Recommendations from a Poetry Contest

One of the most fun things for me in judging the Davenport Poetry prize at Knox College was talking with young poets about other poets they could read. I did try to write those names in my comments, but I’ve also thought of a few more that I might add, so I wanted to post some suggestions here. Several poets were interested in exploring surrealism, and a couple had seen the artwork of Joan Miró and Paul Klee and written poems inspired by them. That’s great, and I hope they continue to explore surrealism in the visual arts or other art movements that might inspire their poetry.

Surrealist poets ought to go back to the source and find out where surrealism started. I suggested to one poet that Robert Desnos would be good to read, and of course, André Breton. A couple of other important surrealist poets are Paul Eluard, Philippe Soupault, and Pierre Reverdy. Besides the surrealists, though, I would suggest going back a little further to the cubist poets that preceded them: Guillaume Apollinaire has always been one of my favorites, and of course Blaise Cendrars.

These are all French writers. Since I also am interested in Belgian (Flemish- and French-language) writers, I would recommend Emile Verhaeren and Paul Van Ostaijen.

Other writers at Knox were influenced by the work of Gertrude Stein. I was pleased to see that she resonates with this generation. For those who are interested in pursuing this avenue in poetry, I would suggest exploring the Language poets, particularly Susan Howe and Lyn Hejinian. I would also recommend the experimental narrative poems of C. D. Wright. I would also recommend going back to the roots of this kind of poetry by exploring the sound poems of Hugo Ball and by reading the work of other Dada poets, Emmy Hennings, Hans Arp, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara (also a Surrealist, later), Kurt Schwitters.

Finally, in one conference I mentioned the linguist who has been most influential in my thinking on poetry: Roman Jakobson, whose essay on the Linguistic of Poetry (with sections on grammar, meter, and rhyme) is foundational. Wide-ranging and multi-lingual, Jakobson surveys how poetry has developed in many traditions and looks to the core issues of what makes language poetic.

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