Concrete Poetry in America


A Story of Intermedia Performance, Publishing, and Pop Appeal

by Craig Saper

— In Honor of Ruth Sackner (1936-2015) of the Ruth & Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete & Visual Poetry —

In the 1960s, the American variant of Concrete poetry was influenced by manifestos and poems from Europeans and Brazilians as well as the vibrant international art scene in New York City, the anti-war and pro-civil rights protests throughout the States, and popular culture’s fascination with systems and technology. These cultural influences made the United State’s version of Concrete poetry unique and particularly popular. An exemplar of these tendencies appeared on the dust jacket of the definitive anthology, Concrete Poetry: A World View (1970).[i] The editor-poet, Mary Ellen Solt (1920-2007), composed her poem, “Moonshot Sonnet,” from reformatted diagrammatic-codes initially used by NASA-engineers to plan and execute the moon landing. The engineers placed the diagrammatic-codes over photographs of the lunar surface, and Solt abstracted the diagrams without any photographic reference. Using the codes, she transformed the result into a sonnet, with the codes appearing in “exactly fourteen “lines” with five “accents,”” a Petrarchan or Italianate sonnet.[ii] Her poem is a distinctively American sonnet. It is not just an iconic concrete poem, but also a poetic emblem of a national identity.

Saper Image 1

Mary Ellen Solt, “Moonshot Sonnet.” Permission by Estate of Mary Ellen Solt.

The literary poetics reduce language to an eloquent semiotic code system and universal visual language. Although the poet-editor, Solt, describes her influences as arriving from the Brazilians and Europeans, the actual poem is also unmistakably alluding to geometric minimalism, Pop art, and ready-mades. The designers of Solt’s anthology, at Indiana University Press, insisted that the poem adorn the back cover of the dust jacket in part to highlight the editor’s contribution to the International Concrete poetry movement, but also as an entreaty to the American reader to appreciate the importance of a “world view” in the age of peaceful lunar exploration. The poem concretely suggests that, although the International Concrete poetry movement was launched from Brazil and Europe, it would reach its largest audience when it landed in the United States.[iii]

When other poets’ sonnets, from Shakespeare to Poe, allude to the moon, it is usually a melancholic and romantic trope, rather than an allusion to scientific discovery. Solt’s poem spoofs the old forms by presenting a poem without words, and by composing a cold paean to the moon without romance. Beyond the parody of sonnets about the moon, Solt’s “Moonshot” also presents an entirely new form of poetry. This poetry about a global view responds to the supranational and supra-lingual world that moonshots created. In that sense, the moonshot itself produced the cultural circumstances, and literal view, for the “world view” of this supranational poetry and for Solt’s anthology’s world-view. Solt’s poem, from the late 1960s, perfectly illustrates an anti-war politics, presenting a literal target but this time using it for the peaceful purpose of lunar exploration. Contradictory to that politics, the image of the lunar landing, demonstrated the power of the American media empire to focus, and spread, the message of a lunar landing globally and throughout the universe. Solt’s “Moonshot” could express this ubiquitous image, and its socio-political meanings about America’s media colonialism.

Beyond the “Moonshot Sonnet,” Solt’s entire anthology, as an object of study itself, and not simply a collection of poems and theoretical essays, is a key part of the story of the Concrete poetry movement in the United States as it inextricably links the poetry to publication, distribution, and the intermingling of the international movement with other currents, and lineages in art, poetry, and design.[iv] The volume won three design awards the year it appeared, and opened the typography, layout, and design world to a new language. In the American context, it seems that the poet-publisher, or poet-editor, are more fitting terms for the expression of the Concrete poetry movement since distribution was inextricably linked to the visual-semantic meaning, and among the major poet publishers of concrete and visual poetry one would include Solt, Emmett Williams (1925­-2007), Eugene Wildman (1938-), Dick Higgins (1938-1998), and Jonathan Williams (1929-2008). Solt explained decades later that her editing and publishing activities, began, in part, from her isolation in Bloomington, Indiana, far from the major centers of Concrete poetry in Europe, the UK, and Brazil.[v] She wanted to find a way to collect the exciting new work, and share it with a wider geographically dispersed audience that, like her, might not live near the center of activity. She also wanted to bring the Concrete poetry movement to Bloomington, and she describes Haroldo and Augusto de Campos visiting Indiana University for an intense visit in 1968. The Brazilians’ visit influenced the young Claus Clüver, one of the editors of this volume and an advocate for, and scholar of, this movement for nearly half a century; the Concrete poets also influenced Tom Ockerse, the designer, at Indiana then, and later at RISD, who championed the Concrete poets’ typographic design strategies. With the publication of Solt’s anthology more Concrete poets, like Emmett Williams, trekked to Bloomington, and an exhibition organized there toured internationally. Much of the poetry was produced elsewhere, but found its most dedicated distribution networks in the American context.

