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Encyclopedia > New Formalism

New Formalism is a late-twentieth and early twenty-first century movement in American poetry that has promoted a return to metrical and rhymed verse. Emily Dickinson, one of the best known American poets. ... Meter (British English spelling: metre) describes the linguistic sound patterns of a verse. ... A rhyme is a repetition of identical or similar sounds in two or more different words and is most often used in poetry. ...


Origins and Intentions

The term was first used in the article 'The Yuppie Poet' in the May 1985 issue of the AWP Newsletter,[1] which was an attack on the movement, accusing its poets not only of political conservatism but also yuppie materialism.[2] New Formalism was a reaction against various perceived deficiencies in the practice of contemporary poets. In his 1987 piece 'Notes on the New Formalism', Dana Gioia wrote: "the real issues presented by American poetry in the Eighties will become clearer: the debasement of poetic language; the prolixity of the lyric; the bankruptcy of the confessional mode; the inability to establish a meaningful aesthetic for new poetic narrative and the denial of a musical texture in the contemporary poem. The revival of traditional forms will be seen then as only one response to this troubling situation."[3] The AWP Newsletter is a regular publication of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs External links AWP website Category: ... Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American poet who quit his successful career as a corporate executive to write. ...


Despite the innovations of Modernism as exemplified in the work of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and the widespread appearance of free verse in the early decades of the 20th century, many poets chose to continue working predominantly in traditional forms, such as those poets in America sometimes associated with the New Criticism, including John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Anthony Hecht, and Richard Wilbur. During the 1960s, with a surge of interest in Confessional poetry, publication of formal poetry became increasingly unfashionable. The emergence of the Language poets in the 1970s was one reaction to the predominance of the informal confessional lyric. But language poetry was another step away from the traditions of metre and rhyme, and was seen by some as widening the divide between poetry and its public. Modernism is a cultural movement that generally includes the progressive art and architecture, music, literature and design which emerged in the decades before 1914. ... T.S. Eliot (by E.O. Hoppe, 1919) Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was an American-born British poet, dramatist, and literary critic, whose works, such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and Four Quartets, are considered defining achievements of... Ezra Pound in 1913. ... Free verse (also at times referred to as vers libre) is a term describing various styles of poetry that are not written using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers can perceive to be... New Criticism was the dominant trend in English and American literary criticism of the early twentieth century, from the 1920s to the early 1960s. ... John Crowe Ransom (April 30, 1888 - July 3, 1974) was an American poet, essayist, and social commentator. ... John Orley Allen Tate (November 19, 1899 - February 9, 1979) was an American poet, essayist, and social commentator, and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, 1943 - 1944. ... Anthony Ivan Hecht, (January 16, 1923-October 20, 2004), was an American poet. ... Richard Purdy Wilbur (born March 1, 1921), is a United States poet. ... A confessional poet traffics in intimate, and perhaps derogatory, information about him or herself, in poems about illness, sexuality, despondence and the like. ... The Language poets (or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, after the magazine that bears that name) are an avant garde group or tendency in United States poetry that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s; its central figures are all actively writing, teaching, and performing...

Early History

One of the first rumbles of the conflict that was to provide the impetus to create New Formalism as a specific movement, came with the publication in 1977 of an issue of the Mississippi Review called 'Freedom and Form: American Poets Respond'.

In the early 1970s X. J. Kennedy started publishing the short-lived magazine Counter/Measures which was devoted to the use of traditional form in poetry; a few other editors around this time were sympathetic to formal poetry,[4] but the mainstream was against rhyme and meter. In 1980 Mark Jarman and Robert McDowell started the small magazine The Reaper to promote narrative and formal poetry. In 1984 McDowell started Story Line Press which has since published some New Formalist poets. The Reaper ran for ten years. Frederick Feirstein's Expansive Poetry (1989) gathered various essays on the New Formalism and the related movement New Narrative, under the umbrella term 'Expansive Poetry'. X.J. Kennedy (born 21 August 1929) is a prominent formalist poet, translator, anthologist and writer of childrens literature. ... Mark Jarman (born 5 June 1952) is a United States poet and critic often identified with the New Narrative branch of the New Formalism. ... Frederick Feirstein is a United States poet. ... Expansive Poetry is a movement in United States poetry that began in the 1980s. ...

In the mid 1980s heated debates on the topic of formalism were carried on in several journals.[5] 1986 saw the publication of Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse and the anthology Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms (edited by Philip Dacey and David Jauss). Vikram Seth (pronounced sayt), born June 20, 1952 is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, childrens writer, biographer and memoirist. ... The Golden Gate (1986) is author/poet Vikram Seths first novel. ...

