Surrealism in American Literature

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      In his anthology defining the new schools, Donald Allen includes a fifth group he cannot define because it has no clear geographical underpinning. This vague group includes recent movements and experiments. The chief among these is surrealism which expresses the unconscious through vivid, dreamlike imagery, and much poetry by women and ethnic minorities that has flourished in recent years. Though superficially distinct, surrealists, feminists, and minorities appear to share a sense of alienation from white, male, main-stream literature. Although T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Ezra Pound introduced symbolist techniques into poetry in the 1920s.

      Surrealism, the major force in European poetry and thought in Europe during and after World War II did not take root in the United States. Not until the 1960s did surrealism (along with existentialism) become domesticated in America under the stress of the Vietnam conflict. During the 1960s many American writers - W.S. Merwin, Robert Bly, Charles Simi, Charles Wright, and Mark Strand, among others- turned to French and especially Spanish surrealism for its pure emotion, its archetypal images, and its models of anti-rational, existential unrest. The surrealists like, Merwin tend to be epigrammatic, as in lines such as:

“The gods are what has failed to become of us
If you find you no longer believe enlarge the temple.”

      Bly’s political surrealism harshly criticized American values and foreign policy during the Vietnam terrain poems like. “The Tenth Mother Naked at Last”. The more pervasive surrealist influence has been quieter and more contemplative. Wright’s “The New Poem” (1973) describes Mark Strand’s surrealism, like Merwin’s, which is often bleak. It speaks of an extreme deprivation. Now that traditions, values, and beliefs have failed him. The poet has nothing to search but his own cave-like soul.

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