Glossary Terms

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Acmeism
An early 20th-century Russian school of poetry that rejected the vagueness and emotionality of Symbolism in favor of Imagist clarity and texture. Its proponents included Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova.

Augustan Age
The first half of the 18th century, during which English poets such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift emulated Virgil, Ovid, and Horace—the great Latin poets of the reign of the Emperor Augustus (27 BCE to 14 CE). Like the classical poets who inspired them, the English Augustan writers engaged the political and philosophical ideas of their day through urbane, often satirical verse. Browse more Augustan poets.

Beat poets
A national group of poets who emerged from San Francisco’s literary counterculture in the 1950s. Its ranks included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Poet and essayist Kenneth Rexroth influenced the development of the “Beat” aesthetic, which rejected academic formalism and the materialism and conformity of the American middle class. Beat poetry is largely free verse, often surrealistic, and influenced by the cadences of jazz, as well by Zen and Native American spirituality. Browse more Beat poets.

Black Arts Movement
A cultural movement conceived of and promoted by Amiri Baraka in the mid-1960s. Its constellation of writers, performers, and artists included Nikki Giovanni, Jay Wright, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez. “We want a black poem. And / a Black World. / Let the world be a Black Poem,” writes Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) in his poem “Black Art,” which served as a de facto manifesto for the movement. Its practitioners were energized by a desire to confront white power structures and assert an African American cultural identity. Its aims were community-minded as well as artistic; during its heyday, hundreds of Afrocentric repertory theater companies, public art projects, and publishing ventures were organized throughout the United States.

Black Mountain poets
A group of progressive poets who, in the 1940s and 1950s, were associated with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. These poets, including Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, promoted a nontraditional poetics described by Olson in 1950 as “projective verse.” Olson advocated an improvisational, open-form approach to poetic composition, driven by the natural patterns of breath and utterance. Browse more Black Mountain poets.

Cockney School of poets
A dismissive name for London-based Romantic poets such as John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The term was first used in a scathing review in Blackwood’s Magazine in October 1817, in which the anonymous reviewer mocked the poets’ lack of pedigree and sophistication.

Conceptual
An umbrella term for writing that ranges from the constraint-based practices of OuLiPo to Concrete poetry’s visual poetics. Nonreferential and interested in the materiality of language, conceptual poetry often relies on some organizing principle or information that is external to the text and can cross genres into visual or theoretical modes. Generally interested in blurring genres, conceptual poetry takes advantage of innovations in technology to question received notions of what it means to be “poetic” or to express a “self” in poetry. The ideas and practices of conceptual poetry are associated with a variety of writers including Kenneth Goldsmith, Craig Dworkin, Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök, and Vanessa Place. Poetry magazine published a special section devoted to conceptual poetry in its July/August 2009 issue, guest-edited by Kenneth Goldsmith.

Confessional poetry
Vividly self-revelatory verse associated with a number of American poets writing in the 1950s and 1960s, including Robert Lowell, W.D. Snodgrass, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman. The term was first used by M.L. Rosenthal in a 1959 review of Life Studies, the collection in which Robert Lowell revealed his struggles with mental illness and a troubled marriage. Read an interview with Snodgrass in which he addresses his work and the work of others associated with confessionalism. Browse more poets who wrote confessional poems.

Dada
A movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire. The founders of this movement struck upon this essentially nonsense word to embody a simultaneously playful and nihilistic spirit alive among European visual artists and writers during and immediately after World War I. They salvaged a sense of freedom from the cultural and moral instability that followed the war, and embraced both “everything and nothing” in their desire to “sweep, sweep clean,” as Tristan Tzara wrote in his Dadaist Manifesto in 1920. In visual arts, this enterprise took the form of collage and juxtaposition of unrelated objects, as in the work of French artist Marcel Duchamp. T.S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s allusive, often syntactically and imagistically fractured poems of this era reflect a Dadaist influence. Dadaism gave rise to surrealism.

Deep Image
A term originally coined by poets Jerome Rothenberg and Robert Kelly to describe stylized, resonant poetry that operated according to the Symbolist theory of correspondences, which posited a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. Rothenberg and Kelly were inspired by Federico García Lorca’s “deep song.” The idea was later redeveloped by the poet Robert Bly, and deep image became associated with a group of midcentury American poets including Galway Kinnell and James Wright. The new group of deep-image poets was often narrative, focusing on allowing concrete images and experiences to generate poetic meaning.

