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Postmodernism (1945-1970)

What era precedes postmodernism
Modernism (~1910-1945) and
The Harlem Renaissance (1917-1935)

What era comes after postmodernism
Both the Contemporary Era and Multiculturalism (both 1970-present)

What was the Beat Generation
Group of authors whose literature explored and influenced American culture in the post-WWII era. Bulk of work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s
-includes Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac

Historical background/context of the Postmodern era
-postmodernism emerged followed WWII in 1945 and ended roughly around 1970
-WWII, technological advances, and the Cold War were the three main contributing factors to the postmodern era’s characteristics
-WWII holocaust was sometimes alluded to in poems (ex. Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath: uses holocaust as extended metaphor)
-Technological advances: satellite TV (influential in swaying public opinion/controversy), commercial computers
-Cold War: McCarthyism (accusations of communist ideals)
-civil rights movement begins

Literature characteristics of the Postmodern era
-consists of fragmentation, paradox, unreliable narrator, FREE RHYME, AMBIGUITY, ABSTRACT WRITING
-**see confessional poetry

Confessional Poetry
poetry written with the author’s private experiences and feelings about death, trauma, depression, and relationships
-confessional poetry usually has the author as the speaker of the poem (since poem is usually anecdotal/personal experience)
*Example poets: SYLVIA PLATH, ROBERT LOWELL, and ANNE SEXTON

Tips for identifying Postmodern poetry
Look for…
1) no rhyme scheme (sometimes rhyme scheme is chaotic/random on purpose—this shows the chaos and confusion during the era)… it is done in key poem “Skunk Hour” by Robert Lowell
2) Common themes: death, depression, war, solitude, power, transformation
***see existential themes
3) Poems are VERY ambiguous, often metaphorical, and overtly abstract
4) many classical references and general allusions (for ex, to holocaust or war or some personal experience—ex. Ariel is Sylvia Plath’s horse)

Existential Themes
dark and depressing, revolve around the basic concept that there is no purpose to life

Popular postmodern poets
Five key poets:
1) Sylvia Plath
2) Robert Lowell
3) Elizabeth Bishop
4) Richard Wilbur
5) Allen Ginsberg
Four other notable poets:
1) Anne Sexton
2) James Wright
3) Adrienne Rich
4) John Ashberry

Modern to postmodern: relationship/transition
-postmodernism is branched directly from modernism, therefore the two eras have many similarities. for ex, both eras focus on experimentation and individualistic thought
-postmodernism distinguishes itself from modernism in the sense that there is
1) general lack of format
2) ambiguity and alluding aspect
3) existential themes
4) postmodernism is illogical modernism is logical

Tie-in to Contemporary Era
many movements begin to occur.
feminist movement, civil rights movement, etc. –wars are ending as well

Sylvia Plath
Most influential/notable confessional poet and postmodern poet
-Wrote “Ariel” a poem about death, power, transformation, etc. (used as presentation poem, reflects era in theme)
-Plath committed suicide and Ariel + many other famous poems were published posthumously
-she had previously been married before getting divorced due to her husband having an affair

Robert Lowell
confessional poet during postmodern era
-His famous poem “Skunk Hour” spoke of home but also mental illness, solitude, and depression
–> wrote Skunk Hour with a mixed, random, and unconventional rhyme scheme which reflected his mental state as chaotic (he specifically mentions he is mentally ill in poem)— skunk hour’s themes of confusion, loneliness, and depression are repeated often in postmodern/postwar American literature

Richard Wilbur
-notable postmodern poet
-wrote “The Death of a Toad” which spoke of a toad caught in a lawn mower & dying
-idea of “nature vs. machinery” and “man vs. nature”

Allen Ginsberg
-notable postmodern poet
-famous poem “Howl” was dedicated to Carl Solomon (a beats generation poet; a.k.a. still postmodernism)
-famous poem Kaddish was dedicated to his mother who had passed away

Elizabeth Bishop
-notable postmodern poet
-was against the war and often corresponded (through poems) with Robert Lowell
–> they would write poems to each other (such as Skunk Hour and The Armadillo)
-Bishop’s famous poem “The Fish” signifies power, humility, and choice

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