Poetry News

Spotlighting the Concrete Poetry of Dom Sylvester Houédard

By Harriet Staff

At Hyperallergic, Megan N. Liberty takes readers on a tour of the "monknik" of concrete poetry, Dom Sylvester Houédard, whose work is currently on display at the Lisson Gallery gallery in London through June 16th. A British Benedictine monk, Houédard participated in London's concrete poetry scene in the 1960s and maintained friendships with Beat writers the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. While Houédard's background and affiliations are interesting, it's his work that has brought renewed attention to the monknik. Liberty writes:

Despite his phrases having been written long before iPhones, they remind me of text messages and experiences with autocorrect. I cannot count the number of times, while rushing down the street, I’ve sent a quick text to a friend to inform them of my delay only to look at it moments later and see the message looks nothing like what I wrote. “Bushmen impose their verbal clicks on zulus,” could easily be a line from one of such garbled messages. But unlike these messages, Houédard’s titles are deliberately chosen. This text, in a 1971 work, appears in all lowercase — as with most of his typestracts — justified slightly to the right, just above the center of a roughly letter-sized, off-white page. Above the text is a blue square filled with lines that appear to vibrate as they crisscross. This kind of movement is present throughout his images. In another 1971 work with a similar composition, “the jesus christ light and power company inc.,” the vibrating square is cut across with what looks like a lightning rod, made by gaps in the dashes. Houédard’s precise mark making creates a still image that moves and floats on the page. Language is never still.

Houédard’s laminated collages, visually very different than the typed works, also display slippage and movement. The glossy contact paper that holds them together makes them glisten in the gallery lighting, fitting considering Houédard was called these “cosmic dust laminate poems.” This is especially clear in “TULIP LABEL” (1967), which places his gridded geometric forms against a background of dust and various speckled materials, giving an otherworldly quality to the list of collaged words which hover over an atmospheric space: TULIP LABEL, BRONZE LABEL, OLIVE LABEL, GOLD LABEL, EMERALD LABEL, CRIMSON LABEL, WHITE LABEL, and DIAMOND LABEL. In her essay for the catalogue, Laura McLean-Ferris describes the fluid quality of these works: “Language slithers and puddles, bubbles slide down washed dishes, words and rain commingle with drips and jewelry.” Language is certainly a slippery form. Hard to pin down, easily muddled up, and easily miswritten, especially with the aid of our correcting machines.

Read on and check out some of the works at Hyperallergic.

Originally Published: June 14th, 2018