The anthologies on Concrete poetry published in the United States, especially Eugene Wildman’s Anthology of Concretism, published initially in 1967 as an issue of the Chicago Review,[vi] Emmett Williams’ An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, published by Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press in late 1967,[vii] and Solt’s anthology, released in 1969 with a 1970 publication date, all reached a larger audience, remain the definitive collections of this movement’s work, and also intermingled works that were drawing influences from other movements and practices like conceptual art, instruction happenings, Fluxus, machine made, found, ready-made and aleatory practices. The anthologies had much larger print-runs, and a wider scope of influence in the US, than anywhere else during the ten to fifteen years following their publications.

To set the scene and lineage of when and how concrete poetry emerged in America, it is useful to start back in 1913 to the few years after the Armory Exhibit and the publication of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and the influence of Ezra Pound’s Imagist ideas on the American poets especially those involved in publishing The Others magazine. Constructing a lineage for later poetic or artistic practices and movements is always done in hindsight, and, through the nuances of that diachronic description, an implicit argument appears. Others in this volume, and elsewhere, most notably the editors, have discussed in great detail the subtle distinctions between strictly defined Concrete poems and other types of visual poems, but the precursors experimented with a figurative rhyme between visual, semantic, and sonic elements. That experimentation led to more formally defined constraints, in Concrete poetry, and an increased appreciation of the expressionistic possibilities of spacing, layout, and design in relation to the condensation of poetry down to single words rather than the line of poetry. The Concrete poems took advantage of the entire page, and referenced aspects of the page, effaced by traditional poetry’s emphasis on lines of metered language. Earlier “pattern poems,” some from Ancient Greece or Egypt, often shaped words into representations of literal objects, like an egg, or animals. The American Dick Higgins published an important volume, Pattern Poetry, on this larger view of the origins of visual poetry.[viii] But for our purposes, of identifying precursors to the American variant of the Concrete poetry movement of the 1960s and 70s, the work of the vanguard poets in the first half of the twentieth century, especially the poet-publisher Bob Brown (1886-1959), offer a useful starting point.

Before there was Noigandres or the International Concrete Poetry movement, before Eugen Gomringer’s Bauhaus-inspired “constellations,” and before even Guillaume Appolinaire’s Calligrammes (1918), there was the American poet-publisher-vanguardist, Bob Brown (Robert Carlton Brown II)(1886-1959), who, was constructing visual poems, starting in 1913, and later publishing in Marcel Duchamp’s Blindman. He later, in 1928-1932, published multiple volumes, with titles like Words, Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine, or Gems, in which the visual layout and design was crucial to the meaning.[ix] And, later he re-published one of those collections 1450-1950 with Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press, and that volume, and some publications in Bern Porter’s (1911-2004) Berkeley poetry newsletter,[x] made his work available to poets, who produced concrete and visual poetry, like Robert Creeley (1926 ­ 2005), Louis Zukovsky (1904-­1978), and other poets especially those in the New York Beat poetry scene. In the 1960s, Augusto de Campos noted Bob Brown’s importance as a key precursor to the procedures and processes of Concrete poetry.[xi] Since the mid-1960s, the memory of Brown’s importance to the concrete poetry movement faded, and other American poets like E. E. Cummings (1894-1962), Ezra Pound (1885-1972), or Gertude Stein (1874-1946) became the only Americans mentioned as precursors in most of the narrative summaries. This exclusion of Brown was due in large part to his work not being republished until recently, and also because these other precursors’ literary reputations rose to prominence above and beyond the international circle of concrete and visual poets.