In 1990 William Baer started The Formalist and the first issue contained poems by, amongst others, Howard Nemerov, Richard Wilbur, and Donald Justice. The magazine ran twice a year for fifteen years, with the fall/winter 2004 issue being the last. The Formalist was succeeded by Measure: An Annual Review of Formal Poetry, which is published by the University of Evansville. The Formalist: A Journal of Metrical Poetry was a literary periodical, edited by William Baer, which was published twice a year from 1990 to the fall/winter issue of 2004. ... Howard Nemerov (February 29, 1920 – July 5, 1991) was United States Poet Laureate on two separate occasions: from 1963 to 1964, and from 1988 to 1990. ... Donald Justice (born in Miami, Florida, August 12, 1925 - died in Iowa City, Iowa, August 6, 2004) was an American poet and teacher of writing. ...

Current activity

Since 1995 West Chester University has held an annual poetry conference with a special focus on formal poetry and New Formalism. Each year the Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award is awarded as part of the conference. West Chester University, located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1871. ... Founded by West Chester professor Michael Peich and poet Dana Gioia, the West Chester University Poetry Conference is a poetry conference that has been held annually since 1995 at West Chester University. ... The Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award is awarded to scholars who have made a lasting contribution to the art and science of versification. ...

By the end of the 20th century, poems in traditional forms were once again being published more widely. The effects of the movement have been observed in the broader domain of general poetry: a survey of successive editions of various general anthologies showed an increase in the number of villanelles included in the post-mid-'80s editions.[6] The publication of books concerned with poetic form has also increased. Lewis Turco's Book of Forms from 1968 was revised and reissued in 1986 New Book of Forms. A villanelle (or occasionally villonelle) is a traditional poetic form which entered English-language poetry in the late 1800s from the imitation of French models. ... Lewis P. Turco (born May 2, 1934), is an American poet, teacher, and writer of fiction and non-fiction. ...

Interest in the movement and in formal techniques continues, as the West Chester conference demonstrates, but the movement is not without its detractors. In the November/December 2003 issue of P. N. Review, N. S. Thompson wrote: "While movements do need a certain amount of bombast to fuel interest, they have to be backed up by a certain artistic success. In hindsight, the movement seems to be less of a poetic revolution and more a marketing campaign."[7] P. N. Review (formerly Poetry Nation Review) is a British literary periodical which commenced publication in 1973 and continues to be published six times a year. ...

New Formalist Canon

The 2004 West Chester Conference had a by-invitation-only critical seminar on 'Defining the Canon of New Formalism', in which the following anthologies were discussed:[8]

  • Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism edited by Mark Jarman and David Mason, 1996.
  • The Direction of Poetry: An Anthology of Rhymed and Metered Verse Written in the English Language since 1975, edited by Robert Richman
  • A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women, edited by Annie Finch

David Mason (born 11 December 1954) is a United States writer. ...


  1. ^ see N. S. Thompson, 'Form and Function,' P. N. Review, 154; the AWP article was written by Ariel Dawson
  2. ^ Lake, Paul, 'Expansive Poetry in the New Millennium', a talk delivered at the West Chester Poetry Conference on 10 June 1999.
  3. ^ Hudson Review (40, 3, 1987)
  4. ^ Timothy Steele in an interview mentions both Don Stanford at The Southern Review and Tom Kirby-Smith at The Greensboro Review. He also mentions Robert L. Barth's press and his series of metrical chapbooks.
  5. ^ for example, see Salmagundi 65 (1984) with Mary Kinzie's piece "The Rhapsodic Fallacy," (pages 63 – 79) and various responses; Alan Shapiro's piece "The New Formalism," in Critical Inquiry 14.1 (1987) pages 200 – 13; and David Wojahn's "'Yes, But ...': Some Thoughts on the New Formalism," in Crazyhorse 32 (1987) pages 64 – 81.
  6. ^ French, Amanda Lowry, Refrain, Again: The Return of the Villanelle, a doctoral dissertation, August 2004, page 13.
  7. ^ N. S. Thompson, 'Form and Function,' P. N. Review, 154.
  8. ^ Schneider, Steven, 'Defining the Canon of New Formalist Poetry', Poetry Matters: The Poetry Center Newsletter, West Chester University. Number 2. February 2005

The Southern Review is a publication of Louisiana State University. ... Salmagundi is a quarterly periodical of the Humanities and Social Sciences aims to address the general reader. ... Critical Inquiry is a peer-reviewed journal in the humanities published out of the University of Chicago. ...

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