Postmodernism in poetry


“To repeat a previous simplification: whereas ClassicismRealism and Romanticism all deal with the outside world, contemporary literature, by contrast, is commonly a retreat into the writer’s consciousness — to make autonomous creations that incorporate diverse aspects of modern life (Modernism), or free-wheeling creations constructed of a language that largely points to itself (Postmodernism).

Postmodernism began in the sixties, when there developed on both sides of the Atlantic a feeling that poetry had become too ossified, backward-looking and restrained. {1} The old avant garde had become respectable, replacing one orthodoxy by another. The poetry commended by the New Criticism — and indeed written by its teachers — was self-contained, coherent and paradoxical. Certainly it was clever, with striking imagery, symbolism and structural economy, but it was also far too predictable. Where were the technical innovations of the early modernists? Where were the alternatives to capitalism and the modern state that feature in Pound’s or Lawrence’s thought? And if contrary movements existed, they seemed disorganized. The UK might have its neo-Romantics, and a reaction to them. And in Europe were Milosz, Kundera, Ponge and Herbert. But there was no common purpose in these figures, and no common philosophy to give them intellectual standing. Into this vacuum came radical theory, and the generally Leftist theories of literature.”

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