Currently, Brown’s reputation is based on his designing a reading machine that required the processing of texts into “readies” that eliminated all unnecessary words, and reduced sentences down to single words (mostly nouns and verbs). For the eliminated words, the readies inserted em–dashes, and, in this way, prepared the texts to be fed through the machine in long scrolls of single lines of telegraphic text. In this way, the style of the readies fit perfectly with the modernist expatriate journal transition’s call for a “revolution of the word,” and a prescient notion of a poetry of only the essential words with visual design of texts as a crucial element of concrete poetry. Although Brown, like the other precursors, lived and published mostly abroad, including among the Parisian avant-garde, his direct and explicit influence on later Concrete Poetry was in the late 1950s when he returned from Brazil to Greenwich Village. Inserting Brown back into the history changes this narrative slightly as Jonathan Williams published Brown, and introduced that work to de Campos, who prepared a Portuguese translation, and soon many of the American poets must have read those visual poems. Brown initially had published these visual poems in the late 1920’s, and had begun making visual poems in the 19-teens.

In 1916, Man Ray was publishing concrete and visual poetry in his Ridgefield Gazook, a hand-made artist-book-like-newspaper, made at the New Jersey palisades artist colony where the Imagist poets, vanguard artists, and Greenwich Village political radicals and bohemians, including Bob Brown, lived. The Gazook had concrete and visual poems, word play, and inside jokes. So, using visual design to create (parodic) literary meaning grew, in this American context, out of the avant-garde and experimental arts and poetry. On one page, the title reads IL’ LITTER-ATURE and is followed by a poem, “Three Bombs,” almost completely censored except for “z,” “zzz,” “!!,” or “?” appearing among the censor bars, and Man Ray has drawn three cartoon bombs with fuses burning and a knife and fork next to the platter of bombs with the caption reading “words by Adolf Lupo – design by Man Ray.” In that context, the famous best selling pulp fiction writer, Bob Brown, moved into a house nearby and began making unpublished typewriter poems and hand-drawn visual poems.

Brown based his typewriter poems on the earlier realistic pictures produced in promotional contests to advertise typewriter machines, and to award the dexterity of the women who typed. Those earlier typed-pictures depended on the type-strike intensity, and character choice, to produce remarkable shading and figuration. The popular culture’s dalliance in this typewriter picture making eventually led to a whole variant of concrete and visual poetry. Brown, coming from years of professional life typing tens of thousands of pages for his pulp-fiction stories, saw the machine as a tool also well suited to the visual-semantic puns popular among the avant-garde poets. The concrete poems were composed by type-strike intensity, half-spaces, moving the paper, and character choice, to produce abstract shapes in play with the semantics of the words. These typed concrete elements drew attention to placement on the page, type intensity, kerning, layout, and concrete meaning making. That play among semantics and layout became another continuity with later concrete poetry. Emmett Williams included an exemplary typewriter Concrete poem in Solt’s volume.

Emmett Williams, untitled

Emmett Williams’ untitled concrete poem (see figure), included in Solt’s anthology, was composed on a typewriter by forming a pattern from the repetition of the typed-letter e. The entire block of text was then turned upside down on the printed page so that the e form becomes a schwa. The block of schwas were placed on the page on an angle, the lines seemingly constrained by the size of the page. The schwa letter often looks like a partially filled-in dot suggesting the code here is not linguistic, but visual and numeric.

The pattern, a mathematical and visual version of an iambic tetrameter, mimics the meter of classical Greek poetry. In that way this poem spoofs a classical form, while creating an entirely new code for poetry, much like Solt’s “Moonshot Sonnet.” If we read the poem numerically by counting each upside down e in each line, we can see a progression in which the sequence moves the first word-equivalent to the end of the next line. In that way, one could also read the progression from top to bottom as well as the first twelve lines mirroring the last twelve lines. Here is a selection of the first eight lines.


1 2 3 4

2 3 4 1

3 4 1 2

4 1 2 3

1 2 4 3

2 4 3 1

4 3 1 2

3 1 2 4


The poem, with its sequence of dot-like schwas, also looks like Morse code. Using a translation key where • is E, •• is I, ••• is S, and •••• is H, the code produces a series of letters. The numerical Morse code translated into words has three words among the otherwise random letters: she, he, I, is. Here are the first four lines translated from Morse code into English.







