Outline of Poetry in the Past 100 Years

An Outline of Poets and Poetry by and for Laymen, and still in the Process




1900-1930 :”Academic” “Neoclassicism” –Establishment of literary Modernism as defined by

T.S.Elliot: (1888-1965) very much the stern teacher, academic, conservative, socio-religious in his view of the world and history. Remained a symbolist while others turned to objectivism. Was brought up on his “Prufrock” and the “Waste Land” (It is a conglomeration of fragments, a montage) and “La Filia Che Piange”. It’s hard to get myself to read them again (They are practically memorized.), but he is very good.

Ezra PoundNever so much of a void between the person & his productions. Well, click on his name.

W.B.Yeats: always “kvelled” at the “Second Coming”, always felt that he set the mood for the 20th century.


also included: Marianne Moor,

E.E.Cummings (1894-1962) His major theme, and contribution, was the creation of an unusual linguistic form, joining words, taking them apart, utilizing verbs as nouns, placing words wherever he wished on the page as a means of emphasis, while his meter and rhyme scheme were really conventional. Poem Site

Conrad Aiken 1889-1973: has a wonderful lyricism, so free from cant, that I have always loved. In particular, the “Senlin”, from the Divine Pilgrim. His thoughts and writings involved Consciousness as influenced by Science, particularly phychoanalysis. Miserable childhood (father killed mother, then himself) which he transcended. Some poems at Academy of American Poets’ Site.

Robert Frost

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955). I’ve always liked his poems (as “The Emperor of Ice cream”, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”, “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”); they are all intelligent, exacting, tightly integrated, deeply felt.If he is to be classified, I would pick the word “Symbolist”. He lived very much in the “real world” (i.e. was not an academic- is that a criticism? not really. Many like teaching, or must attach themselves to such an institution in order to survive to keep on writing, thinking, producing) becoming an attorney, working most of his life as an executive in the insurance industry. See for yourself: some of his poems are at the Acad. of American Poets’ site. Stevens


(Every age calls itself “modern”. The term caught on as well at the opening of the 20th century, and held sway through the 50’s. Subsequently we call ourselves “post-modern” or “post-atomic”. So what shall we be called in the 21st century?  See below.)

(Although not writing in English, Stephene Mallarme (1842-1898) should be mentioned. He was the philosophical expounder of the aesthetic of SYMBOLISM, and very much influenced Wallace Stevens and T.S.Elliot. Essentially he transposed the sensible reality of nature into symbols, creating an ideal world of dream. See his “Afternoon of a Faun” (1875). “A Throw of the Dice Does Not Abolish Chance” foreshadowed the typographical experimentation of contemporary poetry)


Objectivism: Put increasing stress on objects. Generally put less weight on people and the creation of character.; regarded abstractions as material things, and attempted to depict the “pure” process of experience,

William Carlos Williams (“Patterson”::”No ideas but things”)

Zukowsky:  “A” very long, written between 1928 & 1974, music being the predominating theme. Very much, along with Delmore Schwartz and Frank Ohara, a New Yorker.


Dadaism: born as a reaction to the destructiveness of World War I. It was started by Tristam Tzara (1896-1963), who started out as Sami Rosenstock, I think in Romania, then with Breton in Paris. Did art andPoetry  I guess Language poetry is an outgrowth of the dada school, sound being what really matters. On the other hand sometimes nothing matters (i.e. cut up an article into separate words, then put them in a bag, shake it, and take them out arbitrarily).



Surrealism:: founded in Paris in 1924 by poet Andre Breton (1896-1966) as an outgrowth of Dadaism. He spoke of “psychic automatism”, the total liberation of the unconscious mind, revealing a new and higher reality.. It claims to create images by the elimination of impulse and blind feeling–and even by accident, and that a magical world, more beautiful than reality can thus be created. It postulates an ideal of an absolute reality



1930-1945 Moved leftward, populist gestures of political involvement

US Archibald Macleish

Muriel Rukeyser

British: Auden

Stephrn Spender


Allen Tate

John Crowe Ranson

Robert Penn Warren




1945 War Poets

Karl Shapiro




1946-1953 Psychological and Mythological

Richard Wilbur


Randall Jarell

Must include here Paul Celan (“Totes fuge”, 1952) Very intense. There are excellent translations from the German.




1953- . Confessional Poets

Robert Lowell-“Life Studies”

Snodgrass-“Life’s Needle”

Ann Sexton-“Death Notebooks”, “To Bedlam and Part Way Back”

Sylvia Plath: see her “Colossus”, or” Ariel”. Her novel, “The Bell Jar” is unforgetable.See poems


50’s & 60’s “Beat” Poets

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997): “Howl”, 1955, “Kaddish” A modern Whitman? Well, almost. These poems do produce an intensity of feeling; maybe, in part because of their length

Gregory Corso 1930-2001 Miserable childhood, early crime, leading to several years in jail, where he started to read, then write. Out of prison he met Ginsberg (where? at the White Horse Saloon? that seems appropriate. His poems are generally very angry. How could they be not?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti 1919-“Coney Island of the Mind”

Ann Waldman 1945-    Started Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado (w Ginsberg)




Field Compositions (Projective Verse)

Olson     (American language and experience is an un-closed field of energy. Promoted a freedom from constraint by syntax or grammar. He opposed periods and closed parentheses. His writing is sometimes incantory (also to me rather prosy) with anthropological resonances and esoteric allusions



Duncan 1919-1988  Became associated with Olson & Creeley at the Black Mountain School, his poetry having many religious connotations (as a Theosophist he believed in reincarnation). He advocated a length of line that was determined by one’s breath.  In NY he published the works of Anais Nin, Lawrence Durell, and Henry Miller. Later, was associated with the San Francisco :”renaissance” and with the Beat Poets. “After a Long Illness”


C. The Subjective Image (The unconscious generates emotions beyond the reach of logic or analysis. Did explorations of the subjective world. Actually they wrote in simple pictures, rather than in images of the unconscious.)

James Wright-“The branch will not break”

Robert Bly-“Silence in the Snowy Fields”

Robert Kelly


Post Modernism:  see erosion of boundaries between “he & me”, “inside & outside”, between the “objective & subjective

Ashbery: 1927- “the indoors with the outside becoming part of you.(40’s Flick). Strongly surrealist

Ed Dorn: “the insidereal amd the outsidereal”

Paul Muldoon


Language Poets: perhaps a passing fad. Took off  in 70’s and maybe passed out in the 90’s. It requires reader participation and Interaction with the words in the poems. Many sound nice, but on their own, without YOU, they have little meaning. On the other hand the poets and their poems insist upon a horizontal axis of multiple meanings and multiple “I’s”, on a kind of a torn speech and constant interruptions (Bruce Andrews: “I don’t have any paper, so shut up”. It is a poetry that reflects the intricately coded, constantly interruptive nature of high tech communications (which it also critiques). See: Norman Finkelstein, “The Problem of Self in Recent American Poetry.”

Charles Bernstein 1950-

Jack Spicer. Ghostly voices disturb personal utterances.