Modernism is great. I really love it. Don’t believe me? Well, it’s true. I love Modernism because some of my favorite poets are Modernists. But, it isn’t enough to just say that I love Modernism. I have to show you why I love it. The best way to talk about Modernism is to begin with some history about the time period. So, it’s the early 20th century, and the Western world is experiencing all this new technology, and is really starting to feel the effects of industrialization. On the one hand, this is great. People have cars, better medicine. More and more people are moving from rural areas to cities, (at least in the U.S.) and all this great art is coming out of places like New York, Paris, and London. But, at the same time, World War I has just ended, and people are feeling disillusioned and afraid because weapons are now more sophisticated and effective. Though technology is useful and beneficial, it is developing so quickly and is so unfamiliar that people are overwhelmed. This is where, in my opinion, the Modernist artist comes into play. Traditional art forms like Realism and Romanticism are inadequate for this new era of technology, modernized weaponry, and disillusionment. The disjointed and chaotic nature of life requires an artistic form that can reflect these qualities. There was a need for a less rigid method of producing poetry. There are many characteristics of Modernism, but some of the most common are free verse, juxtaposition, many narrators (or, parallax), and fragmented text.
Ezra Pound wanted to do away with abstractions metaphors in his poetry, and preferred to speak simply, and more directly than earlier poets. As we read in “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” Pound states that the poet should “use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.” He also mentions poetic rhythm, and states that poetry should strive to be rhythmically similar to music. The most important piece, at least to me, is “Complete freedom of subject matter.” Earlier forms of poetry insisted on the importance of nature, truth, and beauty. This is all well and good, but is quite restrictive and, well, boring. The Imagist “manifesto” allows for greater creative freedom, and more importantly, better and more interesting poetry. Crazy Motherfucker or not, Ezra Pound wrote some great poetry, and helped start a movement that one-hundred years later is still cutting-edge.
I also want to talk a little bit about Gertrude Stein, Language poetry, and Cubism. I think sometimes people try too hard to understand the meaning of Stein’s poems instead of listening to the sounds in her poems. If I just listen to the sound of her poems, I find that I get a lot more enjoyment from them. Instead of trying to find meaning in the structure and placement of words in the poem, I try to concentrate on what the sounds remind me of, or how I feel when I hear the poem. I don’t know if this was Stein’s intention or not, but it seems to work for me. I think Stein’s use of Cubism in writing many of her poems is incredibly innovative, and created some of my favorite Modernist works. The idea of looking at something from every angle, and exploring all of these different meanings and memories attached to an object is fascinating, and her resulting poems, such as those in Tender Buttons, are some of the most genuine and fantastic pieces of the last century.
So, to wrap this up, Modernism is an art form, a reflection of changing values, and an entirely different way of creating and reading poetry.