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English Poetry Timeline

the colonial era
17th Century in British colonies
Primarily metaphysical and devotional
Imitative and derivative of British poetry
Famous poets:
Anne Bradstreet (1st book of American poetry, 1650)
Edward Taylor

the “Connecticut Wits”
Began at Yale in mid-18th century
Primarily satirical in nature
Patterned after famous British satirists such as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Gay
Famous poets:
Joel Barlow
John Trumbull
Timothy Dwight

Other notable 18th century poets
18th Century
Still patterned after English modes and methods
Famous poets:
Phillis Wheatley (1st significant black American poet)
Philip Freneau

The Romantics
Early and mid-19th century
New, fresh direction deviating somewhat from British patterns; sentimental in nature, focusing on emotional impact, somewhat moralistic
Includes Gothic poetry (dark, focusing on the supernatural)
Famous poets:
Edgar Allan Poe (Gothic)
“Fireside Poets”—William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (John Greenleaf Whittier), Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., (James Russell Lowell)

The Transcendentalists
Mid- to late 19th century (ended by the Civil War)
Characterized by a fascination with nature, the “Sublime,” and transcending the material world
First uniquely American form of literature (essays and poems)
Famous poets:
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Margaret Fuller

Other Notable 19th century poets
Two greatest poets of the 19th century were influenced by Emerson, but unique in their own work: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson
Paul Laurence Dunbar revealed the condition of African Americans in the mid- to late-19th century era

The Premodernists and the imagists
Premodernist poetry (late 19th century) predates but leans toward the style of the Modernism period
Famous poets:
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Robert Frost
Imagist poetry (1909-1917) advocated free verse, concrete imagery, and mundane subject matters
Famous poets:
Ezra Pound
Amy Lowell

Poets of the harlem renaissance
1920s
Started in Harlem, New York
Uniquely African American movement that stretched into literature, art, and music—contributed to the Jazz Age
Famous poets:
Countee Cullen
James Weldon Johnson
Claude McKay
Langston Hughes (most famous author of the Harlem Renaissance)

Midcentury formalist poets
Early post-WWII
Often disparagingly called “academic poetry”
Cautious, conservative, intellectual, technically sophisticated, using closed or traditional forms
Famous poets:
Elizabeth Bishop
Robert Lowell
Theodore Roethke

Confessional Poets
Late 1950s
Highly emotional, personal, and “confessional” in nature
Famous poets:
Sylvia Plath
Anne Sexton
John Berryman

Surrealist/New York School Poets
Late 20th century
Artistic, surrealistic poetry related more to surrealist art than previous literature
Famous poets:
Frank O’Hara
John Ashbery

Other notable mid- to -late century movements and Poets
1980s and 1990s: Women’s Poetry, Language Poetry, Neoformalism
End of 20th century: Multicultural Poetry
Famous poets of note:
Mary Oliver
Robert Hayden
Audre Lord
Billy Collins
Sharon Olds

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