Ecopoetics
Similar to ethnopoetics in its emphasis on drawing connections between human activity—specifically the making of poems—and the environment that produces it, ecopoetics rose out of the late 20th-century awareness of ecology and concerns over environmental disaster. A multidisciplinary approach that includes thinking and writing on poetics, science, and theory as well as emphasizing innovative approaches common to conceptual poetry, ecopoetics is not quite nature poetry. The influential journal Ecopoetics, edited by Jonathan Skinner, publishes writing that explores “creative-critical edges between making and writing” and features poets such as Jack Collom, Juliana Spahr, and Forrest Gander.

Elizabethan Age
The period coinciding with the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), considered to be the literary height of the English Renaissance. Poets and dramatists drew inspiration from Italian forms and genres such as the love sonnet, the pastoral, and the allegorical epic. Musicality, verbal sophistication, and romantic exuberance dominated the era’s verse. Defining works include Edmund Spenser’s The Shephearde’s Calendar and The Faerie Queene, the sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Raleigh’s lyrics. Drama especially flourished during this time; see the comedies and tragedies of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe.

Ethnopoetics
In linguistics, folkloristics and anthropology, a method of analyzing linguistic structures in oral literature. The term was coined in 1968 by Jerome Rothenberg, whose anthology Technicians of the Sacred is considered a definitive text of the movement. In poetry, ethnopoetics refers to non-Western, non-canonical poetries, often those coming from ancient and autochthonous cultures. In the early 20th century, Modernist and avant-garde poets such as Antonin Artaud and Tristan Tzara used “primitive” or oral traditions in their work; by midcentury, a curiosity regarding world literature had coalesced into a movement led by Rothenberg and Dennis Tedlock, who together edited the journal Alcheringa from 1970 to 1980. Contemporary poets with an interest in ethnopoetics include Gary Snyder, Kathleen Stewart, and William Bright.

Flarf
Originally a prank on the scam contest sponsored by the organization Poetry.com, the experimental poetry movement flarf has slowly assumed a serious position as a new kind of Internet-based poetic practice. Known for its reliance on Google as a means of generating odd juxtapositions, surfaces, and grammatical inaccuracies, flarf also celebrates deliberately bad or “incorrect” poetry by forcing clichés, swear words, onomatopoeia, and other linguistic aberrations into poetic shape. Original flarf member Gary Sullivan describes flarf as “a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. ‘Not okay.’” Flarf poets collaborate on poems, revising and sometimes plagiarizing them in semipublic spaces such as blogs or webzines. Original members of the “Flarfist Collective” include Sullivan, Sharon Mesmer, K. Silem Mohammad, and Nada Gordon. Poetry magazine published a special section devoted to flarf in its July/August 2009 issue, guest-edited by Kenneth Goldsmith.

Fugitives
A group of Southern poets associated with the Fugitive, a literary magazine produced in the early 1920s. Its prominent ranks included Randall Jarrell, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren. In general, their poetry was formal, featuring traditional prosody and concrete imagery frequently drawn from the rural Southern experience. These poet-critics’ principles gave rise to the method of close reading and textual analysis known as New Criticism. Browse more Fugitive poets.

Futurism
An avant-garde aesthetic movement that arose in Italy and Russia in the early 20th century. Its proponents—predominantly painters and other visual artists—called for a rejection of past forms of expression, and the embrace of industry and new technology. Speed and violence were the favored vehicles of sensation, rather than lyricism, symbolism, and “high” culture. F. T. Marinetti, in his futurist Manifesto (1909), advocated “words in freedom”—a language unbound by common syntax and order that, along with striking variations in typography, could quickly convey intense emotions. Marinetti and other Italian futurists allied themselves with militaristic nationalism, which alienated their cause internationally following World War II. Russian futurist poets such as Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky profoundly influenced the development of Russian formalism, while in England the futurist movement was expressed as Vorticism by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis in their magazine BLAST. Listen to “Futurism and the New Manifesto” here. See also Mina Loy’s “Aphorisms on Futurism”.

Georgianism
A poetic movement in England during the reign of George V (1910–1936), promoted in the anthology series Georgian Poetry. Its ranks included Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, A.E. Housman, and D.H. Lawrence. The aesthetic principles of Georgianism included a respect for formalism as well as bucolic and romantic subject matter. The devastation of World War I, along with the rise of modernism, signaled the retreat of Georgianism as an influential school of poetry. Browse more Georgian poets.

Harlem Renaissance
A period of musical, literary, and cultural proliferation that began in New York’s African-American community during the 1920s and early 1930s. Its writing luminaries include Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, and Arna Bontemps. See Hughes’s article “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker”. Browse more Harlem Renaissance poets.

