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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Visual Poetry in France after Apollinaire


For all intents and purposes, visual poetry can be defined as poetry that is meant to be seen - poetry that presupposes a viewer as well as a reader. In contrast to traditional poetry, visual poems are conceived not only as literary works but also as works of art. Whether the visual elements form a rudimentary pattern or whether they constitute a highly sophisticated design, they transform the poem into a picture. Visual poetry itself has a long and fascinating history, going back to ancient Greece and perhaps even earlier. Around 1914 it experienced a dramatic rebirth and began to interest poets and painters, who were intrigued by its possibilities and who have experimented with it endlessly ever since. Between 1914 and 1918, when he died at the age of only 38, Guillaume Apollinaire created approximately 150 visual poems, which he called calligrammes. Following his impressive example, many poets experimented with visual poetry in France following and even during the First World War.

Insights Paper