An Eye for Words: Concrete Poets at the Getty
Concrete Poetry focuses on the purists of the movement, particularly the Brazilian Augusto de Campos, the Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, and the Austrian poet Ernst Jandl. By Douglas Messerli
…If many of these works, such as Finlay’s “Ho/Horizon/On” and “Broken/Heartbroken” (both 1968) may seem somewhat simplistic at first view, a closer observation reveals significant vocal and visual complexity. The first poem, beginning with the word “horizon,” for example, seems to be just that, a pyramidal statement of the low horizon upon which the words are placed on the paper. Yet reading this Finlay work, one hears a kind of Beckettian phrase “hohorizon,” (Worstword Ho) a movement forward, intensified by the very next line, with the gathering cry of “hoho.” This quickly becomes an almost comic laugh about trudging through that endless onward movement, before ending, finally, in a re-acceptance of the notion of onward movement with 10 “onononononononononon’s” which, in their hidden no-no-no’s can also be perceived, as against their assertive resignation at life’s onward movement, as a kind of denial.
Similarly, the “broken heart” of “Broken/Heartbroken” sputters off into a complete break-down of language in the downward trajectory of the words upon the page represented through a spatial gap between the linguistic fragments, until the phrase is inverted at the conclusion as “heartbroken.”
Image: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ho/Horizon/On, from The Blue and the Brown Poems (New York: Atlantic Richfield Company & Jargon Press, 1968) Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2016.PR.36) (courtesy the Estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay)