One searches or scours for the words on the page. Not just the words, the sounds. And if not quite sounds then the signs that play sounds in the mind or the mouth. Recognising letters, syllables, and spaces takes place before reading. Because the arrangement of words on the page do not only determine the very sounds that are played in the mind or the mouth, as well as their sequencing and rhythm, but because the typographical effect is meaningful in and of itself too. Because words are not just verbal but visual. One word means another thing next to a different word, and another thing altogether when placed beneath it. The poetry about concrete, then, is not a kind of literary stuckness but a means of textual circumnavigation.

Concrete is a highly ubiquitous and versatile substance whose seeming stability disguises its hazardousness, its wiliness, its obstinacy. As liquid, poured onto a prepared surface, it enters into intimate relations with a so-called formwork – be this structural, topographical, environmental or methodical – to produce a solid, material expression that will, from thereon in, only ever be encountered “as found”. Structures left standing, defiant to demolition, attest to the substance’s unwillingness to bend to human caprice. The Brutalism about beton is its grip on a relatively fragile planet; its power to steer the Earth into another geological age. But what appears to be monolithic is not hermetic, and though perhaps unmoveable, never unmoved.

As an assemblage of letters, beton makes multiple references simultaneously. Deprived of its accent, there remains a striking similarity to the French word béton, which would be translated as “concrete” into English. It would be a shame to take this for granted, however. One need only look left to trace further associations, deep into the middle, or even to the right, to find a whole lot more. Five steps back take you to the source: a, h, p, l, a – alphabet. The space in the centre opens up to speculation: bet on. Switch to German and continue through letters to find a certain emphasis: Betonung. We could turn the whole thing around: no teb, but here the meaning alludes us for the time being.