Obviously, the poem suggests, in Morse code, a reflection on identity and equivalence in which the layout is part of the meaning as the poems appears cut on a literal bias (as it comments on a figurative bias against identities-in-flux). In the new world that the concrete poets sought to reflect, identity and identification functioned as equations with multiple permutations. For example, making these into sentences yields the following permutations: I, she; She I; He is; He, I. The reader can build more permutations. This code-poem both spoofs traditional love poems, with set identities and identifications, and a new conception of lovers and identities with shifting perspectives. The poem’s concrete theme makes identity an equation or code-puzzle. The “I” in this Morse-coded version of the poem, is equated, in one line with “she,” but in another it appears that “he is” I. This shifting identity is best described by the name of the Fluxus press, run by Dick Higgins, that published William’s collection of concrete poetry: Something Else.

As part of their connections to Fluxus, Emmett Williams introduced concrete poetry through Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press. The American variant of the Concrete poetry movement seems to have grown, in part, directly from Fluxus artworks and publications.[xii] The poets drew as much inspiration from the developments in non-literary experimental arts, popular media culture, and communication technologies, and Concrete poetry. And, by putting Concrete poetry in that context, stresses the essence of the poem as a “prototype” built from an “industrial process” rather than the artisanal craft of traditional poetry. This use of prototype productions and processes, open-constraints, and spoof of mainstream tendencies were all key elements of the American variant of Concrete poetry and elements of the Fluxus ethos. The connection is not simply implicit, but explicit and literal. When the Concrete poet and manifesto writer, Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976), arrived in New York in 1961, he moved into Robert Rauschenberg’s old studio in the same building as Jasper Johns’ studio. Fahlström was inspired by the Fluxus artist George Brecht’s works, and, while in New York, Fahlströhm began to argue that he preferred describing his work, and the works he advocated, as a “sound-text performance, a collage of sounds, both verbal and musical” rather than giving it the “the Concrete label.”[xiii] That is, even as he directly imported Concrete poetry into the Fluxus scene, he began to see this type of poetry as part of what Dick Higgins called intermedia rather than exclusively part of a literary tradition. Jackson Mac Low (1922-2004), another Fluxus artist, known as an innovator in sound art also wrote visual and concrete poems, that used typography and layout design in works that were both scores for his sound events and poems on their own.

Emmett Williams’ works appeared in George Maciunas’ FluxBoxes and kits, and those boxes allowed poetry and experimental writing to appear in a context that could ignore the lines of texts, continuous narratives, and message-heavy poems.[xiv] They also fit nicely with the idea of a work as a prototype for unlimited multiple editions where the poems used the constraints of scores, instructions, and concrete poetry. These works depended on participation. In this context, Emmett Williams’ Concrete poetry appeared as, and with, “event scores” in an alternative form of publication, and the name Fluxus meant to be the name of one of the boxed collections of works. In 1964, one could buy a concrete poem at the Fluxshop, an artwork, that resembled a mail-order business, or an alternative distribution system. Instead of seeking out intermedia works at the gallery, museum, or bookshop, one would subscribe to these boxes. This system of distribution and publication allowed the visual design and materiality of the Concrete poems to become part of the meaning, and, in the 1960s, one would most likely see this type of intermedia poetry as connected to art and design more than a literary tradition. Richard Kostelanetz put the situation he and other intermedia poets confronted.

The existence of likely readers does not assure the interest of publishers, those two domains being quite different and distant. The dominant institutions of publishing and book-publicity have become, as we have seen, more closed than open, more self-serving than discriminating, more profit hungry than enlightened, and more dead than alive.[xv]

The Concrete poems were difficult for mass-market publishers to profitably produce and distribute. The key anthologies were, by necessity, produced by a university press and small presses – one of which was closely aligned with an experimental intermedia art group, Fluxus. And, the poets had to confront this sociopoetic problem as well as any internal visual formalism or poetics. Since the 1960s, the problem has only intensified, and online alternatives, especially Kenny Goldsmith’s UBUweb, have served a crucial function that Something Else Press and foresighted university presses used to serve.

