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Feminist theory

An extension of feminism’s critique of male power and ideology, feminist theory combines elements of other theoretical models such as psychoanalysis, Marxism, poststructuralism, and deconstruction to interrogate the role of gender in the writing, interpretation, and dissemination of literary texts. Originally concerned with the politics of women’s authorship and representations of women in literature, feminist theory has recently begun to examine ideas of gender and sexuality across a wide range of disciplines including film studies, geography, and even economics. Feminist theory emerged from the struggle for women’s rights, beginning in the 18th century with Mary Wollstonecraft’s publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Important feminist theorists of the 20th century include Betty Friedan, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Elaine Showalter, Carol Gilligan, and Adrienne Rich.

Figure of speech

An expressive, nonliteral use of language. Figures of speech include tropes (such as hyperbole, irony, metaphor, and simile) and schemes (anything involving the ordering and organizing of words—anaphora, antithesis, and chiasmus, for example). Browse all terms related to figures of speech.

Fixed and unfixed forms

Poems that have a set number of lines, rhymes, and/or metrical arrangements per line. Browse all terms related to forms, including alcaics, alexandrine, aubade, ballad, ballade, carol, concrete poetry, double dactyl, dramatic monologue, eclogue, elegy, epic, epistle, epithalamion, free verse, haiku, heroic couplet, limerick, madrigal, mock epic, ode, ottava rima, pastoral, quatrain, renga, rondeau, rondel, sestina, sonnet, Spenserian stanza, tanka, tercet, terza rima, and villanelle.

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.

Foot

The basic unit of measurement of accentual-syllabic meter. A foot usually contains one stressed syllable and at least one unstressed syllable. The standard types of feet in English poetry are the iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee, and pyrrhic (two unstressed syllables).

Formalism (Russian)

A brief but influential 20th-century critical method that originated in St. Petersburg through the group OPOYAZ, and in Moscow via the Moscow Linguistic Circle. Important Formalists included Roman Jakobson and Viktor Shklovsky. Formalism viewed literature as a distinct and separate entity, unconnected to historical or social causes or effects. It analyzed literature according to devices unique to literary works and focused on the “literariness” of a text: words were not simply stand-ins for objects but objects themselves. Formalists advanced the concept of ostranenie, or defamiliarization, arguing that literature, by calling attention to itself as such, estranged the reader from ordinary experience and made the familiar seem new. Formalism’s tendency to collapse form and content is somewhat similar to New Criticism’s approach, though its main influence was on structuralism.

Found poem

A prose text or texts reshaped by a poet into quasi-metrical lines. Fragments of found poetry may appear within an original poem as well. Portions of Ezra Pound’s Cantos are found poetry, culled from historical letters and government documents. Charles Olson created his poem “There Was a Youth whose Name Was Thomas Granger” using a report from William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.

Fourteener

A metrical line of 14 syllables (usually seven iambic feet). A relatively long line, it can be found in narrative poetry from the Middle Ages through the 16th century. Fourteener couplets broken into quatrains are known as common measure or ballad meter. See also Poulter’s measure.

Free verse

Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition. Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of nonmetrical poetry in the 19th century. Since the early 20th century, the majority of published lyric poetry has been written in free verse. See the work of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H.D. Browse more free-verse poems.

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”.

Gender studies

An interdisciplinary approach to the study of gender, sexual categories, and identity. As a discipline, gender studies borrows from other theoretical models like psychoanalysis—particularly that of Jacques Lacan—deconstruction, and feminist theory in an attempt to examine the social and cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity as they relate to class, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. Like gender studies, queer theory also questions normative definitions of gender and sexuality. As approaches to literary texts, gender studies and queer theory tend to emphasize the power of representation and linguistic indeterminacy.

Genre

A class or category of texts with similarities in form, style, or subject matter. The definition of a genre changes over time, and a text often interacts with multiple genres. A text’s relationship to a particular genre—whether it defies or supports a genre’s set of expectations—is often of interest when conducting literary analysis. Four major genres of literature include poetry, drama, nonfiction, and fiction. Poetry can be divided into further genres, such as epic, lyric, narrative, satirical, or prose poetry. For more examples of genres, browse poems by type.

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.

Georgic

A poem or book dealing with agriculture or rural topics, which commonly glorifies outdoor labor and simple country life. Often takes the form of a didactic or instructive poem intended to give instructions related to a skill or art. The Roman poet Virgil famously wrote a collection of poems entitled Georgics, which has influenced poets since. Read a translated excerpt from Virgil's Georgics Book III or Book IV.

Gnomic verse

Poems laced with proverbs, aphorisms, or maxims. The term was first applied to Greek poets in the 6th century BCE and was practiced in medieval Germany and England. See excerpts from the Exeter Book. Robert Creeley explored the genre in his contemporary “Gnomic Verses.”

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. The movement was key to developing a new sense of Black identity and aesthetics as writers, visual artists, and musicians articulated new modes of African-American experience and experimented with artistic forms, modernist techniques, and folk culture. Harlem Renaissance artists and activists also influenced French and Caribbean Négritude and Negrismo movements in addition to laying a foundation for future Black Arts champions like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. Writing luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance include Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, and Arna Bontemps. Important publications included the anthology The New Negro (1925), edited by Alan Locke, and the magazines Crisis, Opportunity, Fire!!, and the Messenger. See also Hughes’s essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926) and Elizabeth Alexander’s more recent historical article “The Black Poet as Canon-Maker”. Browse more Harlem Renaissance poets. 

Hendecasyllabic

A Classical Greek and Latin metrical line consisting of 11 syllables: typically a spondee or trochee, a choriamb, and two iambs, the second of which has an additional syllable at the end. The classical Latin poet Catullus favored the line. It is seldom used in English, although Algernon Charles Swinburne worked with the meter in “Hendecasyllabics”:

              In the month of the long decline of roses
              I, beholding the summer dead before me,
              Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent,
              Gazing eagerly where above the sea-mark
              Flame as fierce as the fervid eyes of lions
              Half divided the eyelids of the sunset . . .

Heptameter

A meter made up of seven feet and usually 14 syllables total (see Fourteener). George Chapman’s translation of Homer’s the Iliad is written in heptameter, as is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” See also Poulter’s measure.

Heroic couplet

See couplet.
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