Sohm Archive: Concrete Poetry

The term Concrete Poetry emerged in the mid 1950s in several countries simultaneously and designates a form of literature which - like the Concrete Art first propagated by Theo van Doesburg in 1930 - endeavours to make reference to nothing but its own means. Words, letters and punctuation are removed from the context of language and encounter the spectator »concretely.«

Concrete Poetry is a quiet, meditative art form conceived of as an antipode to the excess of linguistic stimuli in the everyday environment. Because language is treated as material and turns up in picture-like »constellations« (Eugen Gomringer), it becomes international: The reader can understand the »concrete« pictorialization of the word »wind« depicted as letters blown across the page, even if he does not know its meaning.

Concrete Poetry was indeed an international movement, with centres in Brazil (the Noigandres Group), Canada (bp Nichol, Bill Bissett), USA (Emmett Williams, Robert Lax), the German-speaking countries (Heinz Gappmayr, Ernst Jandl, Gerhard Rühm, Franz Mon, the Stuttgart Group around Max Bense, Helmut Heissenbüttel and Reinhard Döhl), France (Henri Chopin, Pierre Garnier, Bernard Heidsieck), Italy (Ugo Carrega), England (Bob Cobbing, Dom Sylvester Houédard), etc.

Hanns Sohm became involved in this network in the 1960s, collecting the books and magazines of hundreds of poets - publications which appeared in very small editions. He was also one of the first people to correspond (from 1964 on) with Ian Hamilton Finlay, who lived a hermit-like existence in Scotland in the midst of a garden full of pictures and texts, and who has caused quite a sensation all over the world in the past decades. The Sohm Archive is thus the only place where nearly all of the Scotsman’s printed works are assembled.

As alluded to by the print »Homage to Modern Art« of 1972, in which »modern art« appears emblematically on the sail of a ship, Finlay dreams the utopia of a pictorial/linguistic art for the masses which is not relegated to the museum but travels to the far corners of the earth. [ IC ]

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