Postmodern avant-garde - A comparison of the different movements

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2006 19 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



I. Introduction

II. Postmodern avant-garde

III. Black Mountain school
1.) Development
2.) Artists
3.) Example
4.) Short Analysis

IV. San Francisco Renaissance
1.) Development
2.) Artists
3.) Example
4.) Short Analysis

V. Beat-generation
1.) Development
2.) Artists
3.) Example
4.) Short Analysis

VI. New York School
1.) Development
2.) Artists
3.) Example
4.) Short Analysis

VII. Comparison and Conclusion

VIII. Bibliography

I. Introduction

This term-paper was prepared in order to show the different poetic movements of the post-modern avant-garde. These are known under the names “Black Mountain school”, “San Francisco Renaissance”, “Beat-generation” and ” New York School” and began in the 1950s in America.

My term-paper will show the development of these different poetic movements, give an understanding of the most important poets of each movement and explain if and how the different movements are linked to each other and what they have in common.

II. Postmodern avant-garde

From the middle of the 1950s up to the early years of the 1960s the world of American poetry was divided into two different groups. One of these groups represented the lyrical mainstream while the other group saw themselves as a kind of counterculture. The idols of this group where William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky and Gertrude Stein. By the beginning of the 1950s this new way of writing, which was called postmodern avant-garde, was just in the beginning years. In 1960 the anthology New American Poetry was published by Grove Press and brought together many writers of this new poetic line for the first time.[1]

III. Blackmountain school

1.) Development

The Black Mountain College was located near church buildings in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The school was an educational experiment that lasted from 1933 to 1956. It was one of the first schools which stressed the importance of teaching creative arts and that these arts were essential to human understanding, when they are combined with technical and analytical skills.[2]

The black-mountain-poets were a group of American post-modern poets in the middle of the twentieth century, which was centred around this college.

When Charles Olsen became the rector of the college in 1950, the school became a mecca for the intellectual avant-garde. Until it closed in 1957 a great number of painters, writers, dancers, etc. attended the college or worked there as teachers. Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, and William Carlos Williams.

The style of writing of the black-mountain poets was experimental but also strict. It was inspired by Charles Olsen’s essay Projective Verse, which he published in 1950. Coining the concept of the projective verse, he emphasizes that the reader has to take part in the experimental process and wants the literarily world to use colloquial language instead of intellectual language in the poetry. His idea was that the process is more important than the result, which owes a lot to objectivist William Carlos Williams’ and modernist Ezra Pound’s ideas. Spontaneity was wanted to take the place of description and reason. Olsen is also fond of the idea, that poetry should be more spontaneous than it was before and prompts other poets to change their way of writing to this new style. The use of precise language, direct statements and metonymy, rather than metaphor or simile, was also characteristic for the Black Mountain School writers. The diction which was used by the writers used to be very simple and did not contain complex words.[3]

2.) Artists

Apart from Olsen, other important poets, which are associated with the black-mountain-school, are Joel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Williams, Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Denise Levertov, Hilda Morley, John Wieners and Robert Creeley. Though these poets' worked in different ways, they all shared Olsen’s creative philosophies of the projective verse.

After havin been a pupil there, Creeley worked as a teacher at the Black Mountaintain College and as the editor of the Black Mountain Review for two years. When the college closed in 1957 he moved to San Francisco where he became the link between the Black Mountain poets, the San Francisco Renaissance-poets, and­ through Allen Ginsberg­ the writers of the Beat generation of Greenwich Village.[4]

3.) Example

A Form of Women

Robert Creeley

I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me from through the open door

and have walked tonight
by myself
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees

and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.

My face is my own, I thought.
But you have seen it
turn into a thousand years.
I watched you cry.

I could not touch you.
I wanted very much to
touch you
but could not.

If it is dark
when this is given to you,
have care for its content
when the moon shines.

My face is my own.
My hands are my own.
My mouth is my own
but I am not.

Moon, moon,
when you leave me alone
all the darkness is
an utter blackness,

a pit of fear,
a stench,
hands unreasonable
never to touch.

But I love you.
Do you love me.
What to say
when you see me. [5]

4.) Short Analysis

In A Form of Women we see the spontaneity of Creeley’s writing. This poem can be seen as his particular thoughts in a special moment, which are just written down. His personal feelings are incorporated in the poem which is typical for the poets of the postmodern avant-garde. The whole poem has a tone of desperation, because the author is sure about his own feelings, but not about whether his feelings are reciprocated by his beloved woman. The woman is referred to as you and as moon, which is a personification of her.

IV. San Francisco Renaissance

1.) Development

San Francisco Renaissance is used as a wide designation for the poetic activities, which were centred around San Fransisco after the end of World War II and made San Fransisco a centre of the poetic avant-garde. It was no single movement but an accumulation of different communities which migrated to San Fransisco and settled down there. The poet Kenneth Rexroth, who also was interested in Japanese poetry and was influenced by jazz, is considered to be the founding father of the San Fransisco Renaissance and was one of its central figures. He described the attitudes of the movement:

"This is the world in which over every door is written the slogan: 'The generation of experiment and revolt is over. Bohemia died in the Twenties. There are no more little magazines.'"[6]

All poets had in common, that they wanted to avoid a poetic mainstream, but they were polemic about which particular style should be used and it was often argued about it. Besides this, most of the San Francisco Renaissance poets shared a way of writing, which often applied to the consequences of the two World Wars and to the limited cultural climate. They wrote about the lost world, ways to restore it and other cultures. Inspired by Whitman the poets tried to evocate the area around San Francisco, whereby they also influenced a brighter amount of people, reaching from modernists and surrealists in Europe to Eastern literature.[7]


[1] Beach, Christopher. The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry. / Gray, Richard.

American Poetry of the Twentieth Century

[2] Foster, Edward H. Understanding the Black Mountain poets. /

[3] www.poets.org / Fredman, Stephen. Twentieth-Century American Poetry / Beach, Christopher. The

Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry.

[4] Gray, Richard. American Poetry of the Twentieth Century / www.poets.org.

[5] http://vmlinux.org/ilse/lit/creeley2.htm, 06.04.06.

[6] http://www.poets.org/almanac/index.cfm?45442B782B5F425D047662414658185620310D7

40873751140315B7D574809770D, 24.03.06.

[7] Rexroth, Kenneth. American Poetry in the Twentieth Century.


ISBN (eBook)
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522 KB
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Institution / College
University of Cologne – Philosophisches Seminar
Postmodern Introduction American Poetry



Title: Postmodern avant-garde - A comparison of the different movements