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Summary Article: COLLAGE from The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

(Fr. coller, "to glue"). Refers to an abstract visual artwork in which the artist juxtaposes disparate media and various textures, affixing them to a single pictorial surface. Collage entered the descriptive vocabulary of art crit. in the second decade of the 20th c. As a compositional technique in painting, collage was among the innovations that distinguished later (synthetic) cubism from earlier (analytic) cubism. Synthetic cubist paintings included, e.g., fragments of newsprint headlines, bits of string, and other materials. (Georges Braque first included pieces of wallpaper in charcoal drawings; later, the Ger. artist Kurt Schwitters began making his famed abstract collage works incorporating found objects and alluding, often, to contemp. events; this work is known as Merz; see AVANT-GARDE POETICS.)

Collage migrated almost immediately to the lexicon of poetry and poetics, esp. among Fr.- and Eng.-lang. writers: after World War I, poets and critics alike began using the term to describe poems or series of poems built out of abrupt textual juxtapositions, newsprint transcriptions or headlines, direct prose quotations, and so forth. Thus, where the related combinatorial form of pastiche relies on the imitation of an established voice or style, collage relies on visible textual collocation. For one example in the U.S. context, W. C. Williams's long poem Paterson (1946–58) includes transcriptions of historical documents, letters, and anecdotes that maintain the margins of prose and appear in a smaller typeface than the lyric sections.

The quick adoption of collage as a poetics term marks a nearly simultaneous instance of how the Horatian analogy *utpictura poesis (as in painting, so in poetry) analogy continued to inform poetry and poetry crit. in the 20th c. As with all analogies, however, collage ought not to be applied or assumed too easily. While the poetic practices of excerption, juxtaposition, and quotation bear a suggestive formal relationship to the cutting and pasting of a visual collage, the material of a collage poem remains semantic and textual.

Fragments—Incompletion and Discontinuity, ed. L. D. Kritzman and J. P. Plottel (1981); M. Perloff, "The Invention of Collage," The Futurist Moment (1986); E. Adamowicz, Surrealist Collage in Text and Image (1998); B. Taylor, Collage (2004); P. McBride, "The Game of Meaning: Collage, Montage, and Parody in Kurt Schwitters' Merz," Modernism/Modernity 14 (2007).

C. BOWEN
Copyright © 2012 by Princeton University Press

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