Poetry Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What are the characteristics of modern poetry?

To clarify, not all contemporary poetry is considered "modern" in the sense of the modernist literary movement. The modernist poets, such as T.S. Eliot, tended to favor intellect over emotion, and valued themes of alienation and isolation as reactions to the romanticism of the previous era of literature. For contemporary poetry, common trends include stream of consciousness, free verse, and the preference for suggestion or ambiguity of ideas.


Expert Answers info

Jane Ames eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2017

write105 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Social Sciences

In addition to the points made by the first two educators, it should also be noted what Modernism was essentially about, the reason it emerged as it did. After the formal, flowery, and romantic era of Victorian literature, Modernist works leaned towards experimentation. Modern poets wished to both extract inspiration from diverse works of the past and ground poetry such that its language and meaning was more accessible to the average person.

With the end of the nineteenth century and two World Wars, the Modernists wished to comment candidly and competently on the degenerating state of the world. This context helps to explain the pervasive characteristics of Modern poetry: free verse and otherwise untraditional forms, disillusionment and a preoccupation with perception, and how to cope with a fragmented reality.

A more in-depth look at the Modernists can be found here: https://www.enotes.com/topics/modernists.

Overall, Wallace Stevens captured the essence of the period in his poem "Of Modern Poetry," when he wrote:

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.   
It has to face the men of the time and to meet   
The women of the time. It has to think about war   
And it has to find what will suffice.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write4,269 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Modern poetry often features disrupted syntax, which refers to irregular sentence structures. In addition, many modern poems feature a stream of consciousness presentation in which the narrator presents the thoughts that come to his or her mind without regard to sequence or logic. Stream of consciousness mirrors the way in which the subconscious mind works and shows poets' increasing interest in psychology. An example in T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is the following:

"I grow old ... I grow old .../ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. /Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?"

In this poem, the narrator presents his thoughts in a jumbled fashion, similar to the way in which thoughts pop into our conscious mind out of our subconscious mind. Thoughts about momentous subjects, such as aging, are combined with fleeting thoughts about whether the narrator should roll his pants or eat a peach.

Modern poets also convey a sense of alienation from the world. As Eliot writes in "Prufrock," "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. /I do not think that they will sing to me." The poet does not believe he can experience the wonders or delights of the world; instead, he is alienated and distanced from its experiences and marvels.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

James Kelley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write624 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The single most common characteristic of modern poetry (in the European and American traditions, at least) is probably open form and free verse, which is quite different from the fixed forms and meters of traditional poetry. A reader of high-brow poetry today sometimes has to look around a bit to find modern sonnets or even ballads or other poems with regular line length, stanza length, meter, and end rhyme.

A second characteristic might be called fragmentation, juxtaposition, intertextuality (reference to other poems or other writings), and allusion. For an example of all of the above, see T.S. Eliot's long poem The Waste Land.

Not all recent poetry is "modern," of course. If this is an assignment, you may want to consider putting two poems from different centuries side by side -- two love poems, one by William Shakespeare and another by e.e. cummings -- and seeing what sorts of differences emerge. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

user6746812 | Student

Love song of J.Alfred prufrock is modern poetry and it speaks about the modern man !

tanzimumu2 | Student

is love song of j alfred prufrock a traditional poem?

kc4u | Student

There are so many things to say on this subject. I would ask you to elaborate on the following points:

1. Modern(better call it Modernist) poetry is more predominantly intellectual/cerebral in its appeal, rather than emotive; Eliot and Pound would be the examples;

2. It is chiefly imagistic and involves symbolism, often private in nature; you can think of Eliot and Yeats;

3. It is often full of allusions of sorts, and inter-textual references; again Eliot is a great master;

4. It is impersonal, anti-romantic, innovative in attitudes and approaches to life; opposed to the Romanticist poetics of spontaneity and imagination;

5. It is often lexically, semantically and grammatically challenging for the uninitiated readership;

6. It rejects traditional versification and metrics to opt for free-verses and various experimental forms.