Avant-garde Poetry Movement
Modernity and Poetic Upheavals in the National Hostorical Context of the different Corpus Studied
The term modernity has been used to express different perspectives of life. It may be used to suggest that different practices, habits and views are inferior to those of the medieval or ancient times, or to create positive meaning ascribing the superiority of the views, habits and practices to the modern times. Both perspectives underscore the changes associated with modernity. Poetry, as an art form, has undergone massive changes in their contexts, forms, and styles, among others. It predates written text. For instance, the earliest form of poetry is believed to have been sung or recited. It was employed as a way of remembering genealogy, oral history and law. Ideally, there are changing dynamics in the world, such as people’s preferences, their way of life and their perspectives about life generally. Changes in poetry are aimed at conforming to these dynamics because art and literature are mirrors of society- they portray and demonstrate how people live and think.
Artists are activists in their own right. Poetic changes are mainly influenced by their acts of activism against societal structures such as politics, culture and social norms. In this regard, the avant-garde, which are new ideas in poetry and literature, are experimented by poets to demonstrate the ideological changes that have to occur between medieval and contemporary society. Therefore, this research aims to discuss the poetic upheavals and modernity in the national historical contexts of the different literary and avant-garde, particularly about the German, Russian and English Literature. The study is premised on the idea that the current practices, habits and views of poets have changed in form, style and ideology compared to medieval or ancient poetry and literature.
Poetry in the Medieval Period
During the medieval times, poems were religious. Most were written by clerics and were used mostly in churches and religious events. Scholars argue that literature during this period was international rather than local, and carried the teachings of the church. Most of the poetry was written in Latin, which was considered the language of the church. However, secular poetry was brought about by the revival of Latin literature between the 11th and 12th centuries (Shepherd 37). Artists adopted new forms of writing poems which included satires, epics, elegies, epigrams, and tales, all these became popular and defined poetry during this period. In short, from the 2nd century to the 12th century, poetry underwent fundamental changes that influenced authors that came later. For example, the shift to secular poetry was experimental and changed literature for years that followed. Authors focused on writing about political, social and cultural aspects of society, which was a change from the previous religious poems. Therefore, artistic avant-garde can be traced to the medieval period.
Poetry in the 20th Century
The 20th century saw the emergence of modernist poetry. The shift from religious to secular poetry greatly influenced modernist poetry. However, the appearance of imagists advocated for further and major changes in how poetry was written, the form and the style in which it was written. Imagists emerged in England and favoured clear and sharp language as well as precision in imagery (Faulkner 73). Imagists were a literary movement that influenced changes in modern poetry. It introduced a poetic style that focused on the use of clear and understandable language as opposed to the complex Latin language that was used before. Also, the use of imagery distinguished them from the previous authors.
Essentially, imagists introduced different ideologies, which demonstrated the influence of English literature in the world. They rejected the discursiveness and sentiment typical of Victorian poetry. In their movement, they advocated for the adoption of more classical values such as the economy of language and directness of presentation. They also introduced the willingness to experiment with free verses- non-traditional verses — ideally, imagists modernist poetry (Faulkner 93). For example, the most fundamental characteristic of their poetic style was the isolation of image in a poem to reveal its essence. This style was unique at the time and effectively mirrors the modern developments of avant-garde art and the literary changes in the 20th century.
The avant-garde was also shaped in German with the emergence of numerous ideas of poetry. The most common idea was the technologies of communication and modern theories. The 20th century in German saw the emergence of poets that were more focused on using technology to transform their style and form of poetry. For example, the use of the telegraph, digital computer and information theory all occasioned the fundamental re-examination of the relationship between human subjectivity and language (Barron 81). As a result, experimental poetry was developed to reexamine this relationship. Avant-garde in German was brought about by the Dada movement after World War 1. The movement began in Zurich and quickly spread to Berlin and other parts of the world. The movement mainly advocated for innovative poetry or experimental writing which was due to the influence of the emergence of technological communications such as telegraph. Therefore, German poetry in the 20th century was mainly transformed by technology and the desire to be creative and innovative in writing poetry.
German expressionism influenced modern-day poetry in many ways. As an example of the avant-garde, the style focuses more on individual development and shared aesthetic values. One of the most vocal and known artists was Edvard Munch who provided a key link. In short, German expressionists were aggressive in adopting innovative poetry. As opposed to the previous styles where authors mainly emphasized styles such as imagery and satires, the Germans emphasized how to use the innovation available by artists to express themselves. In this regard, the avant-garde influenced in German-influenced the way poets expressed themselves using poetry by introducing the elements of technological use to poetry. Therefore, German was also an integral country in the evolution of poetry.
