An Introduction to Sound Poetry

January 19, 2017

An Introduction to Sound Poetry 

Written by Tanisha D’souza

Sounds poetry to my understanding is a performative art that occurs in the moment that a text is spoken aloud. and attributes of the human voice are enhanced though it. The pioneers of the field belonged to the Dada and Futurist Movements. Among the first was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) who wrote the Manifesto of Futurism in 1909. In the early part of the 20th century, he created a sound text to describe the battle of Tripoli to soldiers. An active member of the Italian army, Marinetti founded the Fascist Political Party in 1918 that soon after combined with Mussolini’s party Fasci Italian di Combattimento (the Italian Fasci of Combat). He pushed for Futurist Art to be adopted as the state art however Mussolini stated that he did not believe in the  promotion of a state art.



For the field of sound poetry Marinetti made a landmark discovery of onomatopoeia- the property of a word to look the way it sounds, to create a ‘sound effect that mimics the thing described.’ For example: slam, splash, bam, mumble, belch. Onomatopoeia is what is known as a sound device, which are the resources used by a poet to convey emotion through the use of sound- alliteration, consonance, exaggeration of certain words.

Another term for sound poetry is ‘verse without words’. An earlier example is Jabberwocky by Lewis Caroll written in 1871. Gadji Beri Bimba an exploration in sound poetry by the artist Hugo Ball in 1916, is another example. The text reads,

‘gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadori

gadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalomini

gadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bim

gadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri ban’

A reading is available at

Hugo Ball was associated with the Dada movement, and wrote it’s manifesto in 1916. He was a founder of Cabaret Voltaire. He expressed his desire to rid himself of the use of ‘second hand words’ and invent his own but interestingly many words in ‘Gadji Beri Bimba’ have meanings in

various languages but none as a verse. In 1945, the Letterists set out to create new letters based on the various sounds produced by the human body when breathing, kissing, tongue-clicking,

farting. Francois Dufrene recorded on a magnetic tape, Henri Chopin manipulated recorded sound in the 1950s.  Bob Cobbing, born in 1920, was an important artist of the British Poetry Revival. Born in Enfield, England and trained as an accountant his contribution to sound poetry was not only through his poems but the various art spaces and bookshops he organised namely the Writer’s Forum. He was given access to work at the British Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960s.


His ‘Square Poem’ is an example of his exploration of the placement of text on a page (space) and the time it is read in.


Bob Cobbing

Through my research, I came across many sound poems where I was confronted with the question- what am I meant to read? This in many ways confronts my dilemma with sound art. Created out of something so ordinary- sounds that everyone ‘hears’, words they use, letters they know- it often pushes one to a point of frustration where I myself what indeed it is that I am meant to be doing? To be reading, listening to? The only respite I have for myself so far is wondering why I am looking to be taught something I know and do so naturally- hear, read and speak.

‘And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of paradox: a purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life -not an attempt to bring order out of chaos … but simply a way of waking up to the life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.’

John Cage (‘Experimental Music’, Silence, 12)


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