The August challenges are designed by Foyle Young Poets to send you into a fever of creativity over the summer. In this year’s last August challenge, Foyle intern Zainab Ismail asks our younger poets to play with shape and pour us a concrete poem…
I remember the tall minarets of Morocco many summers ago. Prayers wound their way up to the tops of the mosques and spiralled like poetry on a page. This intricacy reminded me of concrete poetry.
A modern term with a rich history in both religious and secular spheres worldwide, concrete poetry (otherwise known as shape/pattern poetry) changes the arrangement of words on a page to further their effect. Concrete poems can be laid out in a particular shape or pattern related to their theme, as follows:
Here, YPN poet Rachel Lewis arranges the text to illustrate the scene of her poem. The white space elegantly mirrors the effect of illumination, “light by light”, and I can almost feel my hands combing the water.
Written in the eye-catching shape of the United Kingdom, Harry Man’s poem also plays with the layout, adding a lush new dimension to the text.
Apollinaire’s ‘Il Pleut’ (‘It’s raining’) is cleverly shaped like drizzle, and reminds me of long car journeys spent watching the raindrops race each other down the windowpanes. The nature of the form helps to awaken this kind of visual memory in a really vivid way.
I’d love you to write your own concrete poem and enter it to this challenge!
Where to begin?
Be flexible. You might want to put your words into your chosen shape as you type, or to write your poem fully and fit your words into the shape afterwards. Whatever works for you!
When choosing a subject for your poem, you could think about the difference between abstract and concrete nouns. A concrete noun is something you can see, touch, smell, hear, or taste – an object, such as a star or a flower. An abstract noun is a concept, a quality, or a state of being – such as happiness or honesty.
You could pick a concrete noun as a subject to design your poem around – for example, you could write a poem about a rose in the shape of a rose.
An alternative approach is to write about an abstract noun in a concrete shape. An obvious example is a poem about love shaped like a heart. But surprise us with something new! This is your chance to create fresh comparisons. Maybe for you, the feeling of peace is in the shape of a kettle, or friendship takes the form of a forest.
Talking about abstract ideas in a concrete way makes your writing clearer, and produces original images – ones that only you, as a poet with unique insights, can express and describe.
Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’ helps to illustrate my point. Though it is not a concrete poem, it shows the power of concrete imagery.
The very first line compares the abstract concept of “love” to “a fat gold watch”, rooting the idea in something we can touch. This immediately shatters our assumptions about what love is, and what love poetry is. Plath makes us completely re-think this age-old topic.
These interesting metaphors and similes, as well as your decisions about phrasing and line-breaks influenced by the form, will help your words come to life in an original way.
To give you some inspiration, I’ve written this minaret-shaped poem about listening to the azaan (call to prayer) in Morocco.
quicken their wings
at the muezzin’s call
and take flight. soon,
in slow motion, birds basking
in the loud bath of harmonies.
as their lips
A few more examples to inspire you:
- ‘Easter Wings’ by George Herbert
- ‘Bottle’ by Charles François Panard
- ‘Vision and Prayer’ by Dylan Thomas
How to enter
This challenge is now closed. Thank you so much to all the poets who entered!
Zainab will choose a handful of winning poems to be published on Young Poets Network and be sent an exclusive Young Poet’s Network notebook.
Zainab Ismail is a student of English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich in London. She loves words and the weird and wonderful ways of using them – so she’s looking forward to reading your entries!