When you first come across what is now called concrete poetry, shape poetry or visual poetry, you might think it is an attempt to be cutesy, or a fad of some kind. In fact this kind of poetry has been created since the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., and was the subject of a movement and manifesto from a group of highly-regarded Brazilian poets in the 1950s.
Among other things, concrete poetry uses the shape and layout of the poem (the typographic arrangement of letters and words) as an element of the poem. In concrete poetry the shape of the poem also conveys meaning.
Knowing all this, I was very pleased to come across an 1835 example of concrete poetry in the Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.
To be honest, I don’t know if this item has been considered poetry by academics (that is, by the few who have looked through old LDS periodicals), or even if it was considered poetry at the time. Most of the shape poetry from before the 1950s that I’ve seen involved entire stanzas of content, instead of a single phrase as this one does. I suspect most readers looked on this work as just a light-hearted way of expressing religious feeling.
Unfortunately, the poems author is, at least to me, something of a mystery. In the periodical, credit is simply given to “P.” I’m tempted to assign credit to Parley P. Pratt (who was writing poetry at this time) or W. W. Phelps, who had edited the Messenger and Advocate‘s predecessor (The Evening and the Morning Star), but I really have no basis for doing that. Perhaps some reader knows who the author is.
In any case, I got a kick out of seeing concrete poetry in an early LDS periodical. Now if we can only get it to show up in a more recent one!!
Here’s the poem I found:
GOD IS LOVE
6 thoughts on “Mormon Concrete Poetry”
Fascinating find, Kent.
At first blush I didn’t get it, but I see now that God is in the center and the love is emanating out from him.
Yes, poetry always requires a little work to get past the surface — its what makes it rewarding. Concrete poetry is no different.
I presume “P.” is W.W. Phelps.
See P. Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church Vol 1, 1830-1847, p. 49.
FWIW, the “P.” signature also appears below “Sacrament Hymn” in the July 1835 issue of the Messenger and Advocate (p. 160). Phelps is recognized as the author of the text there (“O God, the Eternal Father”).
Thanks, Justin. I hadn’t really done much research to figure out who P. is. You’ve convinced me.
First I knew it, I shocked. But, after that, I like it.