20th Century Poets to Dig On This Month

20th century poets | book reviews Jack Kerouac | Girlfriend is Better
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Quiet things down if you’re needing a break from binging shows this month. Our favorite 20th century poets will add depth and color to your day. Start with one poem and take time to absorb the imagery of words and language. You may find hidden meanings that speak to you in ways you never imagined.

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20th Century Poets Speak Plainly

We understand it may be difficult to get into 19th century writing and language styles. You will find 20th century poets to use more common words and phrases so their meanings will be easier to grasp. Some poets play with words as sounds and syllables. The meaning is sometimes not as important as the rhythm or imagery.

20th century poets | confessional poetry reading Anne Sexton review favorites | Girlfriend is Better
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e e cummings

If you’re new to poetry, “E. E.” Cummings (usually styled as e e cummings) might be a good one to start with. e e cummings stands out among modernist 20th century poets with his extensive use of lower case letters. His poems are often full of satire and he forms words on the page to help illustrate his messages.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
– e e cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

20th century poets | modernist e e cummings review favorite poetry | Girlfriend is Better
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Anne Sexton

If you’re taking some solo time outside, we suggest bringing a good book of poetry to get lost in. Anne Sexton is known as one of the great “confessional” 20th century poets. Her work is deeply personal and details her long battle with depression. We recommend not delving too deep into our poets personal lives and letting their work stand on its own. Many of us have battled similar demons and sometimes it helps to know we are not alone in our struggles.

A Curse Against Elegies
– Anne Sexton

Oh, love, why do we argue like this?
I am tired of all your pious talk.
Also, I am tired of all the dead.
They refuse to listen,
so leave them alone.
Take your foot out of the graveyard,
they are busy being dead.

Everyone was always to blame:
the last empty fifth of booze,
the rusty nails and chicken feathers
that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,
the worms that lived under the cat’s ear
and the thin-lipped preacher
who refused to call
except once on a flea-ridden day
when he came scuffing in through the yard
looking for a scapegoat.
I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.

I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you — you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.

20th century poets | confessional poetry depression Anne Sexton personal | Girlfriend is Better
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Lawrence Ferlinghetti

For a poet that is still living (101!), Lawrence Ferlinghetti has has a tremendous career. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a 20th century poet, painter, and political activist. He published many of the beat poets his own poetry takes on very visual dimensions. Known for incorporating jazz into his work, he is a believer that “art should be available to all people; not just a handful of highly educated individuals.” Yourself, included!

I Am Waiting
– Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up   
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting   
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier   
and I am waiting   
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming   
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona   
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored   
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find   
the right channel   
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth   
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed   
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered   
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did   
to Tom Sawyer   
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting   
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again   
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn   
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting   
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

20th century poets | Lawrence Ferlinghetti poetry jazz publisher beat | Girlfriend is Better
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Sylvia Plath

Sorry, but we love depressing poetry by female artists. Sylvia Plath is another notable 20th century poet in the confessional space. She is also known for her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, which was published after she committed suicide in 1963. The poetry that she is most famous for was also published posthumously and deal with what many critics dubbed the “domestic surreal”.

– Slyvia Plath

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue   
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,   
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to   
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark   

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,   
Something else

Hauls me through air—
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.   
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.   
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies
Suicidal, at one with the drive   
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.

20th century poets | Sylvia Plath confessional poetry depression suicide | Girlfriend is Better
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speaking of dark.. Maksim Dark

Jack Kerouac

As far as our favorites go, we saved the best for last. Jack Kerouac is hands-down one of the most thrilling 20th century poets from the beat generation. He is most known for spewing spontaneous prose and he covers topics ranging from jazz, Buddhism, or travel. Although his work may seem haphazard, he constantly rewrote and revised his poetry. His focus was on the rhythm and energy that his words created.

241st Chorus
– Jack Kerouac

And how sweet a story it is
When you hear Charley Parker
               tell it,
Either on records or at sessions,
Or at offical bits in clubs,
Shots in the arm for the wallet,
Gleefully he Whistled the
Anyhow, made no difference.

Charley Parker, forgive me—
Forgive me for not answering your eyes—
For not having made in indication
Of that which you can devise—
Charley Parker, pray for me—
Pray for me and everybody
In the Nirvanas of your brain
Where you hide, indulgent and huge,
No longer Charley Parker
But the secret unsayable name
That carries with it merit
Not to be measured from here
To up, down, east, or west—
—Charley Parker, lay the bane,
 off me, and every body

20th century poets | beat poetry Jack Kerouac favorite jazz | Girlfriend is Better
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Life is a Gate

In the words of Jack Kerouac, “life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway.” Add one of our favorite 20th century poets to your collection and think about what makes your life worth living. Any day steeped in creativity, art, and culture becomes more meaningful and appreciated. The wonderful thing about poems is that they’re fairly short. Let a line or two stick with you this month.

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