The ideogram changed the course of modern American poetry, and Ideogram is the first history of this important poetic tradition.
In modern poetry the ideogram is an idea presented to the reader by means of the juxtaposition of concrete particulars, usually without connective words or phrases. The poem is therefore presented in precise images, usually very tersely, and free from conventional form and meter. The idea of presenting a concept in this manner derives in part from Ernest Fenollosa's essay "The Chinese Character as a Medium for Poetry," the Chinese written character itself being a juxtaposition of pictographs to form a new meaning.
Ezra Pound's search for an alternative to traditional forms of verse composition resulted in his use of the ideogrammic method which, Laszlo K. Géfin asserts, became the major mode of presentation in twentieth-century American poetry. Two generations of avant-garde, experimental poets since Pound have turned to it for inspiration, evolving their own methods from its principles.
Géfin begins by tracing the development of Pound's poetics from the pre-Imagist stage through Imagism and Vorticism to the formulation of the ideogrammic method. He then examines the Objectivist poetics of Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, and George Oppen; the contributions to the ideogrammic tradition of William Carlos Williams; and the Projectivist theories of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley. He concludes with an exploration of Allen Ginsberg's theory of the ellipse and Gary Snyder's "riprap" method. Throughout, Géfin maintains that the ideogrammic mode is the literary representation of the twentieth-century post-logical—even post-humanist—world view.