Back in high school, I heard the word, “concrete” applied to poetic images. My friends and I thought it was funny. One joke was that concrete poetry was harder than other poetry which seemed true at the time. Our teachers (Miss Cohen, Mrs. Zinn) led us through the forest of sophisticated, grown-up people’s poetry, often poetry from the movement known as “Imagism” which is defined as (yep) “An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter.”
An example of this is William Carlos Williams’ poem about the Red Wheel Barrow which, so far, I am unable NOT to think of whenever I see a wheelbarrow which is daily as there’s one in my backyard. Not much depends on it at the moment as it’s upside-down in the dirt, but who knows? It isn’t even red.
Here’s the poem in case you want to be plagued with it for the rest of YOUR life:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Strangely, all that discussion about concrete language was good for me as a writer and as a thinker (who knew?).
People say a lot of stuff all the time and other people believe it, even more, I think, in our media driven world, electronically connected world. Whole subjective realities are defined by how we “get our news.” “Our” news, not “the” news. We all know this. Some of the most abstract words have the most power, words like “rights” and “freedom.” People will kill each other over those words without even knowing what they actually mean, what their meanings imply. There are a lot of abstract words in our world right now that sound “concrete” but are essentially meaningless.
One example, every day I check in on Marjorie Taylor Greene to see how she’s doing down there in Georgia. She and her fan base are a laboratory for this. Here’s an example of her rhetoric this morning:
“This is the whole reason why I endorsed JD (Vance) early on, because I know he’s a business guy, he’s a family guy. He cares about traditional values that Americans want desperately Congress to care about,” Greene said.
I don’t know what any of those bolded terms actually MEANS, and I’m an American who’s supposed to be wanting them, not just wanting them, but DESPERATELY wanting them.
As long as politicians rely on abstract language that evokes knee jerk reactions from Americans who believe the politician has actually SAID something, we’re fucked. Concrete language may or may not be effective in poetry (I think it is but I’ve been brainwashed) but it would sure help us now. We have idioms that demand that: “Put yer money where yer mouth is.” “Talk is cheap.” “Actions speak louder than words.”
This current guy has made good on many of his words.