Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry

Martian Poetry

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Martian poetry is a distinctly English style of Surrealism in poetry, of the 1970s and early 1980s. Poets most closely associated with it are Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. It was first popularized by Raine's collection A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979). Through the heavy use of curious, exotic and humorous metaphors, Martian Poetry aimed to break the grip of 'the familiar' in English poetry, by describing ordinary things (such as a book) as if through the eyes of a Martian.

The term Martianism has also been applied more widely to fiction as well as to poetry. It has been noted that martianism is an anagram of one of its exponents: Martin Amis.

For instance, books and their effects upon readers are described by Raine as...

mechanical birds with many wings
perch on the hand
cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain

Unsurprisingly, Martian poetry became a popular method in the teaching of poetry composition to school children.

It arose in the context of the experimental poetry of the late 1960s; but also owes a debt to a variety of English traditions including metaphysical poetry, Anglo-Saxon riddles, and nonsense poetry (e.g.: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear). Dr Samuel Johnson's descriptions of the metaphysical poets' approach where 'the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together' could aptly describe much Martian poetry; in this context what was distinctive about Martian Poetry was its focus on visual experience.


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