The Revelation of ‘sweethearts’ by Emmett Williams

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I have recently discovered the full/er story of Emmett Williams’ concrete poem/narrative sweethearts, this after nearly 40 years of ‘knowing’ it as something quite different.

In the early 80s and at the beginnings of my English teaching career, I would introduce concrete poetry to students for reading enjoyment and their own creative writing. My models at that time were work by Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Eugen Gomringer, Ernst Jandl (the amazing Erschaffung der Eva), Claus Bremer, and Reinhard Döhl with the wonderful Aphel.

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These writers and examples of their concrete poems were from an anthology – a print book – and I essentially knew just the ones provided for illustration, unable as we are today to explore widey online. Of course, I might have done more of this over the years than is the case, but I did so to some degree, and have more recently downloaded/collected a greater range – those familiars as well as new – and I am currently reading Concrete Poetry edited by Nancy Perloff: another print copy, but a fulsome history to hand.

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I compiled my own booklet in the early 80s containing many of the above poems mentioned as well as others, and along with Emmett Williams’ superb like attracts like,

like attracts

I included his sweethearts poem which at the time was comprised of the 5 pages I had. Thinking this the complete version, I presented it as a concrete poem narrative telling the story of sweethearts who have a fight and break up: quite an acceptable interpretation on my evidence, and certainly able to illustrate how the ‘grid’ formula of this concrete poem can work from simple to expansive. Here are the 5 pieces I had:

1sweethearts2 seethe3 see stars4 stars5 war starts

I only last week learned that sweethearts was published as a book of 226 pages in 1968; this in fact 138 pages of the actual sequence of concrete poems (I’m guessing – see link below – but this could still be an ongoing error), ‘starting’ with the single line sweethearts, and read from back to front where this singular line is, or in any formation the reader chooses: I like the full page/grid of sweethearts from which the rest is composed by erasures as its beginning. As it turns out, the complete text is a gloriously and at times explicit erotic poem, so my ‘version’ was acceptable for classroom use!

You can read online here.

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