UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Designed words for a designed world : the international concrete poetry movement, 1955-71 Hilder, Jamie


This dissertation positions the International Concrete Poetry movement within its historical moment and links it to the emergence of a new global imaginary around the middle of the 20th century. It makes the argument that contemporaneous social and technological shifts directly influenced the compositional strategies of a group of poets who aimed to transform poetry’s communicative power in a rapidly shifting media environment. By positioning primary materials – poems, manifestos, and statements by the poets themselves – against contemporaneous cultural phenomena across various disciplines, I perform a critical examination that allows for new strategies for engaging work that has historically frustrated readers. I identify in a series of permutational poems the influence of rudimentary computer technology and the implications that technology has for poetic subjectivity. I locate the international character of the movement in modernization projects such as Brasília, and in technologies that held significance for the entire globe, such as reinforced concrete, satellite photography, and nuclear weapons. As concrete poetry takes shape in both books and galleries, I investigate the spatial implications of the work in its various forms, and analyse its often fraught relationship with Conceptual Art, which also presented language in innovative ways though in pursuit of different purposes. Across this terrain my methodological approach oscillates between art history and literary and cultural studies, paying close attention to how the poetry circulated within and imagined global spaces at a time that predated but in some ways initiated the trends we now see more fully developed in current concepts of globalization.

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