Poor Old Tired Horse at the ICA in 2009. Worth a rethink? Perhaps.
So, what exactly is it? Is it art? Is it poetry? Is it neither? Is it the bridge between the two? Are any of these definitions useful?
In the simplest terms the words are turned into a picture or representation beyond just their letters, the purpose of which is to enhance the effect of the poem for the reader.
This seems to be one kind of possible extension to any poetic practice of considering the way the words look on the page either through formal poetry, or choosing the lineation in free verse, such as more recently Philip Gross' Amphora.
If all forms of poetry try to do this, then all poetry is concrete in this sense. However, much of what we consider to be concrete poetry lacks something: read it out loud and the effect is lost, as it is essentially a visual form, lacking sound and often meaning.
But what might make it art? Its visual nature, certainly, and the fact that it uses words and typographical elements rather than colours or images, does not reduce its status, even if no pictorial representation is produced.
Thus we might conclude that it is neither poetry nor art, or both as some kind of hybrid, which for me points to the rather otiose nature of such definitions. As an entertainment for the eyes, a provocation of ideas and a demonstration of wit, let's just enjoy it, shall we? Here are just some of my personal favourites (more to follow, so check back soon):
Ian Hamilton-Finlay (very hard to choose just a couple!)