A Layperson’s Analysis: What Makes Modern Poetry Stand Out

What Makes Modern Poetry Stand Out - Blog Graphic
Illustation by Joyita Faruk

My introduction to modern poetry was late. Something I regret but I am glad I got here anyway.

I recall memorizing the analysis of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for literature class – because why would we be given any creative freedom for presenting an analysis? Or, let’s take the effort I put into understanding William Wordsworth’s Scottish lexicon in “The Solitary Reaper”.

I am sad to inform you: my understanding of ballads and sonnets does nothing to help me understand Charles Bukowski better.

Modern poetry is synonymous with evolution – one that celebrates freedom, not just in its inferences, but also in its structure.

What makes it so unique?

Modern Poetry is More Experimental

It’s no secret the modern poet chooses to rhyme less and narrate more.

Most poetry before the 20th century had surprisingly rigid forms. You’d find the same limericks, odes, and sonnets showing up over and over again. The restricted syllable count and rhyme schemes pushed poets to think of nuanced methods to infuse meaning within the words.

On the other hand, contemporary poetry symbolizes redefining the concept of poetry entirely. One key way modern styles rebel against convention is by throwing out the need for typical rhyme schemes or stanza lengths. This form, called free verse, is what we see on Instagram and in most poetry circles today.

Even when some trace of tradition is maintained, it comes with a lot of new twists. Take haikus, for instance; gone are the days when the syllable count was restricted to 3-5-3 or 5-7-5 for each verse. Now, there’s more freedom in the various ways you can play with the ‘below 17 syllables’ rule.

Poetry today has bloomed in shapes as well. Concrete poems, with words outlining and filling the bodies of cats and gigantic continents, have added new layers of artistic ingenuity.

Hence, modern poetry challenges its notion altogether.

Modern Poetry Has Barrier-Breaking Themes

If you remember, I mention rebellion early on – that isn’t the only aspect where poetry in the twenty-first century has voiced dissent. Contemporary poetry dares to question the legitimacy of all that we put on a moral pedestal, whether it be gender norms or God.

Activism has intertwined far deeper into the vines of art through poetry. Previously ‘taboo’ issues, such as menstruation and mental health, are talked about far more.

As war efforts have decreased significantly, or have become more covert, war songs have become rare. In its stead, activist poetry is booming.

It’s popular in a particular style of spoken word poetry called slam poetry – where the poet recites their stanzas at a brisk pace.

The intensity of emotions expressed now lay on the tip of the poet’s tongue; they still craft stories through their poems – just through another medium.

Where Victorian literature had opted to give everything rosiness and grandiosity through its descriptions, modern poets veered away – towards the smaller things in life. A deeper appreciation for the mundane resulted afterward, as well as the birth of a more mindful (but still nihilistic) series of poems.

Poems regarding love, life, family, and death remain the most popular themes. Yet, the stories told and retold through them have changed considerably. The family that was once a sanctuary now offers vivid descriptions of neglect. An entire generation is wrestling with accepting death as a more viable solution to life’s problems. (Jeez.)

More Focus On Interpretation

The rise of prose poetry came from the desire to weave anecdotes with greater ease. Poets tend to write as early as the words form, often in a very disorganized manner. This unusual syntax resonates with the thought process of the youth far better.

Aside from accessible language and irregular phrases with jagged endings, there is more to contemporary poetry. It has maintained the subtle meanings left to be excavated by the readers – as is the essence of poetry, I believe. However, what has changed is the extent of the readers’ interpretation

In earlier works, the reader had to search for clues to understand what the poet implied. Recent works have shifted away from this and have far more ambiguous and open-ended poems, allowing the readers to extrapolate meaning relevant to their personal struggles and aspirations. It’s no surprise that people turn to poetry so often – it’s a form of writing that can be understood by at least someone, if not everyone.

To More Diverse Poetry

Modern poetry remains mysterious through its rebellious nature and unbound experimentation. Its appeal lies in its exploration into ideas beyond just the hopeful parts of reality. Seeing all of this, I believe it will continue to evolve and find innovative ways to tell more and more mundane stories.

2 thoughts on “A Layperson’s Analysis: What Makes Modern Poetry Stand Out

  1. “Modern poetry is synonymous with evolution – one that celebrates freedom, not just in its inferences, but also in its structure.” Oof summarises everything. I don’t feel so guilty for not vibing with older forms of poetry now.

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