Fran Horner, a postgraduate student studying the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies, in her second blog post, tells us more about her internship at The John Rylands Library.
Dom sylvester houédard (dsh) was a British Benedictine monk who spent the majority of his life at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire, England. dsh is known for his theological writing, particularly his translation and editing work of the Jerusalem Bible in 1961, and his concrete poetry.
dsh was involved in many post-war avant-garde movements but he made considerable contributions to concrete poetry. Like other avant-garde movements Dada, Futurism and Surrealism, concrete poetry rejected the norm. It was a hybrid between poetry and typographical design, as the form and visual effect of the poem took precedence over conveying meaning through the syntax.
Concrete poetry had its origins in Sweden in 1953. However, it was the work of a group of Brazilian artists who really explored and evolved the movement. Artists such as Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos and Décio Pignatari inspired poets and artists in Europe, particularly Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, Edwin Morgan and, of course, dsh in Britain.
In the 1960s, dsh created experimental concrete poetry on his Olivetti Lettera 22 Italian typewriter. The typewriter enabled him to experiment with the colour of the carbon and the placement of letters or symbols on paper, physically moving the paper around and rejecting typical straight lines of text. These experiments were named ‘typestracts’ by Edwin Morgan and dsh describes them as ‘typestracts- rhythm of typing- action poetry- as words grow on paper to see language grow- dictionary (convention as language-coffin- this word/poem means the WAY we use it- we (not them) convene its meaning-’. The typestracts have blurred the boundaries between poetry and abstract art, as the careful but sometimes chaotic composition and architecture of the poems are what transmits its meaning. dsh’s typestracts fully utilise the space in which they occupy, encouraging the viewer to read the poems more dynamically and with more movement over the whole page. dsh rightfully labelled himself a ‘kinetic’ poet.
I am really interested in the objectness of the typestracts, and I personally see them more as works of art than poems, almost like painting with typed forms. The typestracts have made me question what I believe poetry to be: the boundaries and functions of art, literature and typography all dissolve into one another. I think the typestracts perfectly embody the eccentric, intellectual and artistic personality of dsh, whilst also showing his many roles as poet, as designer, as artist, as monk.
To read more about dsh, I recommend Notes from The Cosmic Typewriter: The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houédard edited by Nicola Simpson. Available in the University of Manchester Special Collections at the John Rylands Library.