A R C H I V E
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that calligrammes implies a concern more with events than products. It's not so much a (concrete) ‘object’ or ‘shape’ that is produced (by construction or manufacture) as the trace of an inscription... and an invitation for readers to retrace the choreography of the inscription. As such it seems much more open to abstraction than the implicitly figurative shape, and it suggests fluidity and contingency, where concrete, in particular, connotes stasis and rigidity.
There was always a touch of irony to the idea of concrete poetry, of course. It disrupts more often than it reinforces our habitual interactions with the material environment. And the idealised image of the Zen calligrapher, with brush poised between fingers and thumb, is obviously bogus as an analogue of how my 'calligrammes' are technologically nudged, rotated, skewed and stretched into their published forms. That said, those few readers familiar with The Birmingham Quean will not be surprised to learn that I consider this exposure of the ideological impossibility of authenticity – the reverse engineering of transcendental penmanship as much as that old lie of non-symbolic representation – to be a key quality of the desired effect.
Hence the second reason for my preference. It is the surrealist pretension of calligrammes which is particularly appealing. Quite apart from being a French word used in English (the linguistic sine qua non of the pretentious Anglophone... or maybe that's sine qua non itself), etymologically, it is a term which claims the authority to bestow beauty and elegance upon the texts that fall under its rubric. As such, it has rarely been employed except with tongue in cheek. Obviously, and luckily, it's no less pretentious for its irony. Art must always be pretentious. The word itself is as pretentious as they come. In fact, where I come from arty farty and 'pretentious' are synonymous. Yet this is the key to artistic honesty. Only by faking the impossible – unfettered insight, unbounded erudition, immaculate mimesis, flawless form, whatever it might be – and by revealing the fakery of its techniques, and the impossibility of its aspirations, can art permit us to aspire (paradoxically) to the impossible... Fail again. Fail better.
© Copyright S.A.M. Trainor 2002-2009