I stumbled across this poem by Stéphane Mallarmé recently…

le hasard

...and was impressed that the innovative layout was created back in the 19th century.

Some digging reveals Mallarmé was a French poet who often used interesting layouts and “typographical idiosyncrasies” as part of his poems. His style wound up greatly influencing how words were displayed in poetry and beyond.

His fin-de-siècle style anticipates many of the fusions between poetry and the other arts that were to blossom in the Dadaist, Surrealist, and Futurist schools, where the tension between the words themselves and the way they were displayed on the page was explored. But whereas most of this latter work was concerned principally with form, Mallarmé’s work was more generally concerned with the interplay of style and content. This is particularly evident in the highly innovative Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (‘A roll of the dice will never abolish chance’) of 1897, his last major poem [above].

une constellatione

Mallarme.com offers further description of his “word music.”

According to his theories, nothing lies beyond reality, but within this nothingness lies the essence of perfect forms and it is the task of the poet to reveal and crystallize these essences. Mallarmé’s poetry employs condensed figures and unorthodox syntax. Each poem is build around a central symbol, idea, or metaphor and consists on subordinate images that illustrate and help to develop the idea. Mallarmé’s vers libre and word music shaped the 1890s Decadent movement. For the rest of his life Mallarmé devoted himself to putting his literary theories into practice and writing his Grand Oeuvre (Great Work). Mallarmé died in Paris on September 9, 1898 without completing this work.