Poetry as visual Art

Poetry as Visual Art

Whilst poetry has an aural tradition we also read it and look at it. Therefore you should consider the look of your poem as well as the way ut sounds. Poetry should be visual art as well as gaving musicality and flow. Therefore the poet needs to also consider the visual aspect of the poem.

Poetry is also a visual art and if the words of the poem are centred it can suggest a spine of ink down the centre of the page, with the white space encroaching on it.
Take this poem by Dennis O’Driscoll for example – the lines look as if they are stacked up in a precarious Jenga tower, which contributes to the poem’s theme:
Life
Life gives
us something
to live for:
we will do
whatever it takes
to make it last.
Kill in just wars
for its survival.
Wolf fast-food
during half-time breaks.
Wash down
chemical cocktails,
as prescribed.
Soak up
hospital radiation.
Prey on kidneys
at roadside pile-ups.
Take heart
from anything
that might
conceivably grant it
a new lease.
We would give
a right hand
to prolong it.
Cannot imagine
living without it.
Dennis O’Driscoll

Unfortunately internet sites often mean we lose deliberate formatting which loses us a dimension in our poems impact.

Here is a poem by Miroslav Holub as you will see it on most websites

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
nothing
is there,
go and open the door.
At least
there’ll be
a draught.

The Door
by Miroslav Holub

Shaped
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if
nothing
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.

The Door
by Miroslav Holub

This is how it was designed to be read. It adds another dimension.

And if the poem is aligned to the right this might instil a sense of instability, with the reader casting their eyes about looking for the start of each line which is floating in space rather than aligned left, where we usually expect to find it when reading.
For example this unsettling poem by Sam Riviere is made more unsettling because of its layout:

Gothic Poem
wider than a library
& strewn with flyleaves
torn from 2nd-hand novels
a grave lays in a plot of sun
like an abandoned picnic
& somewhere nearby a green bonfire
in the background a maroon lawnmower rides onto the pavement

Compare it to this more traditional way of alignment:

Gothic Poem
wider than a library
& strewn with flyleaves
torn from 2nd-hand novels
a grave lays in a plot of sun
like an abandoned picnic
& somewhere nearby a green bonfire
in the background a maroon lawnmower rides onto the pavement

The imagery is still unsettling but the whole thing feels less jarring.

This is another dimension to consider in writing poetry in particular free verse, line length, line placement and use of white space. In addition to your imagery, words and metaphors.

© S. Beardon


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