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This review is taken from PN Review 228, Volume 42 Number 4, March - April 2016.

Cover of Edited by Chris McCabe and Victoria Bean The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21<sup>st</sup> Century
Oliver DixonPrismatic Subdivisions The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century
Edited by Chris McCabe and Victoria Bean
Hayward Publishing 2015

Submerged within the hermetic prose of Mallarmé’s 1897 preface to ‘Un Coup de Des Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard’ is a tentative prognostication of what might emerge in the future from his seminal typographic ‘score’: ‘almost an art-form’. The phrase acknowledges the poem’s radical deployment of visual aspects of the text – spacing, letter-size, ‘variable positions’ of lines of different lengths up and down the page, the ‘blancs’ (both blanks and whitenesses) given their due importance – to initiate ‘prismatic subdivisions of the Idea’: meaning is suspended ‘in hypothesis’, linear narrative evaded and a sense of the poem’s imaginative drift ‘flowers and rapidly disperses according to the mobility of the writing’.

What Mallarmé could hardly have foreseen is the fecundity and diversity with which this hybrid form continues to evolve, as amply evidenced in The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century. The reason ‘Un Coup de Des’ – alongside that contrasting scalpel of Symbolist language-dissection, Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ – stands at the head of subsequent achievements in the field of concrete poetry, such as those found in Bean and McCabe’s illuminating anthology, is Mallarmé’s concept of orchestrated visual components being as integral to poetic meaning as semantic ones and his foresight into how this could redefine the act of reading.

There is a sense, of course, in which all poetry could be considered concrete, since the two chief attributes which differentiate poetic discourse from prose are firstly that it has a visual dimension in its layout on the page ...


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