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1. A Historian Thinks of Metternich

2. Alone

3. You and I

4. Pythagorean Landscape

6. I remember Nothing

7. Haiku

8. The Flight of Illusion

9. Climbers

11. Mozart

12. Rhyme

13. Kepler

14. Columns with Bergsonian Clock

15. The Simple Truth



A cross-pollinating creative expression, concrete poetry represents a hybrid genre that mediates between art and literature. Although they are synonymous, visual poetry and concrete poetry are not identical. This is so because visual poetry communicates by means of optical perception, by sight, whereas concrete poetry can also engage the auditory faculty of hearing, as well as the sensory capacities of touch, smell and taste.

Sound effects, for instance, can be the subject matter of works in concrete poetry. An ambient sound work, John Cage’s piece of 4’33” is a case in point. It premiered in 1952 at Woodstock, New York, as part of a recital of contemporary piano music. The performer sat at his instrument without playing a note for 273 seconds. Described as “Four and Half Minutes of Silence”, 4’33” challenges the definition of music. At the same time, it is actually about the impossibility of silence. In accordance with his Zen Buddhist philosophy, Cage neither wants to bring order out of chaos, nor to improve the process of creation. Rather, he attempts to set up a concrete metaphor that affirms the goodness of life as a purposeless play. In joyously embracing the realities of experiencing the world, Cage replaces the music in the concert hall with the sounds made by the audience.

The silence of the piece also can be seen as an auditory analogue to the attempts of depicting the concepts of nothingness and infinity in the visual arts; notably, the white abstract paintings, or other empty monochrome canvases, by Klein, Malevich, Rauschenberg, as well as other artists. The 273 seconds of 4’33” also correspond to absolute zero, minus 273 degrees on the Celsius scale, the lowest temperature in the universe, at which everything comes to a standstill. At absolute zero nothing can move and therefore no sound could be heard. This is at least what classical kinetic theory tells us. However, it seems that although molecules stop to move at absolute zero, quantum mechanical phenomena galore. So, zero-point energy induces subatomic particle motion that results in bizarre behavioural   properties of matter.  In approaching absolute zero, fluids flow without viscosity or friction and show high thermal conductivity. At minus 271 Celsius, liquid helium, for example, flows uphill, in apparent defiance of gravity. 

Concrete poetry involves the notion that language possesses aesthetic attributes. Visual poems employ typographical elements and printed words as a graphic medium. The creation of patterns and pictures out of letters and words may disclose, as Ian Hamilton Finley put it, “new decorative and semantic possibilities”.  Concrete poets believe that by forming typographical units and words into particular shapes on a page adds greater meaning to the text and amplifies the statement. The visual design of the concrete poem embodies and extends the message beyond the meaning of its individual ingredients. The emerging piece evolves into a dual composition, both visual and literary. The whole becomes more than the sum total of its parts.

Since art is an idea, all art is conceptual.  One can see an airplane as a flying and clamorous work of art, the roughly textured surface of a vase as a tactile and visual verse, a bouquet of flowers as an olfactory and eye-pleasing delight and a strawberry cake as an aesthetically rendered culinary ballad. They are all concrete poems: The identity of art and reality.

The roots of concrete poetry date back to antiquity. The Egyptians used pictographs or ideograms as a means of communication. More than two thousand years ago the Greek poet Simmias created a verse in the shape of an egg. Much later, in the early 17th century, the English poet George Herbert experimented with visual poetry, creating poems in the shape of bird wings and of a chalice. In the 19th century Lewis Carroll used pictorial typography in the winding emblematic verse of “The Mouse’s Tale”, which is included in the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, a collection of visual poems were published posthumously at the end of the First World War. They are characterized by a typographic layout that delays the process of interpreting the words. The attempt of deciphering the meaning leads to heightened expectations, which deepen and unfold through repeated reading. Between the two world wars a slew of Dadaists, Futurists and Surrealists explored the possibilities inherent in the relationship of visual form and language.

 As a movement, concrete poetry emerged in the 1950s. Its leading exponents included the Swiss Eugen Gomringer and the Brazilian Decio Pignatari. The latter was a member in the Noigandres group of poets. Named after an important literary magazine, Noigandres was founded by Augusto de Campos and his brother Haroldo de Campos. The groups’ 1958 manifesto characterized a concrete poem as an object “in and by itself”.  In 1956 an International Concrete Poetry exhibition was held in Sao Paolo. It was inspired by the work of the influential Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

The Scottish poets Edwin Morgan and Ian Hamilton Finley are among the leading practitioners of concrete poetry. Finley’s first collection of visual verse, Rapel, appeared in print in 1963. In the same year Dick Higgins in America founded Something Else Press. It published concrete poetry, as well as texts and artworks by Fluxus artists and others. 

