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Who Were the Most Innovative Poets in History?

Who Were the Most Innovative Poets in History?

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Published by W.B. Keckler
Who do you think were the most innovative poets in the history of the world's literature. This is one person's perspective. See if we match up on our lists.
Who do you think were the most innovative poets in the history of the world's literature. This is one person's perspective. See if we match up on our lists.

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Published by: W.B. Keckler on Oct 27, 2007
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The World's Most Innovative Poets (One Perspective) I was thinking today about compiling a list of poets I perceived to be the mostinnovative in the history of the art form. Of course, this is such an impossiblyhuge question, and one is always limited to a certain degree by which languagesbesides one's birth tongue one can truly read for nuance and subtlety (poetrytranslation is the original Bed of Procrustes) and how many thousands of books onehas time to consume. And then does one technically consider those writing at thedawn of poetic language innovators simply because they are entering unchartedwaters with the first metaphors, the first myths, the first narratives...basicallythe first lyric poetry?I just wanted to flesh out my particular view of things, which will most likelynot match up wholly with yours. But I would be interested in hearing where wematch and where we diverge.I was trying to focus here on poets I thought changed the poem itself, or somehowchanged our conception of the nature of poetry. This differs from my list of poetsI feel were the most important poets, or the greatest poets who ever lived.There's some overlap, but some of these poets I see more as innovators who weremore important for opening doors than for what they actually wrote (Simias or evenKhlebnikov, say, arguably could fall into this category). I consider WallaceStevens one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, for example, but don't feelhe merits inclusion on this list of innovators of form or innovators of what is"permissible" in poetry.Anyway, if you'd like to comment feel free. I'd love to hear your input...butplease give at least a hint of a reason for your particular additions orsubtractions. :-)Here's my list, and yes I realize how Eurocentric this is. Give me some of thegreat Asian and Indian writers I missed. Yes, the Mahabharata, that longitudinallyconstructed masterpiece, obviously...but what or who else? I read the list ofNobelist poets and couldn't justify a single one as an innovator of form (andplease don't say Tagore! yuck! lol)....I have added a number after each author, ranging from one to three: one indicatesinnovation with moderate impact formalistically, NOT overall cultural or cross-cultural impact, obviously. This speaks purely to how much future writersrecognizably use this author's modifications to the poem itself; two indicatesbroad impact formalistically, significantly increased influence on future writers;three indicates an author who revolutionized form and whose influence ispervasive. Yes, this is a whim. It amused me to do so. Let's play.No particular order here....1. Simias of Rhodes/Theocritus of Syracuse...for being two of the earliestidentifiable innovators in concrete poetry. Not exactly the most influentialchange in the art form, but a substantial move in the direction of how submissivethe medium could be, and a strange sort of reverse-abstraction process. (1)2. Shakespeare. The Sonnets are just one facet of a mind that exploited everyrhetorical device in the book, and then invented others that the masters ofantiquity had not conceived. Minting the English language anew as he went, he isof course a titan and yes I Eurocentrically place him here. (1) Should I placeRacine here? I haven't read enough of the French Shakespeare to speak confidentlyof his place. Sue me.
 
