Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Concrete Poetry in Prose

Concrete poetry is fun to write and read. Consisting of words placed on a page in order to create an image that illuminates the meaning of words, a concrete poem is like an illustrated text.

Classic examples of concrete poetry are difficult to recreate (at least for me), but there is one available for viewing at this link. There is also a fine book that makes use of the principle behind concrete poetry, and that book is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography
Billy Lynn is in the company of Bravo Squad, temporarily reassigned to the U. S. for a heroes’ tour after their bravery was a feature on the nightly news. Impressed, the nation filters their actions through the lens of John Wayne and Audie Murphy and honors their sacrifice.

As Bravo marches into and out of fine dining rooms, on the stage for halftime shows at a football game, and ballrooms where rich and powerful people gather, they hear the same words floating above them, surrounding them, growing louder and fading. These words include courage, written as curraj; 9-11, overheard s nina leven; terror rendered as terrRr; service elongated as sssserrrRRRrvvviccce; and democracy as dih-mock-cruh-see. These words are usually placed on the page in the smallest of small fonts with blank space above, below, left, and right, suggesting they are part of the air, the atmosphere, and jargon of the day. More important, they represent the inexperience of men and women who’ve never crouched or dared bullets to find their hearts.

For Billy Lynn and the other men in Bravo Squad, their motives include the School of No Other Choice. Billy dodged jail by enlisting. He who has actually ducked and dodged bullets knows sacrifice and noble causes have little to do with coming home after his tour of duty ends. Coming home or being carried out in a body bag is random; it’s fickle fortune at work. Billy knows courage has even less to do with his deeds, heroic or cowardly. Necessity pushes and pulls men; duty requires them to act and do. Courage isn’t pulling any strings.

So the words for motives and actions are small and fragmented to Billy. They are parsed until they carry no weight. They mean nothing to the men who must endure handshakes and banquets given by men who only imagine it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country (Wilfred Owen).

Reading Challenge:

Read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Writing Challenge:

Write a concrete poem that illuminates Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She is a free lance writer and writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.