Shaped Poetry

Glenn Todd.
Shaped Poetry: A Suite of 30 Typographic Prints Chronicling This Literary Form from 300 BC to the Present.
San Francisco: Arion Press, 1981. 2 volumes. (12414)

Shaped poetry is an arrangement of letters in a verse that can be recognized graphically as shape, pattern, or depiction. The tradition crosses cultures and may date early in the composition of words. In 1981, members of the Arion Press under the direction of Andrew Hoyem recreated or reinterpreted a selection of the texts as a portfolio of broadsides. Arion pressman and editor Glenn Todd provided a history of the art and each broadside in a companion to the portfolio. The oldest text presented in Shaped Poetry, set in Greek type in ovate arrangement, is the epigram Egg by Simias of Rhodes (fl. 300 BCE). Todd speculated that the couplets were to be inscribed onto an egg-shaped stone.

For this suite the Arion designers and compositors laid out poetry by Theocritus, Porfyrius Optatianus, Eustorg de Beaulieu, George Herbert, Robert Angot, Robert Herrick, Justus Georg Schottel, Charles François Panard, Lewis Carroll, Stéphane Mallarmé, Christian Morgenstern, F. T. Marinetti, Guillaume Apollinaire, Andre Bréton, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, Eugen Gomringer, Dieter Roth, May Swenson, Philip Lamantia, Augusto de Campos, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Andrei Voznesensky, John Hollander, and Andrew Hoyem.

Archer City native Glenn Todd (b. 1930), following duty in the U. S. Army and education at Wichita State and the University of California, Berkeley, found himself in Haight-Ashbury living in a close community with artists, poets, and printers. In 1964 Todd joined friends Dave Haselwood and Andrew Hoyem in their publishing venture, Dave Haselwood Books, printing texts of Beat Generation authors Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and others. Later, Hoyem and Robert Grabhorn combined their printing endeavors as Grabhorn-Hoyem Press. Upon Robert Grabhorn’s death in 1973, Andrew Hoyem founded Arion Press dedicated to producing limited-edition letterpress books, some illustrated by prominent artists including Jim Dine, Robert Motherwell, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, and Jasper Johns. Glenn Todd continued his contributions to the work of the press as journeyman printer, writer, and editor.

Displayed in a frame issued with Shaped Poetry is the 1914 text, Tethered Turkish Balloon, by Italian novelist and poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944). Marinetti’s text relates to an incident he witnessed as a journalist covering the siege of Adrianopolis, Turkey, during the First Balkan War. A Turkish communication balloon was attacked by Bulgarian wireless signals, disrupting the Turks’ connection to the capital Constantinople.

The portfolio is open to Philip Lamantia’s (1927–2005) untitled poem identified for convenience by the Arion members as “Voice.” The poem is set as the scene of an erupting volcano. Lamantia was born in San Francisco and became involved with the Beat Generation poets as well as with American Surrealists.

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Shaped Poetry