3. Mallarme. "Un Coup de Des" by itself would earn him a place here. An open fieldpoem that embodies self-referentiality to that degree would earn him a place as aprophet of twentieth century poetics. (2)4. Rimbaud. The revolution was not televised. Besides perfecting the prose poemform, the postmodern sensibility was from its mother's womb untimely ripped withthis young visionary. The "Lettres du Voyant," "Les Stupra," poems that sampledeverything from alchemy to the names of shopkeepers on a Paris street, a visionarysynaesthetic poem about "Vowels." The infinitude of possibilities for poetryopened up instantly and permanently, like a terrible, mesmerizing battlefieldwound. And yet it wasn't enough to keep this man interested. The ultimate crowningtouch to a Job-like life. (3)5. Rilke. The degree to which Rilke formed a new atheist spirituality is stunning.Existentialism needed a great poet who could embody the way the world's thinkingwas fundamentally changing, and book after book disclosed to us how far we werewandering from the fostering thought of millenia. The Duino Elegies should hold upnicely as empires crumble. (3)6. Khlebnikov. The father of zaum, sound poetry. The man who was a poet-mathematician and tried to divine universal laws of history and time in numberitself, which could then be transformed into poetic language. This is why many ofhis poems are based almost cabalistically on mystical meanings imparted tonumbers, from the single number which he believed governed historical cycles ofchange, to the number of heartbeats he counted in his chest to be synched up to apoem. (2)7. Kruchenykh. Surely the father of visual poetry, asemic poetry and so many othervariations of what Bob Grumman calls vizlature (visual literature). If not thetrue father, the pimp daddy. And that's who we care about. We always care aboutthe pimp daddy. (2)8. Fernando Pessoa (or choose a heteronym). The idea of voice smashed to bits onthe floor. Thank Gods. And we are free to move through all the dreams of languagesuddenly, to be anyone and act out Publius Naso's Metamorphoses within our singlebody. Vive la schizophrenie! Okay, that's not what schizophrenia is, but you knowwhat I mean. (1)9. Whitman. Free verse personified. What can be said or confessed fast-forwarded acentury or so. The ability to warp language so perfectly that "I sing the bodyelectric" sounds like perfectly fine English, and not even stilted. He came backto us some time later in the disguise of Mr. Ginsberg, of course. The almostpantheist embrace of life is a tad nineteenth century mystic, but the grasp ofAmerica as a phenomenon that was to become the future for more than just onenation was more than simply astute. It was visionary. (2)10. Tristan Tzara. Dada was many things though it didn't want to really beanything but a demonstration of its own stylish nihilism, but the elevation ofchance and the emergence of poets who were actors and magicians abusing politicson a political stage was something very new. What emerged as a scourge for WorldWar I became something of a philosopher's aspirin for the art. Every poet fallsunder its spell at least once in his or her life. (3)11. Gertrude Stein. I don't think anyone on this list changed language more thanStein. The limits and the liminal are her province. And it's very logical thatthis came out of her studies with William James and her scientific training.Wittgenstein and Stein go hand in hand, of course. And perhaps throw in Godel. Itfeels great to read her until you realize how insubstantial the structure whereof
 
one is composed really is. It changes one permanently. (3).12. Paul Celan. If any poet was Job in the 20th century, I would think it wasCelan. And he warned God, in an infamous poem. When one reads the biography, onecannot blame him. His genius at reinventing the language of the murderers stavedoff the inevitable implosion for a few decades. Celan's morphological reductionismis still a staggering achievement. A poet reads him once and cannot help but bechanged. (3)13. Ponge. Ponge flirted with embodying the phenomenological project in poetry. Hehad wildly varying degrees of success in this project. In following the precept"Zu den Sachen" ("to the things") he moved poetry in a surprisingly forwarddirection by seeming to step backwards. (1)14. Kitasono Katue. This Japanese master created some vizlature that was concretesculpture, three dimensional poems, such as paper sculptures in the shapes ofsuspended crescent moons with poems on them, to cite one example. I don't knowenough about the larger movement of which he was part to competently cite othercreators on this cusp with him. Any suggestions about this Japanese school? And Iwill not name an Oulipan, although I feel remiss in not including someone fromthat school on this list. Suggestions? (1)15. William Carlos Williams. Who has not encountered a poem by the man whichredefined poetry for you in one reading? There are too many examples to cite, asthe man's gifts were forgetive. He invented much, often by reducing. Patterson isimpressive collage and prefigures L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry more than othercelebrated disjunctive epics, I believe. (2)16. Robert Creeley. He grows right out of W.C.W.'s breast (poems like "The Term"by W.C.W. are "pure Creeley" long before Creeley). But Creeley takes the poeticsembodied in several early W.C.W. poems and elaborates it into an entire body ofwork. There are many different Creeleys in his body of work. His statesmanship andconstant gift for friendship and patronage with regard to other poets is seeminglywhat shaped his protean soul. He wanted poetry to serve multiple functionsclearly, from the spiritual to the political (are they really different?). And hewasn't afraid of writing utilitarian poems. Creeley turns the focus onto theWittgensteinian scotomas and misassumptions about what language is, or can do, andmoves it very strongly in the direction of the labworks to follow in theL=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school. (2)17. Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. The phenomenological project resumes in language withthis fascinating poet. Nature is the only philosopher and bracketing and reductionare recurrent modi operandi in this poet's work. Sui generis and yet veryinfluential among contemporary poets. (2)18. Rae Armantrout. 21st century poetics. A strange confluence of Creeley andNiedecker, seemingly. I wanted to include at least one L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet, sinceit was the most influential avant-garde in the past twenty years, and this oneseems to be clearly stepping off from the pack at this point in terms of universalappreciation. I would argue Lyn Hejinian would be an equally good example as apoet with a very impressive body of work that has had a cosmopolitan influence,but I see Armantrout's influence more in contemporary poetry. (1) (1)Should I have included Zufkofsky, Olson, Oppen, Niedecker? Why did I slight theObjectivists in general? Certainly they are more innovators than say Eliot orPound, who both looked backwards as much as they looked forward, if not more so.I guess who ever mastered the disjunctive, recontextualizing line first should be

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