Besides the sociopoetics of distribution, the machinations and materiality of language were major concerns of all of these overlapping movements from Concrete to Conceptual, but Fluxus saw the concrete poems as scores and instructions as in George Brecht’s performance cards. One might return to the Emmett Williams poem discussed here and now read it aloud, as a performance script for a sound poem, by making the punched-in-the-stomach schwa sound for each mark, and pausing between each grouping. The resulting sound poem might sound like UH uh,uh uh,uh,uh uh,uh,uh,uh, and so on through the entire poem.[xvi] The resulting effect on the readers is visceral and delightfully startling especially if done in a choral group, perhaps with the readers all leaning to one side like the poem. Concrete poetry in the Fluxus context uses language and visual design as a means of providing instructions or frameworks for bodily performances. John Cage, who taught “concrete music” to the Fluxus poet stressed that practice of using layout and spacing on the page as part of a reader’s score, and, in that sense, the Concrete poetry movement was intimately connected to the Concrete music and art.[xvii] And, filmmakers associated with Fluxus also used animated typography, language, and Concrete poetry in their productions. It would take another chapter to describe those media works. Much of the intermingling of the Cage-influenced poets, artists, and designers took place at the summer sessions of Black Mountain College in 1958 and 1959.

Jonathan Williams, who, first attended, and then introduced Black Mountain College poets, like Charles Olsen, to a new generation of artists and poets also produced concrete poems including the one discussed below for Solt’s volume. Just as Solt’s poem discussed here was an eloquent anti-war and pro-peace statement and Emmett Williams’ poem looks at love and gender identity in flux, Jonathan Williams, living in North Carolina in the 1950s and 60s, focused his poem discussed here on an anti-segregationist message. Williams sought to graphically and viscerally get at the power of just three words in a specific order, layout and design. Williams’ “A Mnemonic Wallpaper Pattern for Southern Two Seaters,” satirizes the segregationist’s efforts to remember who can, and cannot, use the racially separate seats on a bus, drinking fountains, bathrooms, entrances to buildings, and more. The situation was absurd requiring constant reminders to keep everyone in line with the segregationists’ ideology. William’s poem reflects on the apparent necessity of posting signs everywhere. It was as if those signs were mnemonic devices.

Jonathan Williams, "A Mnemonic Wallpaper Pattern for Southern Two Seaters"

Jonathan Williams, “A Mnemonic Wallpaper Pattern for Southern Two Seaters”

Without those words “white only” or “black only,” one might forget one’s identity and identification, and sit in a seat not assigned to your racial group. The layout suggests a rip in the block of repeated word sequence “white only black.” The missing sequence visually puns on a pasted-sign being ripped off imperfectly. The segregationists’ sign system was in crisis, and the literal and figurative signs were being ripped down, but not without the brutally violent resistance of the privileged white sign makers, but there is a subversive combination lurking in plane sight. The non-punctuated grammar of these lines conveys a reassuring equivalence between these two races: white [is] only black, black [is] only white. The constant reminding, with mnemonic signs, is necessary to forget that segregation depends on the narrative myth of a fundamental racial difference when none exists.

Jonathan Williams also re-issued less well-known avant-garde works including one of Brown’s collections of visual poetry that he had first published with Harry Crosby. The concrete poets also discovered Brown, not knowing that he had spent more than 20 years living in Brazil.  For those experimental poets working in the 1950s, Bob represented a link to that modernist lineage that the poets sought to extend. Brown’s visual poems allowed for a free expressive verse, and his visceral resistance to capitalist power made sense to these counter-cultural poets. In 1959, reading Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press edition of Brown’s visual poetry, the Noigandres Concrete poets saw his poetry as an important precursor to their work, and about a decade later, a later generation of poets also saw Brown’s work as part of the concrete and visual poetry lineage as demonstrated in the Imagining Language anthology edited by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets Jed Rasula (1952-) and Steve McCaffery (1947-) including an excerpt, and discussion, of a readies.

Although Solt describes how Ian Hamilton Finlay influenced Jonathan Williams’ move toward embracing concrete poetry in the early 1960s, Williams had already published Bob Brown in the late 1950s, and was thinking along those lines of visual poetry before he discovered the more narrow definition of concrete poetry. What Williams also found in the earlier avant-garde was engagement with the politics of the day. While Jonathan Williams focused on the blot of segregation, Brown focused on censorship. Brown also published, in the early 1930s, an irreverent volume that would use visual design to expose the logic of censorship, by redacting words and phrases using the black bars, or X boxes since he typeset the marks individually. The demonstration makes all of the classic poems, or the gems of the literary cannon, seem obscene. Each of these poems, easily recognized as polite classics including children’s poems, takes on sinister meanings simply by censoring. The later visual poets also shared this interest in the “found” literary material processed with a new design, in this case censor bars, to make charged political statements.

