Sound poetry  

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"Gadji beri bimba
glandridi lauli lonni cadori..."

(1905) by Hugo Ball

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Sound poetry is a form of literary or musical composition in which the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded at the expense of more conventional semantic and syntactic values; "verse without words". By definition, sound poetry is intended primarily for performance.


History and development

The vanguards of the 20th Century

While it is sometimes argued that the roots of sound poetry are to be found in oral poetry traditions, the writing of pure sound texts that downplay the roles of meaning and structure is a 20th century phenomenon. The Futurist and Dadaist Vanguards of the beginning of this century were the pioneers in creating the first sound poetry forms. Marinetti discovered that onomatopoeias were useful to describe a battle in Tripoli where he was a soldier, creating a sound text that became a sort of a spoken photograph of the battle. Dadaists were more involved in sound poetry and they invented different categories:

  • Bruitist poem: it is the phonetic poem, not so different from the futurist poem. Invented by Richard Huelsenbeck.
  • Simultaneous poem: a poem read in different languages, with different rhythms, tonalities, and by different persons at the same time. Invented by Tristan Tzara.
  • Movement poem: is the poem accompanied by primitive movements.

Later developments

Sound poetry evolved into visual poetry and concrete poetry, two forms based in visual arts issues although the sound images are always very compelling in them. Later on, with the development of the magnetic tape recorder, sound poetry evolved thanks to the upcoming of the concrete music movement at the end of the 1940's. Some sound poets used these new means in order to manipulate their performances and expand the possibilities of language sound transformations. Sound poetry continued to be used by later poetry movements like the beat generation in the fifties or the spoken word movement in the 80's, and by other art and music movements that brought up new forms such as "text sound art" that may be used for sound poems which more closely resemble "fiction or even essays, as traditionally defined, than poetry" ([1]).

Early examples

Italian F. T. Marinetti's Zang Tumb Tumb (1914);

A piece performed by Hugo Ball in a reading at Cabaret Voltaire in 1915:

"I created a new species of verse, 'verse without words,' or sound poems....I recited the following:
gadji beri bimba
glandridi lauli lonni cadori..."
(Albright, 2004)

Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate (1922-32, "Primal Sonata") is a particularly well known early example:

The first movement rondo's principal theme being a word, "fmsbwtözäu" pronounced Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu, from a 1918 poem by Raoul Hausmann, apparently also a sound poem. Schwitters also wrote a less well-known sound poem consisting of the sound of the letter W. (Albright, 2004)

Chilean Vicente Huidobro's "Altazor" book (1931), where he explores phonetic mutations of words.

Other examples of sound poets

Later prominent sound poets include Henri Chopin, Bob Cobbing, Ada Verdun Howell, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Enzo Minarelli, Mathias Goeritz, and Andras Petocz.

The poet Edith Sitwell coined the term Abstract poetry to describe some of her own poems which possessed more aural than literary qualities, rendering them essentially meaningless: "The poems in Façade are abstract poems--that is, they are patterns of sound. They are...virtuoso exercises in technique of extreme difficulty, in the same sense as that in which certain studies by Liszt are studies in transcendental technique in music." (Sitwell, 1949) follow these links to proficient authors

See also

nonsense verse


  • Albright, Daniel (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-01267-0.
  • Sitwell, Edith (1949). The Canticle of the Rose Poems: 1917-1949, p.xii. New York: Vanguard Press.

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