Poetry: Schools of Dissidents

Robert Lowell and John Berryman broke away from the tradition of the 50s and started their own unique technique of writing poetry; several others also revolted and developed their own style.

In this way various movements began in American poetry. One of the movements in American poetry is confessional movement. This movement started with the works of Lowell and Berryman followed by W. D Snodgrass, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. These poets were against the new critical mode of writing poetry that emphasized on aloofness and impersonality. As a resistance to New Criticism a new movement called Beat Generation emerged suddenly in San Francisco. Next Charles Olson in North Cardina initiated Black Mountain Movement in the arts at Black Mountain College.


The second generation poets born from 1920 to 1935 were under the influence of New critical mode, but they were less burdened by the legacies of the great modernists. So some poets of this generation stuck to the New critical mode, but some poets developed a new style in poetry called confessional mode. This confessional movement started with the works of Robert Lowell and John Berryman followed W.D. Snodgrass, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. These poets were against the new critical mode of writing poetry that emphasized on aloofness and impersonality. These confessional poets gave expression to painful personal events through the revelation of personal intimacies and unembarrassed self- exposure. In this sense by writing such poems based on their own private experience, the confessional poets reflect the liveliest period; but such private experiences were all about pains and sufferings.

The expression of personal pain is the hallmark of confessional poetry. Moreover all the major figures of this group also suffered from several personal difficulties like destructive family relationship, traumatic childhoods, broken marriages, reasoning mental breakdowns, alcoholism, and drug abuse and so on. Most of the poets of this group were also widely affected by psychological disorder and thus, they dealt with the theme of psychology as well. Like, in the case of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, we may also find Oedipus tension, sexual confessions and suicidal urges as the subject matter in their work.

The most common subject matter in the confession poetries is the madness. So these confessional poets are also known as ideocentric group of poets. The remarkable example of the confessional poetry is the work of Sylvia Plath, who is highly influenced by Anne Sexton. In her works, she not only dealt with her personal problems, but through those problems she brings out the social problems of her times. Plath brought forth a sense of abandonment, guilt, emotional breakdown and suicidal attempt along with the use of fierce rhythm and violent images. Her most appreciated work in this respect is Ariel.


In the later half of the 1950s a group of poets like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerovac, Gregory Corso etc formed a group of young rebels called Beat poet and thus, young rebels developed the Beat Generation. The Beat Generation is a group of writers centered in San Francisco and New York City in the later half of the 1950s. The poet of this generation called themselves beat because they felt themselves to be very much beaten. Those poets rebelled against the established traditions of poetry and gave emphasis to oral tradition. Besides they rejected middle class values, commercialism and conformity rather they sought visionary state through religious meditation, sex, jazz and drugs.

The poets of this group like Ginsberg were more a performer than a poet because they usually shouted out their poems in coffee- house with Jazz music at the background. Through their poems, they emphasized on visionary enlightenment and artistic improvisation. They also used experimental forms, metaphysical content, and provocative anti- intellectual and anti- hierarchical spirit of the movement. This movement is further divided in to Hot Beats and Cool Beats. Hot Beats included such people who believed that the fear of future was the past of illness of modern society and to get rid of it, they indulged themselves in to drugs, sexual acts and wild trips. On the other hand Cool Beats included such people who looked for deeper spiritual life through Zen Buddhism and believe in moral peace. They were also highly influenced by Oriental philosophers. Two of the poets of Beat Generation, who were poets of immense talent and personal charisma, were Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. In 1956 Allen Ginsberg published his first work Howl and secured his reputation as a leader of the Beats. By the early 1960s, he was a public personality, who played an important role in various liberation movements like civil right, Gay Liberation and opposition to the Vietnam War etc.