What is Abstract Poetry and Why Write It?
Coined by poet Edith Sitwell, the term abstract poetry refers to poems that feature more sound than sense.
Abstract poetry is the perfect kind of verse to write as a form of playing with words, to shake loose your inner poetic style. Think of the sounds similarly to how you would think of simple colors, shapes, and textures in an abstract painting.
Here is an abstract poetry sample from Sitwell:
The red retriever-haired satyr
Can whine and tease her and flatter,
But Lily O’Grady,
Silly and shady,
In the deep shade is a lazy lady;
Now Pompey’s dead, Homer’s read,
Heliogabalus lost his head,
And shade is on the brightest wing,
And dust forbids the bird to sing.
—Edith Sitwell, from “Popular Song” in Façade, 1923
Back when Tweetspeak was primarily a hub for after-Twitter-party poems woven by Glynn Young from the many tweets of party participants, sometimes evocative abstract poems such as the following would result:
Tell, do tell. It won’t do to hold plum secrets.
A grace of pinwheels, rainbows rolling over
in the night. And in the palm of midnight,
the tiniest of secrets slips through gears of sheets.
Love palms a plum, copper flesh within skin.
And the pinwheel? Will you crush that too?
Skin the plum, you find silver. Unfold the sheet,
you find plum. Nothing is known, nothing done.
Plum secrets take time to ripen. The pinwheel turns
on its own, no stopping its spin, its copper plum.
—Glynn Young + the Twitter party-goers
Ultimately, your best poems of all kinds will have sounds that carry the sense of the poems. In fact, sometimes you’ll find that the issue with an otherwise good poem is that its sounds are countering its sense in unplanned and unhelpful ways. Reading your poems aloud can be a useful way to catch this.
Try It: Abstract Poetry
Playing with words in a low-key way through writing abstract poetry is a terrific exercise to create a stronger match between your poems’ meanings and their music.
Start by gathering words from the dictionary by visiting at least 5-10 different sections. Then mix your gathered words in pleasing ways, without worry for much meaning, but rather with an ear towards their combined music. Share your poem in the comment box below. We’d love to read!
Photo by Jr Korpa, Creative Commons, via Unsplash.