In some celebration/recognition of the 5oth anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first manned mission to land on the moon, launched on this day in 1969, I am posting this poem which I always used to lead with when introducing concrete poetry to my students.
I cannot remember the author – apologies – and even with online research I have been unable to locate: apart from others having memories but also being none the wiser. If anyone…
I would just write the numbers on the black board [oh yes, many years ago] and then ask the students what they thought this ‘poem’ might be about. Of course, calling it a poem was the first tease, but someone would always eventually suggest a countdown – this prompted if needs be by my reading aloud – and then there was the vertical numbering before words were added so a rocket might be suggested, and that was the first route into exploring how concrete poetry can take the shape and other elements of the thing/event/item/idea it describes. Adding the words was always a great reveal – a little ruse, if also crucial, that worked to engage.
And this was the essential purpose. I would, however, also reflect on that line ‘What 4?’ because this does matter. Even in the early 80s when I was first teaching we were some way down the space road from 1969, so it was an apt question about the cost in a world riven with poverty and disadvantage. Then there was the final line and a suggestion of an ongoing commitment. I’d make reference to how poetry can have important messages to make/explore, but not necessarily.
This was mainly all about making poetry experimental and fun and I have fond memories of using this first example and launching the ideas of others.