Tuesday, February 18, 2014


There is a tendency among some academics to dismiss poets who write in form as mere traders in nostalgia, or, worse, reactionaries — in some sense, anti-modern. This view tends to ignore the fact that Modernism itself is over a hundred years old now and one might say they are indulging in their own form of nostalgia.*

The ‘New Formalist’ movement began to stir in the Eighties and made an impact over the next couple of decades. As an actual movement, it has subsided, as all such do. In a sense, it could be seen as parallel to the ‘Stuckist’ (or, alternatively, ‘Remodernist’) movement in the visual arts — not a denial of the Modern but an attempt to bring meaning back to the arts.

I am inclined to believe that many were poets who, like myself, came of age in the time of the ‘meaningful’ song lyric. Their sensibilities were formed by the work of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and a host of others who brought poetry and a certain seriousness to the popular music of the Sixties and – to some degree or another – the time since.

Songwriting truly is the popular poetry of today. As with popular poetry of any era, most of it can be dismissed as somewhere between mediocre and absolute garbage. But then, academic art, be it visual, written or composed, is much the same. Indulgent theatricality seems to have replaced painting, becoming so self-referential that is now being ironic about irony.

Of course, ‘formal’ writers and artists are not above the same sort of jokes, the same ironic view of their own work. We see the world that way, for now. As with all things, that will someday change.

But we may need to give it half a century, if history is to follow its typical course. The Modern Era has far from run out steam – or words or paint – and the best of it may be yet to come. Or we may soon be descending into a ‘Late Modern’ mannerist period (which may still produce perfectly good work).

That only means the next clearly defined era is around the corner, just as the Modern replaced the late Romantic and the Romantic replaced the late Baroque (Rococo) and the Baroque replaced the late Renaissance. Each of the these eras lasted a decade or two more than a century and a half and I would expect much the same for Modernism.

Yes, the world moves more quickly these days but, on the other hand, humans live longer. It is the artists and writers and all the creators and thinkers who move things along. We have new ideas when we have new people.

Who knows if I shall live long enough to see them.

Stephen Brooke ©2014

*I would put the beginning of the Modern Era around 1910, ushered in by Picasso and Stravinsky.

This little essay is something I scribbled (I consider it early draft-ish) with thoughts toward the launching of the literary magazine. It most likely will still appear, eventually!

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