Glossary Terms

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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.

Negative capability
A theory of John Keats, who suggested in one of his famous letters that a great thinker is “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” A poet, then, has the power to bury self-consciousness, dwell in a state of openness to all experience, and identify with the object contemplated. See Keats’s “To Autumn.” The inspirational power of beauty, according to Keats, is more important than the quest for objective fact; as he writes in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Neologism
A newly coined word. Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is filled with them, including “slithy” and “gimble.”

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 Criticism
Name given to a style of criticism advocated by a group of academics writing in the first half of the 20th century. New Criticism, like Formalism, tended to consider texts as autonomous and “closed,” meaning that everything that is needed to understand a work is present within it. The reader does not need outside sources, such as the author’s biography, to fully understand a text; while New Critics did not completely discount the relevance of the author, background, or possible sources of the work, they did insist that those types of knowledge had very little bearing on the work’s merit as literature. Like Formalist critics, New Critics focused their attention on the variety and degree of certain literary devices, specifically metaphor, irony, tension, and paradox. The New Critics emphasized “close reading” as a way to engage with a text, and paid close attention to the interactions between form and meaning. Important New Critics included Allan Tate, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley coined the term “intentional fallacy”; other terms associated with New Criticism include “affective fallacy,” “heresy of paraphrase,” and “ambiguity.”

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 Historicism
A critical approach developed in the 1980s through the works of Michel Foucault and Stephen Greenblatt, similar to Marxism. Moving away from text-centered schools of criticism such as New Criticism, New Historicism reopened the interpretation of literature to the social, political, and historical milieu that produced it. To a New Historicist, literature is not the record of a single mind, but the end product of a particular cultural moment. New Historicists look at literature alongside other cultural products of a particular historical period to illustrate how concepts, attitudes, and ideologies operated across a broader cultural spectrum that is not exclusively literary. In addition to analyzing the impact of historical context and ideology, New Historicists also acknowledge that their own criticism contains biases that derive from their historical position and ideology. Because it is impossible to escape one’s own “historicity,” the meaning of a text is fluid, not fixed. New Historicists attempt to situate artistic texts both as products of a historical context and as the means to understand cultural and intellectual history.

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.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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