Major Movements and Periods of Poetry

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Last updated: November 25, 2019

Academic Formalism
This mid-20th century American movement is characterized by its use of rhyme, regular meter, a sense of Anglo-American literary tradition, a dry wit, and a classical belief in the supremacy of the intellect. The poets of this movement rejected the free-verse revolution that was occuring around them, and they wrote poems that tended to compression, impersonality, careful craftsmanship, and occasionally ornate diction.

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Beat Poetry
Reacting against post-WWII middle-class materialism and conformity, as well as the predominant aesthetic of academic formalism, these 20th century poets sought transcendence by embracing jazz culture, illegal drugs, and Zen Buddhism. Generally meant to be performed and heard, the poetry of this movement sought to shock its audience out of complacency by making liberal use of bold, explicit language and material. The poetry is often characterized by its use of free verse and anaphora as a poetic device.

The Black-Arts Movement
Occurring simultaneously with the civil rights movement, this 20th century American movement used art to promote political change. Centered in Harlem in the 1960s, this movement emphasized speech and performance, call and response, and the African American vernacular. The movement was termed by Amiri Baraka, whose poetic aim was to “shatter the illusions of the American body politic, and awaken black people to the meaning of their lives.”

Black Mountain
This mid-20th century movement took place in rural North Carolina and was characterized by experimentation in free verse. The leaders of the movement promoted open forms and composition by “fields,” and claimed that “the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.

” They believed that writing should be an organic process, and because there is a form in all things, writing poetry is a way to discover and reveal the order of an individual’s experience.

Confessionalism
This 20th century American movement features the use of private –even shocking– autobiographical material. Early poets of the movement wrote openly about mental illness, infidelity, dysfunctional families, and alcoholism, ushering in an age of personal revelation. However, the later poets of the movement emphasized that the reader’s feelings of being addressed directly and honestly by the poet is an illusion, and that even poems based on autobiography employ artifice.

Deep Image
This 20th century movement applies the theories of Carl Jung to poetry. Like Freud, Jung believed that the unconscious reveals itself in symbols, and he was particularly interested in a collective unconscious (a set of symbols and images shared by members of a culture). The poets of this movement were influenced by surrealism and Jung, and they called for a more passionate, less rational poetry that favored imaginative leaps over logic, and emotion over reason.

Feminist Poetics
The writers of this 20th century movement sought to define themselves in relationship to a literary tradition that had long marginalized the female voice.

Believing that “the personal is the political,” writers of this movement often turned to their own lives as a starting point for scrutinizing the power relationship between the sexes. The poetry is often characterized by revisionist mythmaking and the poetics of the body.

Language Poetry
An experimental movement drawing on postmodern literary theories, linguistics, and semiotics, this poetry is interested in fragments, nonsense, and breaking language down to its smallest components. These poets see a political element to their aesthetics, claiming that their nonlinear constructs undermine the English language, and in doing so, thwart the prevailing social and political order.

New Formalism
Toward the end of the 20th century, poets of this movement began experimenting with rhyme, regular meter, and traditional poetic forms like the sonnet and villanelle. Reacting against contemporary academic poets who were writing mostly for each other, these poets desired to widen poetry’s readership by harkening back to the long tradition of English-language verse.

New York School
Taking place among the Manhattan art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, this movement was inspired by French surrealism and psychology. Their poetry valued irony and wit, and the poets of the movement often composed their poems in a spirit of playful collaboration. Their poetry is characterized by a casual, conversational tone, and somewhat abstract imagery.

Spoken Word/ Performance Poetry
Associated with the urban coffee house scene, this late 20th century movement emerged from “poetry slams” in which poets perform their work, competing for audience approval.

These poets write for the stage, not for the page, often infusing their performances with humor and politically charged anger. Sound devices such as repetition, internal rhyme, and anaphora characterize this poetry.

Renaissance
Broadly referring to English poetry and drama written from the early 16th through mid 17th century, this era sought to balance faith and reason, intellect and emotion. The attitude in much of the work of this period manifested itself in “humanism,” which was a halfway house between theology and rationalism. In particular, this era celebrated the ideal man, who took all knowledge as his province.

Poetry of this era is open in its search for both sensual and intellectual pleasure.

Metaphysical Poetry
This 17th century movement developed out of Elizabethan poetry; this type of poetry generally finds value in logical structure, and is characterized by the following: vivid, abrupt speech patterns; far-fetched conceits; startling imagery (often drawn from science); religious melancholy; and intellectual wit.

Elizabethan poetry
This late 16th century movement was characterized by English drama, with its major writer being William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s sonnets in particular exemplify the poetry of the era, with their focus on logical structure and order. While the poetry sometimes explores traditional subject matters, such as love and its complications, the poetry of the era also presents new themes, such as death, lasting fame, mutability, art, and friendship.

Neoclassicism
A revival in literature in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, characterized by a regard for the classical ideals of reason, form, and restraint.

The poets of this period celebrated completed control in a line of poetry and appreciated smoothness of rhythm and meter.

Romanticism
A movement in literature and art during the late 18th and early 19th centuries that celebrated nature rather than civilization. The poets of this era favored impulse, spontaneity, and surprise within a poem.

They rejected the “Augustan values” of stability and predictability, and their poetry sought to assert the worth of unique individual experience and the reality of the subjective world.

Victorian
This 19th century movement overlapped with Romanticism, but differed drastically. Literary themes are often simplistically stereotyped as smugly moralistic, sexually repressive, and obsessed with middle class conformity. Writers of the period investigated the massive social problems brought about by urban slums and industrialization. Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” (1859) challenged longstanding religious ideas and threw society into turmoil, thus many of the poems of this era struggle with religious themes.

Modernism
This late 19th and early 20th century movement is characterized by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression.

For many poets in this era, the primary aim of their writing was exploring psychological realism. Irony also became a stock component of this era, and the poetic style was dominated by free verse.

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