What is Modern poetry?
It’s hard to describe modern poetry to someone who has never studied poetry before. And I think that’s because everybody who talks about modern poetry is trying to explain the idea of modern poetry, rather than what modern poetry really is.
The first thing they tell you about modern poetry is that it breaks all the rules and that it is purposely a difficult thing to understand.
“You are not supposed to get it at first!”
Or, they also tell you that since there is no definitive reading, modern poetry exists in a limbo, in which its meaning avoids definition. So, you end up reading and studying about something that nobody can define, because that’s what it is all about!
The word “modern” comes from the Latin word “modo,” which means “just now.” So, the word “modern” implies that modern poetry is something that is happening just now; or, it refers to poetry that is new. But, a poem or thing, can be new and not be happening right now. And, it can also be happening just now and not be new. So, something modern is not necessarily new. And something new is not necessarily modern.
And with all this cheap philosophy we end up with a definition that satisfies nobody. Modern poetry is still un-defined. And academics and literates like to pretend that they can tell you exactly what modern poetry is, by showing it to you through a lense of their preference. They write books about it and they divide it into periods that are easily digestible. They tell you that a certain American fascist writer, was not in fact a fascist, but, he was rather a royalist.
They choose an arbitrary characteristic like free verse, to try and classify, whether or not a poem is modern, or modernist or new.
And, all of this to describe modern poetry, so that when somebody asks “what is modern poetry?” You, the reader, can quickly reply with a memorized sentence like:
Modern poetry, is all poetry preoccupied with newness,”
Without a doubt, Modern poetry was written at the beginning of the 20th century, all the way up to the Second World War.”
But, these copy-pasted answers from the academic world explain nothing. Because if we follow this route, we are only describing the idea of what modern poetry is, and not what modern poetry is. We are using lenses to observe a phenomenon that defies observation. And I’m not talking about modern poetry, I’m talking about poetry itself.
How can poetry be new, if it was never old?
How can you, the reader, or the all-mighty academic, prove without a doubt that poetry ages? Or that there are different types of poetry?
It is not poetry which changes, it is the poet and the reader who do. Poetry is only new or modern if it is happening just now, or if, it is not old. So, to an English literature student, modern poetry will always be new; because your teachers tell you that it is and because it breaks the rules that your teachers tell you that it is breaking. And, for the academic, Modern poetry will always be modern, because it is always happening just now.
But, that’s the thing! Modern poetry can only be what we say it is, Modern poetry can never be what it truly is. And that is why everyone is so afraid of Modern poetry.