Poetry Guide: Schools of Poetry
Schools of poetry may be self-identified by the poets that form them or defined by critics who see unifying characteristics of a body of work by more than one poet. To be a 'school' a group of poets must share a common style or a common ethos. A commonality of form is not in itself sufficient to define a school; for example, Edward Lear, George du Maurier and Ogden Nash do not form a school simply because they all wrote limericks.
There are many different 'schools' of poetry. Some of them are described below in approximate chronological sequence.
The Oral tradition is too broad to be a strict school but it is a useful grouping of works whose origins predate writing. These include the sagas of which Beowulf is the most widely known.
Classical poetry echoes the forms and values of classical antiquity. Favouring formal, restrained forms, it has recurred in various Neoclassical schools since the eighteenth century Augustan poets such as Alexander Pope. The most recent resurgence of Neoclassicism is religious and politically reactionary work of the likes of T.S. Eliot.
Romanticism started in late 18th century Western Europe. It stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom within or even from classical notions of form in art, and the rejection of established social conventions. It stressed the importance of "nature" in language and celebrated the achievements of those perceived as heroic individuals and artists. Romantic poets include William Blake, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, James Macpherson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Robert Southey.
Pastoralism was originally a Hellenistic form, that romanticized rural subjects to the point of unreality. Later pastoral poets, such as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and William Wordsworth, were inspired by the classical pastoral poets.
The Parnassians were a group of late 19th-century French poets, named after their journal, the Parnasse contemporain. They included Charles Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville , Sully-Prudhomme, Paul Verlaine, François Coppée, and José María de Heredia. In reaction to the looser forms of romantic poetry, they strove for exact and faultless workmanship, selecting exotic and classical subjects, which they treated with rigidity of form and emotional detachment.
Symbolism started in the late nineteenth century in France and Belgium. It included Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stephane Mallarmé. Symbolists believed that art should aim to capture more absolute truths which could be accessed only by indirect methods. They used extensive metaphor, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. They were hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description".
Modernist poetry is a broad term for poetry written between 1890 and 1970 in the tradition of Modernism. Schools within it include Imagism and the British Poetry Revival.
The Imagists were (predominantly young) poets working in England and America in the early 20th century, including F. S. Flint, T. E. Hulme, and Hilda Doolittle (known primarily by her initials, H.D.). They rejected Romantic and Victorian conventions, favoring precise imagery and clear, non-elevated language. Ezra Pound formulated and promoted many precepts and ideas of Imagism. His "In a Station of the Metro" (Roberts & Jacobs, 717), written in 1916, is often used as an example of Imagist poetry:
- The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
- Petals on a wet, black bough.
The Objectivists were a loose-knit group of second-generation Modernists from the 1930s. They include Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Basil Bunting, and Lorine Niedecker. Objectivists treated the poem as an object; they emphasised sincerity, intelligence, and the clarity of the poet's vision.
The Beat generation poets met in New York in the 1940s. The core group were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, who were joined later by Gregory Corso.
The Confessionalists were American poets of a style that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. They drew on personal history for their inspiration. Poets in this externally labelled group include Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, and Allen Ginsburg.
The New York School was an informal group of American poets active in 1950s New York City whose work was said to be a reaction to the Confessionalist movement.
The Black Mountain poets (also known as the Projectivists) were a group of mid 20th century postmodern poets associated with Black Mountain College in the United States.
The San Francisco Renaissance was initiated by the Objectivist Kenneth Rexroth and Madeline Gleason in Berkeley in the late 1940s. It included Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser. They were consciously experimental and had close links to Black Mountain and the Beat poets.
The Movement was a group of English writers including Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Donald Alfred Davie, D.J. Enright, John Wain, Elizabeth Jennings and Robert Conquest. Their tone is anti-romantic and rational. The connection between the poets was described as 'little more than a negative determination to avoid bad principles'—excess, in terms of theme and stylistic devices.
The British Poetry Revival was a loose poetic movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Its was a modernist reaction to the conservative Movement.
The Martian poets were English Surrealists of the 1970s and early 1980s including Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. Through the heavy use of curious, exotic and humourous metaphors, Martian Poetry aimed to break the grip of 'the familiar' in English poetry, by describing ordinary things as if through the eyes of a Martian. For instance, books are described by Raine as:
- mechanical birds with many wings
- perch on the hand
- cause the eyes to melt
- or the body to shriek without pain
The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets were avant garde United States poets from the last quarter of the 20th century. Their approach started with the modernist emphasis on method. They were reacting to the poetry of the Black Mountain and Beat poets. The poets included Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perlman, Michael Palmer, Rae Armantrout, Carla Harryman, Clarke Coolidge, Hannah Weiner, Susan Howe, Tina Darragh and Fanny Howe.
Post-modernism was a reaction to modernism.
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