The dominant narrative of the development of the International Concrete Poetry movement correctly positions the United States as a secondary figure. In terms of distribution, popularization, and publication, the story is quite different. As in media culture in general, America plays a far more important role. By intermingling the focused concerns of the international movement with currents in the art scene of the 1960’s especially Pop Art and Fluxus performances, as well as the American fascination with a shared global language and literacy, technological utopian desires, and advertising, concrete poetry had its peak in popularity in, and because of, the peculiar conjunction of forces in America during the late 1960s and 70s.

Until the 1990s, Concrete poetry in the United States was appreciated almost entirely as part of the visual and intermedia arts, not within the context of literary “creative writing.” Arguably, the proliferation of “Creative Writing” programs in US Colleges and Universities, versus the scarcity of those programs in other countries, led to the marginalization of alternative poetic traditions in the United States, including Concrete and visual poetics. If a student studies poetic practice or creative writing in the US it is extremely unlikely they will have any assignments, discussions, or even mention of influential poetic traditions including Concrete Poetry. Marjorie Perloff summarizes the situation of Concrete poetry in the American context, up until the late 1990s, that is “very conservative when it comes to poetic developments. In Establishment poetry, the poem continues to be a print block with a beginning and end surrounded by white space. Its “layout” is wholly secondary to the “message” to be conveyed. Certainly, in magazines like Poetry, this is the case. At the same time, more and more poet-artists such as Johanna Drucker and Joan Retallack, Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein, are developing typographies that create intricate semantic fields.”[xviii] This situation is changing with programs like the writing program at Brown University, University of Buffalo, and Penn’s Writer’s House, but for the most part concrete poetry continues to be studied in the United States as art, not literature or writing. Typographers, printers, performance artists, and scholars of contemporary art practices are much more likely to be very familiar with aspects of the concrete poetry lineage. That situation continues to change, but slowly.

The international aspect of the Concrete poetry movement makes the artificial boundaries of a national variant difficult to defend. Jon Tolman describes how national literatures made sense before “an age when communication is virtually instantaneous,” but especially with Concrete poetry that “developed internationally in such a way that limitations of language and culture were minimized within a tacit consensus that imitation or duplication from one country to another was impossible practically and illicit creatively.”[xix] Given that artificial line around one national variant of concrete poetry, and its apparent importation in the 1960s, introducing earlier activities among internationally-based American artists and poets, like Bob Brown, serves to illuminate an alternative lineage. In spite of the challenges of defining a national variant, there were distinctions in themes, topics, and approaches as well as in the contexts of distribution and publication within the Concrete poetry movement.



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[i]Mary Ellen Solt, ed., Concrete Poetry: A World View (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1970).

[ii]Mary Ellen Solt, notes on figures, in Solt, ed., Concrete Poetry: A World View (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1970), 306.

[iii]Claus Clüver, “From Imagism to Concrete Poetry: Breakthrough or Blind Alley?” in Amerkanische Lyrik: Perspektiven und Interpretationen, ed Rudolph Haas (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1987), 113. Clüver writes, that the “USA was not among the countries where the movement had its simultaneous origin.”

[iv]See also Johanna Drucker, “Experimental, Visual, and Concrete Poetry: A Note on Historical Context and Basic Concepts.” in Experimental, Visual Concrete: Avant-garde Poetry Since the 1960s, eds. David Jackson, Eric Vos, and Johanna Drucker (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 47-57.

[v]Mary Ellen Solt, “Concrete Steps to an Anthology,” in Experimental, Visual Concrete: Avant-garde Poetry Since the 1960s, eds. David Jackson, Eric Vos, and Johanna Drucker (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 348.

[vi]Eugene Wildman, Anthology of Concretism (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1968).

[vii]Emmett Williams, ed., An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (New York: Something Else Press, 1967).

[viii]Dick Higgins, Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987).

