Humanities and Arts

Dreaming A Public Poem

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The Public Poem is a form I invented in 1967 and have performed in many European cities over the decades. For the last six years in Spain, I had been making “concrete” poems, seeing the sheet of paper as a two-dimensional surface which the typewriter could occupy spatially, then placing Letraset letters on superimposed plexiglass sheets that provide a third dimension of depth. One day, looking about in the street, I thought, “If I can place letters on these surfaces, then I can ‘write’ on the street, as well.” I quickly discovered the cheap, light, industrial material of polystyrene which could be easily cut into letter shapes—the size of the human beings who occupy the streets—and thus enter into a dialogue with them and the urban space. At first, I placed the letters and words at strategic sites of the city, but soon I found that carrying them with a team was more eloquent, like a hand holding a pen moving across the page. I often used a classic concrete poetry device, the permutation and recombination of letters, in choosing a mother-word or matrix that could be broken up into other words and then form phrases—even entire sentences—as we moved along, like text passing across a giant electronic screen where one or two words may appear at a time, and a sentence is eventually formed.