Dirty Concrete Poetry and White Space

The Visual Texts of Steve McCaffery and Douglas Kearney


  • Steven McCarthy


Steve McCaffery, Douglas Kearney, concrete poetry, white space, visual text


Concrete poets Steve McCaffery and Douglas Kearney created exuberant graphic compositions of their words, almost half a century apart, using the typewriter and desktop publishing software on a personal computer, respectively. Because of the gritty, energetic, expressionistic quality of their work, this style is referred to as "dirty concrete poetry." They also approached white space in their poems with a mix of compositional and conceptual intention, although for Kearney, a Black man, the term "white space" takes on additional meaning. This paper explores the visual similarities and differences between the poets and considers how they bridge the verbal, vocal, and visual in their intermedia artform. Because these poets are not well known in the world of visual communications, this paper seeks to bring exposure to a new and relevant audience. 

Author Biography

Steven McCarthy

Steven McCarthy (MFA, Stanford University) is professor emeritus of graphic design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. His long-standing interest in theories of design authorship - as both scholar and practitioner - has led to lectures, exhibits, publications, and grant-funded research on six continents. His book on the topic, the Designer As... Author, Producer, Activist, Entrepreneur, Curator, and Collaborator: New Models for Communicating was published in 2013 by BIS, Amsterdam. McCarthy has been in over 135 juried and invitational exhibitions and his artist's books are in these collections among others: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, UCLA, University of California-Berkley, University of Washington, University of Cincinnati, Bainbridge Island Art Museum, the Banff Centre and the Ruth and Marvin  Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry at the University of Iowa. in 2017 he received the Minnesota Book Artist Award. Learn more at: http://stevenmccarthy.design.





Journal Article