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Max Bill and Concrete Poetry (1958)
Eugen Gomringer, Switzerland
from Concrete Poetry: A World View, (1968, Indiana University Press)
I was studying the essays of Max Bill when I began more and more to see the beautiful dishonesty and irrelevance of writing poems, for usually they come into being without enough distance created by thinking. It is clear that Bill's theory of concrete art in which he calls for production of the aesthetic object for spiritual use cannot be equally applied to linguistic constructions. Even in its most primitive usage language serves a spiritual use-so long as it is a language of words. Language with its building elements and rules is intelligible as an object.
What I could take over from Bill the artist was the modern functional interpretation of the aesthetic object. Bill talks about use (gebrauch). This discovery has its correlation in highly-developed interpretations of culture. To prepare a language for use which does not mean for low purposes-we must analyze its means and make them evident as possibilities. In this I see a correspondence with the efforts of modern linguistic science.
First it seemed important to me to isolate and present the already-existing word (so as to remain within a reasonable area of communication). Constellations took form in place of lines, which don't claim to be "Poetry": they have no more and no less to do With language. The name "concrete poetry," could be used because of this concern with use of the elements of language-with the word as a totality, for instance, reaching out to semantic, syntactic and pragmatic possibilities-an intelligible object treated with concrete intentions as a useful thing.
The meaning of "concrete" in relation to language does not imply the limitation of reference only, to concrete things, although in actual practice this connotation is apt. Since quite a number of poets of this generation in Europe, and particularly in South America, had come to the same conclusions, I put the name "Concrete Poetry" on the cover of an anthology containing similar examples of linguistic design.
It can be seen that the work of Max Bill, particularly his analytical thinking, greatly influenced our first intuitive attempts. But over and above that it becomes obvious once again that poets no longer have to address themselves exclusively to other poets to experience a new view of the world and new techniques. Today possibly more than ever it is thought structures which are decisive.
(Translated by lrène Montjoye Sinor, Mary Ellen Solt)
(From an essay in the Festschrift Max Bill)