2.4 Visual Effects in Poetry
Featuring: Mark Lawson (presenter), Peter Porter, Tom Paulin, Ian Macmillan.
In this item from BBC Radio's 4's arts programme Front Row, broadcast on 28 April 2005, the presenter Mark Lawson talks to three poets and critics about poetry in which the visual effects on the page are as important as the sounds and meanings of the words.
Visual effects in poetry
Click below to Listen to audio clip ‘Visual Effects in Poetry’ and consider what devices are used by the poets mentioned and what effects they achieve. How does this discussion relate to what you have read in this chapter?
Transcript: Visual effects in poetry
The poetry of e e cummings has to be seen on the page to be fully appreciated. His poetry uses punctuation quite extensively but in a way that is meaningful visually rather than aurally. This links to the earlier discussion of paralanguage in poetry and the analysis of cummings' poem ‘she being Brand’ in the Section 2.2. You may like to look at that poem again to remind yourself of how it achieves its effects.
Emily Dickinson was another poet who used punctuation unconventionally. Tom Paulin points out that her use of dashes was not due to laziness but because she saw punctuation as a manifestation of the dominant male culture that she was determined to resist. We have attached the three examples of Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Dreams’, for you to compare. The first is a facsimile of the original manuscript that Dickinson herself wrote. The second is the version published by Dickinson's niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, in 1935. The final example is the one published by Thomas H. Johnson in 1955, and shows Johnson's attempt to reinstate Dickinson’s original punctuation. In comparing the punctuation and the ‘look’ of these versions of the same poem, we can seeTom Paulin's point more clearly.
Click below to view Emily Dickinsons "Dreams".
What is called ‘concrete poetry’ goes much fur ther than merely using punctuation for visual effects; it actually creates shapes and pictures from the layout of the verse. You may wish to look again at the example of Lewis Carroll's ‘The Mouse's Tale’ in Section 1. The Dadaists used poetry in this way but you can find examples as far back as the seventeenth century, such as George Herbert’s poem ‘Easter Wings’.
Click below to view George Herbert's poem "Easter Wings".