[ix]Craig Saper, The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown: A Real-Life Zelig Who Wrote His Way Through The 20th Century. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. Bob Brown, Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine. Cagnes-sur-Mer, France: Roving Eye Press, 1931. Print. Also reissued, with an afterward by Craig Saper, in the Literature by Design: British and American Books, 1880-1930 series. Houston: Rice University Press, 2010; new edition with an introduction by Craig Saper. Baltimore: Roving Eye Press, 2014. Print and Electronic. Bob Brown, Words : I but Bend My Finger in a Beckon and Words, Birds of Words, Hop on It, Chirping. Paris: Hours Press, 1931. Print. Reprint with an afterward by Craig Saper, in The Literature by Design: British and American Books. 1880-1930 Series. Houston: Rice University Press, 2010; new edition with an introduction by Craig Saper. Baltimore: Roving Eye Press, 2014. Print and Electronic. Craig Saper, “Bob Brown’s ——-,” in the Lost Poets Review section, Paul Revere’s Horse, A Literary Journal, vol. 2, no. 2 (San Francisco: Sawkill Press), 93-103. This article introduces a small selection from Gems, a Censored Anthology (Cagnes-sur-Mer, France: Roving Eye Press, 1931). See also, Saper’s forthcoming biography of Bob Brown.

[x]Bob Brown, “Letters of Gertrude Stein,” Berkeley: A Journal of Modern Culture 8 (1951): 1-2, 8. Bob Brown, “Notes for the Life of an American Writer,” Berkeley: A Journal of Modern Culture 10 (1952): 1-4, 7.

[xi]Augusto de Campos, “Bob Brown: Optical Poems,” in At the Margin of the Margi (São Paolo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 1989), 126-141. This was initially prepared as the introduction to the Brazilian-Portuguese edition of Bob Brown’s 1450-1950, to be edited and translated by de Campos, but that volume was never published.

[xii]Owen Smith, “Fluxus, Experimentalism, and the End of Language,” in Experimental, Visual, Concrete: Avant-garde Poetry Since the 1960s, eds. David Jackson, Eric Vos, and Johanna Drucker (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 195- 196.

[xiii]Marjorie Perloff, “Fluxier-than-Thou: Review Essay,” Modernism/Modernity, 11: 3 (2004): 282-87. See also Majorie Perloff, “After Language Poetry: Innovation and its Theoretical Discontents,” in The World in Time and Space: Towards a History of Innovative American Poetry, 1970-2000. Edited by Joseph Donahue and Edward Foster, 333-355 S.I.: Talisman House Press, 2000, 10.

[xiv]See for example George Maciunas, Fluxus 1 (Yearbox, 1964-1965), wooden case with 15 envelopes, various papers, and objects. This box contains concrete and visual poems by Emmett Williams and others.

[xv]Richard Kostelanetz, “What Is to Be Done? Concluding Chapter to the End of Intelligent Writing,” Chicago Review 23:2 (1971), 42.

[xvi]Thanks to performance-animator, Lynn Tomlinson, music writer SamECircle, and Lucy Saper, for suggesting and demonstrating this guttural reading of the repeating schwas.

[xvii]John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing,” in Silence, Lectures and Writings by John Cage (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 109.

[xviii]Majorie Perloff, “Afterimages: Revolution of the (Visible) Word,” in Experimental, Visual Concrete: Avant-garde Poetry Since the 1960s, eds. David Jackson, Eric Vos, and Johanna Drucker (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 395.

[xix]Jon M. Tolman, “The Context of a Vanguard: Toward a Definition of Concrete Poetry,” in Poetics Today (Summer 1982): 149-166. JSTOR. Thanks to Arielle Eirenreich for tracking down this specific article, and to Jen Wachtel for help formatting some of the citations. Both were recipients of an Undergraduate Research Assistantship Stipend award to work on my research projects during the spring and early summer of 2013.


Craig Saper is a Professor, and previously the Bearman Family Foundation Chair (2012-2015), at UMBC in Baltimore. He co-curated an important exhibit, TypeBound (, on sculptural book arts and typewriter visual poetry, and he also curated exhibits on Noigandres (at U of Florida) and Assemblings (at Penn). He is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown: A Real-Life Zelig Who Wrote His Way Through the 20th Century (2016, in press), Intimate Bureaucracies (2012), Networked Art (2001), Artificial Mythologies (1997) and has edited or co-edited volumes, with his introductions, including recent books on Electracy (2015), Imaging Place (2009), and special issues of on Posthumography (2010) and Drifts (2007). He has just edited, with new introductions, editions of Bob Brown’s Words (2014), Gems (2014), The Readies (2014), and 1450-1950 (2015), His work on visual and concrete poetry appears in the books and projects mentioned above as well as in volumes including The Fluxus Reader (1997) and most recently in an exhibition catalogue essay, “The Banana Paradox,” in Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana (2015).