Poetry News

Those dirty, dirty concrete poets

By Harriet Staff

Lori Emerson is in the middle of researching the origin of the term “dirty concrete,” and has been posting some of her findings on her blog, NetPoetic:

The term “dirty concrete” has become a fairly well-used term to describe a deliberate attempt to move away from the clean lines and graphically neutral appearance of the concrete poetry from the 1950s and 60s by the Noigandres in Brazil and Ian Hamilton Finlay in England (a cleanliness that can also be construed to indicate a lack of political engagement with language and representation).

But the term did not only designate an aesthetic difference between types of concrete poetry, it also marked a political position. Emerson cites critic Jack David as noting, that the difference between the two “presents the clean ordered life of a capitalist system and the dirty chaotic life of the lower classes.” This dirty chaos necessitated an interpretation and reading practice. In Emerson’s correspondence with Frank Davey, Davey recalls bpNichols’ theory on the matter:

“When I met bp in 1970, he told me that clean concrete was a kind you could understand by looking but not reading, and that dirty was the kind that had a visual shape made of phases or clauses or sentences that had to be read as well as viewed. (But he didn’t attribute that theory to anyone.)”

Originally Published: March 14th, 2011