Dom Sylvester Houédard
For poets such as Finlay and Morgan, concrete poetry remained a fundamentally linguistic practice, with visual effects used to enhance or methodically alter a central semantic message. For the Guernsey-born, Gloucestershire-based poet Dom Sylvester Houedárd, concrete poetry came to entail a grammar of abstract visual forms, constructed from letters and diacritical marks, in which semantic meaning was largely subsumed. This quality is most virtuosically expressed in the so-called ‘typestracts’ which he created on his Olivetti typewriter. Houédard’s wordless poetics partly exemplifies the re-conceptualisation of concrete poetry as an intermedia, neo-dada artform across the 1950s-70s, which often manifested itself through a movement away from language, and in attachments to the sixties counter-culture. But the unique distinction of Houédard’s work is its attempt to express a wordless or apophatic awareness of God, in which sense his concrete poetry is connected to his vocation as a Benedictine monk, priest, and theologian. This chapter traces the development of these entwined impulses, moving from his beat-influenced verse of the 1940s-50s to his ‘kinetic’ concrete poetry of the mid-1960s, and finally to the typestracts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Influences touched on along the way include Wittgenstein, auto-destructive art, and Tantric ritual.
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