Concrete poetry, pattern poetry or shape poetry is poetry in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem, such as meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on.
It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry; a term that has evolved to have distinct meaning of its own, because the words themselves form a picture.
Although the term is modern, the idea of using letter arrangements to enhance the meaning of a poem is an old one. This style of poetry originated in Greek Alexandria during the third and second centuries B.C.E. Some were designed as decoration for religious art-works, including wing-, axe- and altar-shaped poems. Only a handful of examples survive, which are collected together in the Greek Anthology. They include poems by Simias and Theocritus. Early examples of typographically-based poetry include the following poem by George Herbert (1593-1633) (here in a scan of the 1633 edition of Herbert's The Temple), in which the poem is merely a comment on the title, which presents the poem's principal meaning typographically:
Another early precursor from Herbert is "Easter Wings", in which the overall typography of the poem is in the shape of its subject. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll contains a similar effect in the form of the mouse's "Tale," which is in the shape of a tail. In the early 20th century, artists and poets comprising the Futurism movement used concrete poetry as a dynamic expression of their anarchistic philosophies. F. T. Marinetti was the most prolific poet among them, and created several works that destroyed all typographic conventions. More recent poets sometimes cited as influences by concrete poets include Guillaume Apollinaire, E. E. Cummings, for his various typographical innovations, and Ezra Pound, for his use of Chinese ideograms, as well as various dadaists. Concrete poetry, however, is a more self-conscious form than these predecessors, using typography in part to comment on the fundamental instability of language. Among the better known concrete poets in the English language are Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Edwin Morgan. A well-known concrete poet in the Hungarian language is András Petöcz. Several important concrete poets have also been significant sound poets, among them Henri Chopin, and Bob Cobbing.
New forms of concrete/visual poetry are still being created, such as the interactive and puzzle poetry by Jennifer Kathleen Phillips. Some of these contain poems within a poem or visual messages triggered by the sound or synergy of the shape of words and letters.