{National Poetry Month} On Timelines

On Timelines by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I’d set out to make a timeline and ended up with reactionary patterns and a map. What interests me so much about history and the differing cultural responses to poetry is that it is perhaps proof of poetry’s impact. It is shifting and flourishing in different ways– with different principles.

I began to look for perhaps the most fundamental of movements and time periods within poetry: Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism, and such, even broad terms applied such as the Bronze, Silver and Golden ages of poetry. Then I sought out the most interesting-sounding– the Martian Poets, the Angry Penguins, The Jindyworobak Movement. It eventually occurred to me that each group has its own unique story, and that poetry has followed similar territory yet all over the world. Thus here is a map. Maybe a list tailored to my interests that might interest you as well. A brief history, the pattern of poetry’s metamorphosis (to be structured, to be loose, to be emotion, to be realistic, then fragmented, then returned to tradition, as a revolution, to be broken free from revolution– art for art’s sake, and so on). Things you may or may not heard of– I encourage you to look farther into it and reply with your own favourite group of writers and their pursuit of poetry. There’s also that puzzle– what writing revolution is sweeping the nation today? Will we not know of it until after the century has passed and we are written up in history books? There is something glamorous and exciting about this.

Here are the movements that stand out to me, and a short summary.

The Jindyworobak movement— Started in 1937 in Australia; started by Rex Imagells, and ended by the 1950s. The word Jindyworobak means “to join” or “to annex” in Woiwurrung, and the poetry group attended to a nativist Australian agenda, with the belief that the writing should be in connection to the land and aboriginals of Australia. They often borrowed concepts such as dreamtime and the Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, and revolted against the feeling of the lost land, the lack of true identity on the landscape.

Dertigers— A group of South African poets in the 1930s creating an independent literature in Afrikaans, whose main members were N. P. Van Wyck Louw, W.E.G. Louw, Uys Krige, and Elisabeth Eybers.  They believed in the emotional honesty and intensity of poetry, and ignored the local political factors in favor of a more universal experience. They believe poetry is, as Van Wyck Louw states it, “A form of life itself without which we as humans and we as Afrikaans people could not as a people have a full human and national existence.”

The Beat Generation— An American movement of post-WWII, coming from the idea of beat, “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on your own, streetwise” (Anne Waldman, The Beat Book). A small group of East Coast Writers: Ginsberg, Carr, William Burroughs, and Kerouac, formed their own community yet also joined the movement of a separate phenomenon, the San Francisco Renaissance. Most notably was the famous reading event– the “Six Poets at the Six Gallery”.

The Misty poets, or The Obscures— from 1979 to 1989, a new generation of Chinese Poets challenged the current tradition of social realism and rebelled against the cultural revolution, using metaphors and obscure images to make a social commentary. The four main poets: Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian were exiled.

Young Vilna (Yung Vilne)— A group of progressive Yiddish Poets in the early 1930’s living in Vilna, Lithuania. They lived (and died) through the Holocaust, and during times of persecution acted as both soldiers and poets, their work spreading through the community. Chaim Grade, and Abraham Sutzkever would both grow to fame after these events, as well as their poems about the time. Within the movement is a disparity in the writing, yet they wrote inspired by the same events and in the same community.

Sturm und Drang— meaning “storm and stress,” a phrase referring to a group of German writers of the 1770s who rebelled against the current ideals of objectivity and rationalism, and believed that passion and creative confusion was better than orderliness. Through emotion and the yearn to return to nature, and folk styles in order to convey these things, writers such as Johann Heinrich Merck, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger published quite a lot of pieces voicing their opinions.

The Society of Fireflies, also known as the Sosyete Koukouy–is a Haitian group of writers writing in Creole. It was founded in 1965 by Pye Banbou (Ernst Mirville), Togiram (Emile Celestin-Megie), Jan Mapou (Jean-Marie  Willer-Denis), who were persecuted, jailed, and exiled by the Duvalier Dictatorship. They extended their influence to friends in the United States and published there.


These are only some of many fascinating historical movements in poetry, and there are many others inspired by or in reaction to the previous revolution. Each group has an ideal and a community, a vision and the style and words to carry it out. That is essential to poetry, and even now poetry is undergoing some new direction. It is important to look into the past and identify these perhaps unsung heroes or figures. It has exposed me to so much more of the world, and many more poems, things expressed at the time and culture in a different turn of speech and values. I encourage you to continue searching, reader. Perhaps you already know of a generation of writers that you identify with or with whom you are fascinated. Maybe this has helped you discover more. I sincerely hope that you look farther into the matter– this is only the surface of a rich history– only part of a map– only fragments of a timeline. There is so much to explore.


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