Imagism
An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter. T.E. Hulme, H.D., and William Carlos Williams were practitioners of the imagist principles as laid out by Ezra Pound in the March 1913 issue of Poetry (see A Retrospect” and “A Few Don'ts). Amy Lowell built a strain of imagism that used some of Pound's principles and rejected others in her Preface to the 1915 anthology, Some Imagist Poets. Browse more imagist poets.

Language poetry
Taking its name from the magazine edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Language poetry is an avant garde poetry movement that emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a response to mainstream American poetry. It developed from diverse communities of poets in San Francisco and New York who published in journals such as This, Hills, Tottels, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and Tuumba Press. Rather than emphasizing traditional poetic techniques, Language poetry tends to draw the reader’s attention to the uses of language in a poem that contribute to the creation of meaning. The writing associated with language poetry, including that by Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout, and many others, is often associated with deconstruction, poststructuralism, and the Objectivist tradition. Browse more Language poetry.

Metaphysical poets
A group of 17th-century poets whose works are marked by philosophical exploration, colloquial diction, ingenious conceits, irony, and metrically flexible lines. John Donne is the foremost figure, along with George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan. For more on metaphysical poetry, see Stephen Burt’s poem guide on John Donne's “The Sun Rising.”

Modernism
A broadly defined multinational cultural movement (or series of movements) that took hold in the late 19th century and reached its most radical peak on the eve of World War I. It grew out of the philosophical, scientific, political, and ideological shifts that followed the Industrial Revolution, up to World War I and its aftermath. For artists and writers, the Modernist project was a re-evaluation of the assumptions and aesthetic values of their predecessors. It evolved from the Romantic rejection of Enlightenment positivism and faith in reason. Modernist writers broke with Romantic pieties and clichés (such as the notion of the Sublime) and became self-consciously skeptical of language and its claims on coherence. In the early 20th century, novelists such as Henry James and Virginia Woolf (and, later, Joseph Conrad) experimented with shifts in time and narrative points of view. While living in Paris before the war, Gertrude Stein explored the possibilities of creating literary works that broke with conventional syntactical and referential practices. Ezra Pound vowed to “make it new” and “break the pentameter,” while T.S. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the shadow of World War I. Shortly after The Waste Land was published in 1922, it became the archetypical Modernist text, rife with allusions, linguistic fragments, and mixed registers and languages. Other poets most often associated with Modernism include H.D., W.H. Auden, Hart Crane, William Butler Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Modernism also generated many smaller movements; see also Acmeism, Dada, Free verse, Futurism, Imagism, Objectivism, Postmodernism, and Surrealism. Browse more Modern poets.

Négritude
A term coined in the 1930s by Afro-Martinican French poet Aimé Fernand Césaire, Senegalese poet and politician Léopold Senghor, and Léon Damas of French Guiana. The movement was a reaction against the European colonization of Africa and its legacy of cultural racism. Like the Harlem Renaissance writers of the early- to mid-20th century United States, poets of the Négritude movement sought to examine and uphold the unique aspects of their African cultural roots. Langston Hughes was an early influence on Césaire and his peers.

New American Poets
The group of poets included in Donald Allen’s influential 1960 anthology of the same name. Allen’s anthology, which collected 15 years of American writing, divided its contributors into groups: the New York School (John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Frank O’Hara), the Black Mountain School (Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov), the San Francisco Renaissance (Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer), and the Beats (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso). Allen alleged that he was collecting the “third generation” of writers in the Modernist tradition, and his book is notable for presenting so many poets now recognized as leading figures of 20th-century poetry. The anthology’s impact was immediate, and it continues to be recognized as both a cultural document and a collection of the finest avant-garde writing of the period.

New Formalism
A late 20th- and early 21st-century movement that championed a return to rhyme and meter in poetry. New Formalist poets such as Dana Gioia, X.J. Kennedy, Brad Leithauser, and Marilyn Hacker responded to the popularity of the dominant free-verse poetry of the 1960s and ’70s by exploring the possibilities of prosody and form in their own work. Though not an orchestrated, coherent movement, New Formalism has been attacked by critics for its perceived retrogressive favoring of traditional metrical artifice over more recent, experimental modes of free verse.

New York School
A group of poets aligned with the New York School of painting in the 1950s and ’60s. A diverse group of writers, the main figures of the New York School are Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schulyer, Kenneth Koch, and Barbara Guest. Influenced by relationships and collaborations with painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, and Larry Rivers, the New York School poets are known for their urbane wit, interest in visual art, and casual address. A second generation of New York School poets grew up in the 1960s and included Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, and Anne Waldman. Browse more New York School poets.