In my vision all the arts emanate from the same source of creative energy, aided by the inspiring muses of the unconscious, the ineffable and the unknown. They flow from the same fountainhead of the mystery of existence, of poetic moods and inscrutable dreams.

In February 1975 I had a solo exhibition of paintings at the Jacquie Gallery in Montreal. A few weeks later I published A Manifesto on Lyrical Conceptualism, which planted a new element into the periodic table of art and proclaimed the guiding principles of my aesthetic philosophy. Lyrical Conceptualism, or Lyco Art, creates a conscious bridge between the impulsive, intuitional, and cognitive elements of the creative process, thereby moving along the whole continuum of formative energies. This creative process represents the interaction of emotion and intellect, wherein the passion of logic and the logic of passion are inexorably interwoven through the voyage of aesthetic consciousness.

Another salient premise of Lyrical Conceptualism concerns the connectivity of art and life, especially the idea that the meaning of art cannot be separated from its life-serving purpose. Concerning itself with cultural transformation and the human condition, Lyco art seeks to expand the boundaries of aesthetics.

In applying theory to practice in design and painting, Lyco art finds its expression in coded colors and forms. Accordingly, warm hues and amorphous shapes correspond to emotion and the irrational, while cold colors and geometric forms might express the rational and the logical. In addition, since science and technology plays such a central role in contemporary lifestyle in this electronic age, Lycoism views the relationship of art, science, and technology as a pivotal concern.

In the summer of 1978 I participated in a series of exhibitions in France.  My work was shown at the Luxembourg Museum in Paris and the Raymond Duncan Gallery on Rue de Seine.  My painting, Flowers for Cezanne, won first prize in the Prix de Paris competition. In the following year I met the Canadian poet and writer Tom Konyves. In “Poetry Corner”, an article that Konyves wrote about my work for The Montreal Star, he also announced the foundation of the Lyrical Conceptualist Society (LCS). It appeared in the July 21, 1979, issue of the daily.

Among other things, the LCS organized exhibitions, including the 1980 International Concrete Poetry exhibit held at Vehicule Art in Montreal.  Apart from Canada, submissions for the show arrived from England, Germany, Italy and the United States. On June 27, 1980, Virginia Nixon reported the event in The Montreal Gazette.  She mentioned among the participants John Robert Colombo, Endre Farkas, LeRoy Gorman, Rober Racine, Nancy Herbert and Klaus Groh. In her view, part of the items on display were essentially “visual artworks, depending primarily on visual effect rather than on the concise balance of form and content that marks classic concrete poetry, such as the examples by Colombo, Stephen Morrissey,  Davi det Hompson  and Paul Hartal”.

My concrete poems have been published in periodicals, anthologies and books. You and I appeared in The Montreal Star (July 21, 1979) and in Novy Zivot/New Life (Vol. 41, No.12); Alone was published in Canadian Poetry (Vol. 10, No. 4);  Venus and Mars, in Ylem (Vol. 11, No 11);  The Equation, as Frontispiece, in Strange Brains and Genius by Clifford A. Pickover  (Quill, New York, 1998); The Climbers, in  Chaos in Wonderland, also by Pickover (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1994); Various Books and a Black Square, in Selection from 20th Century Visual Poetry, Edited by Zsolt Kovacs, Laszlo L. Simon (Magyar Muhely, Budapest, 1998). The following works have been featured in my books: Manifesto, Triumphal Arch, Ode to a Skyscraper, Long Instead of Short in Rain Drop (Centre for Art, Science and Technology, Montreal; published on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at the Musee de la Poste, Paris, 1994); Air Mail, I Remember Nothing, Love Letter, in Love Poems (Editions La Galerie Fokus, Montreal; published on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition of Painting and Poetry at Hanseo University Art Museum, Seoul, 2004); The Butterfly, in The Kidnapping of the Painter Miro (Elore, Montreal, New York, 2001); Take off, The Tree is Touching the Moon, in Postmodern Light: A Collection of Poetry (Orange Monad Editions, Montreal, San Diego, 2006); Columns with Bergsonian Clock, inThe Brush and the Compass, (University Press of America, Lanham, New York, 1988).

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© 2007  Paul Hartal


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