carl andre: poems

images from socks studio

“Andre designed the shape of poetry according to his own understanding of the word as a concrete module, similar to the squares of industrial metal, wooden timbers, or bricks in his signature three-dimensional pieces. His poems don’t always incorporate complete sentences, phrases, or even associative terms, but use words sequentially. Shaped text functions as both pattern and poem – visual art and literature simultaneously. On the occasion of his first gallery show at Tibor de Nagy, Andre said he wanted to “seize and hold the space“, and the same is true in his command of the clean, white, 8 1/2 X 11 inch sheet of paper, a standardized, manufactured material. Here the words are methodically punched out on a manual typewriter, or hand-written with a felt-tip pen; mostly dense, black text on a white background, sometimes the reverse, and occasionally red.”

“In many of Andre’s poems, he abandons the spaces between words that tell us where one stops and another starts. The words seem hidden within greater fields of letters. His playful manipulation provides a way into poetry through the particular beauty of words in meaning, naming and presence. Andre said “I am trying to recover a part of the poet’s work which has been lost. Our first poets were the namers, not the rhymers. The great natural poem about anything is its name.” There are no nonsense words used, and most are chosen from everyday usage – nothing to look up.

Just as Andre stripped the notion of constructing a sculpture down to the brick, his process essentializes poetry down to the simplest elements. Words — common objects — according to Andre, “have palpable tactile qualities that we feel when we speak them, when we write them, or when we hear them, and that is the real subject of my poetry“.”

“The poems visually re-examine how words function as a symbolic arrangement of letters fitted together.”

Rob Weiner

“In Andre’s early poetry we find not only morphological precedents to his mature sculpture (grids, scatters, rows, and clastic units), but also the origins of conceptual tenets often attributed to the 1965–67 period. One such breakthrough is the idea of the object as a cut in space, which inverts our traditional notion of positive and negative space; Andre explained, “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.””

Delia Solomons