 Jasmin Wrobel
3.30pm Paper 9 Dr Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho

(Break 4-4.15pm)

4.15pm Keynote: ‘Concrete Poetry: Then and now’, Prof. Stephen Bann
4.45pm Panel discussion
5pm Ends

Organised by Gustavo Grandal Montero, PhD candidate, Central Saint Martins (UAL)
and Academic Support Librarian, Chelsea College of Arts / Camberwell College of Arts
(UAL) [email protected]
Advisory panel: Michael Asbury, Alison Green, Jo Melvin (UAL). Nicola Simpson
(NUCA) and Greg Thomas (Edinburgh).

An exhibition of Concrete poetry from the nationally important holdings in the Special
Collections at Chelsea College of Arts Library will be held 13-31 March to coincide with
the symposium, highlighting the role of UAL archives and special collections in PhD
research. Exhibition open to UAL staff and students, alumni and SCONUL members
during library opening hours. External visitors by appointment only.

Image: Futura, issues 1-26. Courtesy of Hansjörg Mayer.

Speakers:

Prof. Oriana Baddeley, Dean of Research, UAL
Welcome/Opening

Dr. Steve Willey
Visual and verbal permutations in the work of Bob Cobbing Over the last ten years and on both sides of the Atlantic, ‘Make perhaps this out sense of can you’ (1963), a seventeen-line permutation poem by British Concrete Poet Bob Cobbing, has repeatedly been used as the point of access into the world of Cobbing. In 2007 the poem’s title was used as the name for an intermedia event and exhibition of Cobbing materials at the Rosenwald Gallery in the Van-Pelt Dietrich Library, University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, a BBC Radio 4 documentary on Cobbing used the poem’s title, as did an academic symposium on Cobbing’s work held at Chelsea College of Arts in 2015. This paper argues that using ‘Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You’ to signal a critical engagement with Cobbing’s work today, revisits and amplifies relationships between criticism (the making of sense) and community (the making of a ‘School’) that were operating on the poem at the point of its composition in 1963, and further explores broader relationships between permutation and British Concrete poetry.

Nicola Simpson
the sun-cheese wheel-ode and other no things: performing no thingness in the work of dom sylvester houédard, ken cox & li yuan chia
This paper will focus on performing no thingness, the exhibition I recently curated for East Gallery at Norwich University of the Arts (2016). Exhibiting the previously unseen book of onomasticons by dsh, the rarely shown five elemental balloon poem by Ken Cox, and magnetic multiples by Li Yuan Chia, the intention was to demonstrate how, for each artist, performance was central to their understanding and making of poemobjects, poemscores and poemenvironments. These three artists all knew each other, sharing an interest in the Eastern Buddhisms and Taoisms that present objects not as things but as relationships, events and actions. Concluding with a screening of the documented performance of “the sun-cheese wheel-ode a double-rolling-gloster memorial for kencox”, I will illustrate how my doctoral research and curatorial practice has been engaged with (re)performing the archive of dsh to create a space “in which words wld move thru the air”.

Gustavo Grandal Montero
Materialising language: concrete poetry and UK art schools in the mid-1960s
The topic of my research is the relation between Concrete poetry and conceptual art, and the ‘turn to language’ in visual arts during the 1960s. During this decade, a large number of artists embraced ‘new’ media and dematerialised practices, with a significant proportion using language/text as the basis of their work, notably conceptual artists. My presentation will concentrate on the adoption of Concrete poetry by artists and designers based in UK art schools, and its rapid evolution in the central years of the decade (1964-1967), as evidenced at Chelsea School of Art in the collaborations of Edward Wright (dsh, John Furnival, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Stephen Bann, etc.) and the work of Tom Edmonds and others.