Objectivist Poets
A loosely affiliated group of American poets writing in the 1930s and ’40s. Harriet Monroe famously solicited an edition of Objectivist work for Poetry, guest-edited by Louis Zukofsky, which featured work by many of the poets later associated with the movement. The Objectivist poets, as described by Zukofsky, were influenced by the writing of Ezra Pound and took many cues from the earlier Imagists: both groups wrote poetry that featured highly concentrated language and imagery and terse vers libre. The Objectivists, however, focused on everyday life and language, treating the poem as an object itself and emphasizing sincerity and the poet’s clear vision of the world. Core Objectivist poets include Zukofsky, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker, Charles Reznikoff, and the British poet Basil Bunting. Browse Objectivist poets.

OuLiPo
An acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Literature), a group of writers and mathematicians formed in France in 1960 by poet Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais. Unlike the Dada and surrealist movements, OuLiPo rejects spontaneous chance and the subconscious as sources of literary creativity. Instead, the group emphasizes systematic, self-restricting means of making texts. For example, the technique known as n + 7 replaces every noun in an existing text with the noun that follows seven entries after it in the dictionary. Notable members of this group include the novelists George Perec and Italo Calvino, poet Oskar Pastior, and poet/mathematician Jacques Roubaud.

Romanticism
A poetic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that turned toward nature and the interior world of feeling, in opposition to the mannered formalism and disciplined scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment. English poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and George Gordon, Lord Byron produced work that expressed spontaneous feelings, found parallels to their own emotional lives in the natural world, and celebrated creativity rather than logic. Browse more romantic poets.

San Francisco Renaissance
Not a single movement, but a constellation of writers and artists active in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of World War II. Poets associated with the San Francisco Renaissance include Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, and Michael McClure. Though the poets wrote in different styles and often espoused different aesthetic and political views, all favored the Modernist tradition of innovation, and many were influenced by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain School. Donald Allen’s influential anthology The New American Poets included a section devoted to the “San Francisco Renaissance,” and many claim that by labeling the group, Allen in some way invented it. However, the poets writing in San Francisco at that time were active and influential across many genres, and often read and collaborated with one another.

Spoken word
A broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. Related to slam poetry, spoken word may draw on music, sound, dance, or other kinds of performance to connect with audiences. See Murdoch Burnett, Kevin Coval, and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz for examples of spoken word performers. For spoken word’s connection with music, see David Browne’s essay “Pop Star Poetics.”

Surrealism
An artistic philosophy that took hold in 1920s Paris and spread throughout the world in the decades that followed. André Breton outlined its aims in his Surrealist Manifesto (1924), affirming the supremacy of the “disinterested play of thought” and the “omnipotence of dreams” rather than reason and logic. Breton and his colleagues were inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis and its emphasis on the power of unconscious thought. Through “automatic writing” and hypnosis, artists could free their imaginations to reveal deeper truths. The French poets Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Pierre Reverdy embodied early surrealist principles, as did Peruvian poet César Vallejo. Surrealist practices were also used in the visual arts, particularly in the paintings of Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, and René Magritte, and in the films of Jean Cocteau. A second generation of surrealist writers emerged in other parts of the world, especially in Latin America; see the poems of Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz. The surrealist aesthetic has influenced modern and contemporary poets writing in English as well; James Tate, John Ashbery, and Michael Palmer are notable examples.

Symbolist Movement
A group of late 19th-century French writers, including Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, who favored dreams, visions, and the associative powers of the imagination in their poetry. They rejected their predecessors’ tendency toward naturalism and realism, believing that the purpose of art was not to represent reality but to access greater truths by the “systematic derangement of the senses,” as Rimbaud described it. The translated works of Edgar Allan Poe influenced the French Symbolists.

Transcendentalism
A strain of Romanticism that took root among writers in mid-19th-century New England. Ralph Waldo Emerson laid out its principles in his 1836 manifesto Nature, in which he asserted that the natural and material world exists to reveal universal meaning to the individual soul via one’s subjective experiences. He promoted the poet’s role as seer, a “transparent eyeball” that received insight intuitively through his or her perception of nature. Henry David Thoreau was an early disciple of Emerson’s philosophy.

Victorian
Poetry written in England during the reign of Queen Victoria (from 1837 to 1901) may be referred to as Victorian poetry. The most prolific and well-regarded poets of the age included Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Oscar Wilde. Browse more Victorian poets.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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