The Restraint of Meaning: Stevi-Lee Alver reviews the #concrete issue of ‘Australian Poetry Journal’.

Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete. Edited by Bronwyn Lea

APJ-3.2_Front-CoverThe diversity of contributors and the perceptivity of criticism make this an approachable and compelling introduction to the form and history of concrete poetry. For those same reasons, the #concrete issue of the Australian Poetry Journal is also an amusing read for those acquainted with the movement.

Bronwyn Lea, in her final volume as editor, has selected pieces that place more emphasis on the role of the reader and revisit that century-old phrase: a picture is worth a thousand words. Lea, in the forward, summarises the poetic intention perfectly when she says, “concrete poems ask readers to look simultaneously ‘at’ and ‘through’ language.”

In this issue, the pieces attempt playfully to free language of its burdensome obligation as the transmitter of meaning and ideas. The common aim of concrete poetry is to enable semiotics to stand alone as an object, in and of itself, free from objectification. Constantly evaluating the ambiguity and contradiction of this task, the pieces forever fold in on themselves, making the point—if ever—only momentarily possible.

Toby Fitch’s, ‘Missing Scène(s)’, and John Warwicker and Karl Hyde’s, ‘from In the Belly of Saint Paul’, are pieces that ensure no two readers will approach, or interact with, the work in the same way. ‘Missing Scène(s)’, somewhat resembling the screen of an archaic video game or that of a confused crossword, does not demand to be read in any particular fashion. Although the poem’s appearance and content generate an undeniable and questioning undertone of: ‘what’s missing?’

Warkicker and Hyde, taking samples of spoken language and placing them on paper, examine how modes of communication transform the ways in which meaning is conveyed. This eight-page extract—a series of poems appearing in shapes of infrastructure—attempts to capture the city’s mutableness by analogising the flux of infrastructure with that of language, giving the work a distinct O’Haraesque feel.

John Warwicker & Karl Hyde - 'from IN THE BELLY OF SAINT PAUL'
– The first two pages  ‘from IN THE BELLY OF SAINT PAUL’ by John Warwicker & Karl Hyde

The pieces show us that, like infrastructure, language is a dynamic entity with which we interact and, through interaction, participate in the continual deconstruction, construction, and reinvention of the ability to perceive meaning and experience.

I particularly enjoyed the pieces with colour, especially ‘A Quiet Voice’ by Australian artist and poet Angela Garnder. In ‘A Quiet Voice’—a stunning fusion of watercolour, origami and poetry—Gardner delicately uses space and silence as an additional form of expression, and catalyst, that swings the reader between reading and viewing.

The first page of 'A QUIET VOICE' by Angela Gardner
– The first page of ‘A QUIET VOICE’ by Angela Gardner

Karl Kempton has two poems appearing in this issue of the Australian Poetry Journal, the first of which is called ‘Playground’. In a universally recognisable way, Kempton arranges the first three letters of the English alphabet—A, B, & C—to resemble that of a child’s A-frame swing set, making the poem both inclusive and amusing.

‘Playground’, a seemingly straightforward visual poem, represents much more than language at play. It simply, yet sophisticatedly, analyses how language and child’s play inform one another, and explores how these interactions are responsible for, or at least influence, the invention of semantics.

'PLAYGROUND' by Karl Kempton
– ‘PLAYGROUND’ by Karl Kempton

A fascination with the development and understanding of symbols and meaning is the common thread running throughout the journal. Most poems, in one way or another, weave and capture the repetition and playfulness of the sight-sound blending that occurs during language development. They highlight the innocence and freedom that children have prior to developing metacognition and consider, critically, the purpose of knowing about knowing.

While none of this is ground breaking or revolutionary stuff, it encapsulates the materiality of language and the mystery and uncertainty of experience. Personally, I found it exciting and refreshing that an Australian print journal would dedicate bravely an entire issue to such an experimental form.

– Stevi-Lee Alver


Based in Bangalow, Stevi-Lee Alver currently studies at Southern Cross University and nurses at the North Coast Cancer Institute. Her poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Writing to the Edge, Jabberwocky, and Northerly, and will be forthcoming in Coastlines 5, Homegrown Ghosts, and Questions.

Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete is available from


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P76 Issue 7 is a special tribute issue devoted to the work of Cornelis Vleeskens and was curated by Pete Spence.  Vleeskens was one of Australia’s leading Visual/Concrete poets (among many other accomplishments) and works by by  Vleeskens and Spence are included in  Australian Poetry Journal Volume 3. Issue 2 # concrete. P76 Issue 7 is published by Rochford Street Press and is available from

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