Dr. Greg Thomas
The provincial sixties: Literary and artistic culture in the Midlands, West Country and Wales
This paper will explore regional literary and artistic communities during what Arthur Marwick calls the “long sixties” (ca. 1958-74), focusing especially on centres of activity in the Midlands, West Country and Wales. The aim is to interrogate London-centric conceptions of the era’s defining cultural trends by exploring the socio-cultural backdrops and literary and artistic outputs of these alternative cultural centres, emphasising their relationship to defining “sixties” genres such as concrete poetry. The first part of my paper will explore current conceptions of the sixties focused upon London as a hub of literary and artistic activity, established partly by influential memoirs from Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture to Barry Miles’s In the Sixties. I will then sketch out a number of alternative sixties cultural centres, primarily around Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, and Nottingham. Alluding to relevant social and cultural backdrops – the expansion of the university sector, the increasing (and increasingly regionally-focused) provisions of the Arts Councils, the growth of a transnational counter-culture – I will consider the typical operations of such communities, involving independent bookshops, galleries, small presses and magazine series, which became nexuses within national and international cultural networks. These networks were generally connected to North America, and thus to the aesthetics of objectivist, beat and Black Mountain poetry, and of intermedia and pop art; and often with South America and Northern Europe, and thus with the concrete art and poetry movements. Finally, I will consider some exemplary publishing projects of the period, and some of the literature and art produced within such communities. I will allude to some possible implications of this re-adjusted conception of sixties culture by adapting recent insights on late and global modernisms.

Alice Tarbuk
The unstable legacy of concrete poetry in the work of Thomas A. Clark
In 2015 the Hayward Gallery published a work entitled The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century. Amongst emergent concrete and visual artists such as Greg Thomas and Sophie Herxheimer, it was perhaps surprising to see the inclusion of those poet/artists whose work had also formed part of the original concrete poetry ‘renaissance’ of the 1960s, including Stuart Mills, David Bellingham and Thomas A. Clark. (1) (2) It was correct to include Clark amongst the newer visual artist/poets in the anthology, because Clark’s relationship to concrete poetry is neither old nor new: it has been, and continues to be, a major influence on his work.
Indeed, concrete poetry is perhaps the single biggest influence on Clark’s poetic output, and has been since he began making work in the 1960s. In interviews, he credits the wedding gift of an Adana, and his friendship with Ian Hamilton Finlay as the catalysts for his poetic career: he began, then, with concrete poetry. (3)

This paper argues that Clark’s approach to concrete poetry is unusual because, unlike Finlay’s, it persists into the post-concrete era. Clark’s approach to his influences is one of advance and return: he both participates in, and draws back from them, and this is no different for his relationship with concrete poetry, remaining perhaps a little apart from it, even where its influence is clear, making him at once a concrete poet, and a post-concrete poet.
(1) Emmett Williams speaks of ‘the concrete ‘renaissance’ in England, Germany and Sweden during the early sixties’, differentiating this from the first wave of concrete poetry in the 1950s. Williams, Emmett, An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, (New York: Something Else, 1967), p. vii.
(2) Bean, Victoria, Chris McCabe, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Robert Montgomery, The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century, (London: Hayward Gallery, 2015).
(3) ‘The fairly severe limitations of the adana have been a continuing influence on my poetry, as confining and empowering as, let’s say, the haiku or the sonnet.’, Clark, Thomas A. ‘An Inconspicuous Green Flower’ in Bevis, John, Certain trees: the constructed book, poem and object 1964-2006 (Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, France: Centre des livres d’artistes, 2006). p.143.

Dr. Michael Asbury
Haroldo de Campos’ notion of ‘Transcriation’ and the time of art history
This paper draws on the notion of ‘transcriation’ and its relation to poetic writings beyond (but not altogether excluding) the problem of translation within concrete poetry.
Haroldo de Campos responded to works by Helio Oiticica by referring to Ezra Pound’s translation of a Japanese Noh theatre play, the Hagoromo (The Feathered Mantle), as well as the 19th century proto-modernist narrative poem O Guesa Errante (1877) by Joaquim Sousândrade. For Oiticica, the poet’s conjunction invoked further associations, namely with Mallarme’s ‘Un Coup de Des’ and Malevitch’s ‘White on White’, which manifested themselves respectively in films such as ‘Agripina e Roma Manhattan’ and in installation projects such as the Magic Square series. Transcriation thus becomes a means of reconsidering Oiticica’s so-called turn to transmedia which uproots his work from the genealogy of concrete/neococoncrete art placing it under the umbrella of conceptual art.

