Picture Poems; Concrete Poetry; typographic patterning; literary history; Mannerism; Metaphysical Poetry; signifier-signified; Cognitive Poetics; calligrams; phonetic patterning.Back to Home Page
This paper explores some cognitive and aesthetic principles concerning picture poems. It conceives of language as of a hierarchy of signs: the graphemic string signifies a phonological string which signifies units of meaning which signify referents in extralinguistic reality. Our linguistic competence urges us to reach the final referents as fast as possible. Poetic language draws attention to itself, that is, to the hierarchy of signifiers. In manneristic styles there is a greater awareness of the separateness of signifiers than in non-manneristic styles; hence their witty or disorienting effect. While rhyme, metre, alliteration impose additional patterning upon the phonological signifiers, picture poems, acrostich, and some other manneristic devices impose additional patterning upon the graphemic signifiers. When alliterations are turned into puns, they become manneristic patterning of the phonological signifier. It is argued, by analogy with synaesthesia, that stable characteristic visual shapes obstruct smooth perceptual fusion; and based on speech perception, that speech sounds are special in our cognitive economy, and visual patterning cannot achieve the naturalness of their patterning. That is why visual patterning is not admitted in non-manneristic styles. Cognitive poetics suggests that in the response to poetry, adaptive devices are turned to an aesthetic end. In a universe in which "the centre cannot hold", readers of poetry find pleasure not so much in the emotional disorientation caused by mannerist devices, but rather in the reassertion that their adaptive devices, when disrupted, function properly. This is one reason for mannerist styles to recur in cultural and social periods in which more than one scale of values prevail.
Keywords: Picture Poems; Concrete Poetry; typographic patterning; literary history; Mannerism; Metaphysical Poetry; signifier-signified; Cognitive Poetics; calligrams; phonetic patterning.Back to Home Page
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