Presentation at the conference “Imagining Europe: Cultural Models of European Identity 1814-2014” (University of Bristol, Institute for the Humanities and Arts)
The concrete poetry movement emerged in the 1950s, the ‘father’ of this art form being the Swiss Eugen Gomringer. He soon established a close relationship to the Brazilian Noigandres group, who had independently been working on a similar line as Gomringer.
In the following years, a veritable concrete boom occurred in Europe. The new possibilities offered by concrete forms inspired both writers and artists especially in German and English speaking countries. For those from German speaking areas, concrete for the first time opened up the possibility of creating truly avant-garde and experimental work, which had up to then been suppressed and banned by the national socialist regime as ‘degenerate art’. In Britain on the other hand the members of the concrete movement struggled with finding an audience, as their works were perceived as too academic. Due to the difficult situations the various national movements had to face, an active international network soon came into being. Concrete expression became a lingua franca of progressive poetic thinking. This language connected artists across continents: Gomringer, referring to the close relationship to the Noigandres, named his publication series konkrete poesie poesia concreta, showing how transcending national borders and identities is inherent to the concept of concrete poetry.
This paper will show how concrete poetry is a truly European art form. The fact that Brazilian artists played such a prominent role in this movement in no way contradicts this thesis, but rather underlines it. The European spirit of the concrete movement was not to restrict itself to national or even continental borders, but to find common ground and build bridges to wherever that ground could be found.