Poetry was revolutionized between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries in Russia. The movement of the avant-garde in Russia was influenced by many artists including Kazimir Malevich, who developed the concept of suprematism. Suprematism was a form of expression that moved away from the objectivism, a world of natural forms, to access the preeminence of pure feelings (Bowlt 303). Essentially, the avant-garde movement in Russia developed many ideas that influenced modern poetry and art. For example, apart from suprematism, Russia futurism, constructivism and neo-primitivism were the major ideologies that changed the way poetry was written in the world. These ideas, however, clashed with the state-sponsored social realism during the Russia Revolution that occurred between 1917 and 1932.
The most influential artists adopted distinct styles of poetry. For example, Kazimir Malevich was influenced by his visit to France in 1912 where he quickly assimilated movements of symbolism, impressionism and fauvism. Ideally, these movements introduced new styles in poetry. As opposed to previous approaches to poetry, the introduction of symbolism influenced modern styles and has been in existence for the longest time. However, these artists were influenced by the political and social environments at the time. Malevich’s trajectory, for instance, reflected the October Revolution of 1917, which was mainly based on supremacy battles (Bowlt 312). In this regard, his style and themes mainly adopted suprematism. Symbolism was also adopted more often, largely to communicate the political and social factors that influenced people’s lives during this time, such as the revolution and fight for political power. Therefore, the avant-garde movement in Russia introduced different elements to poetry including symbolism, suprematism and impressionism.
The Influence of Artists in Avant-Garde Movements in the 20th Century
Artists were the most influential figures in avant-garde during the 20th century. They formulated ideas and styles that became the trademark for poetic transformation in the world. In England, imagists changed the way language was used, and poetry was written. For instance, they introduced the use of imagery which has become an integral element in poetry to date. Imagism is considered to be the first literary movement in the world which influenced other poets to develop ideas and movements to modernize poetry. One of the most influential figures in imagism was Ezra Pound. He came up with the idea of isolating an image to reveal its essence. He called this process “luminous details” (Beasley71). In short, he focused on expressing abstractions by exposing concrete instances, which is similar to the synthesis of many perspectives into one image. Therefore, Ezra Pound, together with his colleagues, introduced imagery in poetry and has been an essential element of poetry to date.
In German, the introduction of innovative poetry was also influenced by different authors. One particular artist that made a mark in avant-garde movement in Germany was Hans Bellmer. Bellmer was known for his innovative ways of expression, such as using female dolls. However, in poetry, he was one of the first artists to utilize telegraph and other technological devices for expression (Barron 121). During this time, technology was beginning to influence society, and they were responsible for influencing other artists to use technology in the poetic activities. In this regard, as part of the avant-garde movement, he brought changes to the way people expressed themselves through poetry. Lastly, in Russia, the avant-garde movement was also influenced by artists. For instance, Kazimir Malevich introduced suprematism and symbolism in poetry. According to their experimental ideas, they wanted to tell stories using symbols. At the time when revolutions were frequent in Russia, political messages were passed using these symbols. As a result, the movement influenced poetry for years to come.
Poetry, as part of the art, has changed over the last centuries. The first form of poetry was religious and was mainly written by clerics as a way of communicating God’s word to the people. However, the emergence of secular poetry in the 12th century initiated different changes in poetry. Different movements were launched to introduce elements to poetry. The most changes were witnessed during the avant-garde movements in the 20th century. The use of imagery, symbolism and other elements were introduced during this period. Therefore, a look at the avant-garde movements in England, German and Russia unveils the numerous changes that poetry underwent to get to where it is today.
Beasley, Rebecca. Ezra Pound and the Visual Culture of Modernism. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Barron, Stephanie. Degenerate art: the fate of the avant-garde in Nazi Germany. Harry N. Abrams, 1991.
Bowlt, John E., ed. Russian art of the avant-garde: theory and criticism, 1902-1934. Viking Press, 1976.
Faulkner, Peter. A modernist reader: modernism in England 1910-1930. BT Batsford Limited, 1986.
Shepherd, Geoffrey. The nature of alliterative poetry in late medieval England. Oxford University Press, 1971.
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