This example, as limited and specific as it may be, demonstrates nevertheless that the disjunctive temporalities present within the work of contemporary art may far exceed the scope of the consensual time of art history. This complex and transnational matrix of historical references invokes in these works of art hopefully serves to demonstrate the limitations of discourses based on stylistic precedence and more recent proposals purporting the advent of global-art movements such as global conceptualism, ‘other primary structures’, global-pop and so forth.

Dr. Viviane Carvalho da Annunciação
(Re-)interpretations and (mis-)readings: Brazilian, English and Scottish exchanges
The objective of this paper is to examine the dialogue between the Concrete Poets in Brazil and the United Kingdom. The term “Concrete” is generally applied to a variety of artistic movements that followed the post-war frustration with traditional forms of art. Part of a collective search for new artistic materials, Concrete Poetry is the product of two traditions that emerged in the fifties, one of the Bolivian-born Swiss writer, Eugene Gomringer, and the other the Brazilian Noigandres group formed by Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari. Through a productive dialogue, Gomringer and Noigandres brought together these two distinctive artistic projects and disseminated the movement worldwide. Through the analysis of the private exchange of letters, journals, books and artistic objects between Brazilian and British Concrete Poets, more specifically Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan, I wish to shed some light on the cultural and artistic reception of the movement in the United Kingdom. I also wish to argue that this personal form of distribution generated major changes in the poetics of Concrete Poetry as a whole.
Jasmin Wrobel

Transtemporal and trans-spatial dialogues in Haroldo de Campos’ ‘Galáxias’ Latein Amerika Institute – Freie Universität Berlin In the short metatext “dois dedos de prosa sobre uma nova prosa” which accompanies the publication of the first fragments of Galáxias in the literary journal Invenção in 1964, the Brazilian concrete poet Haroldo de Campos defines his book project as a work where “tudo [é] anônimo”, but “personalíssimo” (Campos 1964: 112-113). Indeed, the book reflects the Haroldian cosmos and comprises not only his literary predilections and theoretical interests, but also his journeys and encounters between 1959 and 1976. In my presentation, I would like to illustrate some of the text’s facets that interact on a synchronic level in the “umbigodomundolivro”/”naveloftheworldbook” Galáxias. I intend to emphasize the transtemporal and transpatial poetic mappings and the world literary dialogue in the polyphonic fragments. In a second step, I would like to show in how far the book can also be read as a poetic “Zeitzeugnis”/testimony of the 20th century.

Dr. Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho

Concrete poetry and music: connections and counterpoints This presentation will highlight the relations between concrete poetry and music. Focusing on the dialogues between compositional procedures of contemporary music and poetics of concrete poetry, the idea is to hermeneutically analyse how these were of mutual influence, especially observing musical aesthetics of the XX century, such as Serialism, Dodecaphonism and Concrete music. Some examples will be discussed and some Brazilian concrete poetry and popular music will be more comprehensively analysed.

Prof. Stephen Bann
Keynote – Concrete poetry: Then and now
Ian Hamilton Finlay’s decision not to contribute to John Sharkey’s projected anthology of concrete poetry in 1970 marked an irreversible step in his development as a poet and artist. Fundamental differences which separated his approach from that of the London-based poets had come to the fore. This paper will consider two aspects of the poetic experiment of the period that seem relevant today in the light of this disaffiliation. I will look at the conspectus of externally sited works produced for the Brighton Festival of April 1967 – which took place just half a century ago, and also involved staff and students of Chelsea College of Art in a major way. I will also examine how Finlay’s production of folding cards from that period onwards continued to extend the range and potentiality of the concrete poem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *