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“Language is failing us”: Mónica de la Torre and Alex Balgiu on “Women in Concrete Poetry, 1959-1979” (Air/Light Podcast #3)

In this episode of the Air/Light Podcast, we’re interviewing Mónica de la Torre and Alex Balgiu, the editors of the new anthology, Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959-1979, out now from Primary Information press.

Concrete poetry was one of the most important post-war avant-garde literary movements. It was truly international in scope, with major practitioners and groups located in Brazil, Argentina, Western Europe, the Soviet Bloc countries, and North America. Across the globe, concrete poets created art objects composed of words, letters, colors, and typefaces, in which graphic space plays a central role in both design and meaning.

Women in Concrete Poetry is the first volume ever to focus solely on concrete poetry created by women. De la Torre and Balgiu take as their starting point Materializzazione del linguaggio—the groundbreaking exhibition of visual and concrete poetry by women curated by Italian feminist artist Mirella Bentivoglio for the Venice Biennale in 1978. The volume features work by Lenora de Barros, Ana Bella Geiger, and Mira Schendel from Brazil; Mirella Bentivoglio, Tomaso Binga, Liliana Landi, Anna Oberto, and Giovanna Sandri from Italy; Amanda Berenguer from Uruguay; Suzanne Bernard and Ilse Garnier from France; and many, many more.

We spoke with de la Torre and Balgiu about the challenges of creating an archival anthology during a pandemic, the importance of feminist recovery projects, and the politics of experimenting with language.

Keep scrolling for excerpts from the anthology.

black and white image tounge licking keyboard
Poema (1979) Lenora de Barros
repeated block letter H white background red O
L’assente (1971) Mirella Bentivoglio
red and blue image Dattilocodice 9
Dattilocodice 9 (1978) Tomasa Binga
black and white graph rps ailé blason du corps féminim
Blason du corps féminim (1979) Ilse Garnier
black and white graphic image letters šesta dimenzija 17
Šesta dimenzija 17 (1970) Tamara Janković
Wump Ertater, A Number Progressional (1970) Jennifer Pike
black and white graphic dots and lines signal flag poems
Signal Flag Poems (1970) Hannah Weiner

Aaron Winslow is the managing editor of Air/Light. He also writes video games, fiction, poetry, and criticism. He is the writer of "Star Renegades," a tactical roguelite JRPG created by Massive Damage and published by Raw Fury that was nominated for a 2021 Canadian Game Award and 2021 Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television Best Game Award. Other recent writing — including fiction, critical reviews, essays, and humor — has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Review of Books, Social Text, Smallwork, James Joyce Quarterly, Full Stop, Harriet: the Poetry Foundation Blog, and more. 

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