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What Is Postmodern Poetry?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Postmodern poetry is a type of poetry that has been explored since about the 1960s and is often noted for a few stylistic and thematic aspects. This poetry is often written in a way that is quite free form and meant to reflect the process of thought or organic speaking through a stream of consciousness style. These types of poems can be difficult to read and understand, and this is often done on purpose as a way of reflecting the poem back toward the reader. Postmodern poetry often deals with themes of meaninglessness or lack of reality, and frequently demonstrates an existential point of view.

The term “postmodern poetry” can lead to a great deal of confusion for many people, though the ideas behind such poems are fairly easy to understand. “postmodern” simply indicates a style that followed the “modern” movement in art and writing, which is often described as the work around and just following the two World Wars of the 20th century. In the 1960s, however, the counterculture movement found throughout much of the US resulted in new types of artistic expression.

Postmodern poetry often includes themes of restlessness and is usually written in a very free format. Line breaks and structures can be chaotic or seemingly meaningless, though there is usually a purpose for the unusual breaks. While ideas were often expressed in older forms of poetry through the separation of lines and punctuation, postmodern poetry utilizes erratic line breaks to indicate the chaotic shapelessness of the world. The very form of the poem serves to reinforce the idea that forms are meaningless and that purpose cannot be imposed upon the work.

Word order and choice in postmodern poetry can also be complicated or difficult to understand. The narrative of such poems might be written in a stream of consciousness style that follows the thoughts or words of the speaker without consideration for the reader. This is usually intentional and serves to remind the reader that he or she is outside of the poem and only seeing what the poet wishes him or her to see. Such poems may even mock the reader’s attempts to create meaning from the work, and reflect the separation between the poet and the audience.

Postmodern poetry can frequently deal with existential or nihilistic themes. While existentialism and postmodernism are not synonymous, they are frequently related. Such poetry might suggest that the world and life are meaningless, or ultimately devoid of a purpose mankind attempts to impose upon it. These themes are not necessarily meant to be depressing, but instead are used in an attempt to push the reader beyond his or her comfort zone and consider the world in new ways.

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Discussion Comments

By Ledgenderous — On Mar 02, 2014

Some of the American postmodern poets include authors like Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, Denise Levertov, John Ashbery, Lyn Hejinian, and Jack Spicer. If you are looking for sort of an introductory text on postmodernism in poetry in America, there is an anthology published by W.W. Norton that covers these and other authors.

By Hymnomove — On Mar 01, 2014

Who are some postmodern poets?

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