Feeding creative explosions.
For many centuries, poetry movements and communities have served as the most provocative, creative, vital, engaging, and oft-underground elements of regional and national literary trends. The simple joy of gathering for a single or group reading, listening to verse, hearing background stories, and discussing poesy has joined and empowered poets from ancient Athens to the streets of San Francisco. The assemblies launched social and political discourse while feeding creative explosions that, in nearly all cases, involved the arts and music as well.

Despite the popular view of most poets as solitary, hermetic people, communities are vital to most working poets – which is why, in any given week, thousands of open-mic and guest poetry readings take place in the United States. Whether we’re studying the history of poetry or listening to an individual poet, it’s enticing to make connections between two poetic periods, or between a poet and his or her influences. In doing so, we invariably set foot inside a poetic movement or community.

Movements through history.

Throughout history, there have been hundreds of major and minor poetic movements and communities. Major community-based movements – such as the Ancient Greek poetry schools, Provencal literature, Sicilian court poets, Elizabethan and Romantic poets, American Transcendentalists, Paris expatriate (Surrealist), and Beat poets – changed the course of poetry during and after their respective eras.

Ancient Greek poetry (7th to 4th centuries B.C.)

The pinnacle of ancient Greek poetry lasted three centuries, making it one of the few multi-generational poetic movements and communities. Ancient Greek poets were also unique because they were the first large group to commit their poetry to writing; prior civilizations preferred the oral tradition, though some written poems date back to the 25th century B.C.

Greece’s poetic movement was part of the greatest cultural and intellectual community in world history. Poets were often dramatists who wrote for choirs, or courtly muses who entertained regional kings. Hundreds of dramas were performed, each of them featuring exquisite lyric poetry within its three-act structure. The Greeks developed nearly all of the classic forms that formed the underpinnings of later literature, drama, music and poetry, including the ode, epic, lyric, tragedy, and comedy. Among the great poets who passed developing forms to succeeding generations were Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Anacreon, and Euripides.Ancient Greece’s cultural explosion ended when it was conquered first by Alexander the Great and then by Rome. The Romans borrowed from Greek works to develop their own dramatic, literary, and poetic movements. As Greek works became disseminated through the Western world, they created the basis for modern literature.

Provencal literature (11th to 13th centuries)

Like a giant iron cloud, the popes of the Holy Roman Empire – the purveyors of the Middle Ages – clamped down and extinguished creative and artistic expression. However, as the 11th century reached its midpoint, a group of troubadour musicians in southern France began to sing and write striking lyrics. They were influenced by the Arabic civilization and its leading denizens, Omar Khayyam and Rumi, inspired by Latin and Greek poets, and guided by Christian precepts. Three concepts stood above all others: the spiritualization of passion, imagery, and secret love. With a gift for rhythm, meter, and form, the musicians and poets created a masterful style by the 13th century.

The Provencal troubadours began as court singer-poets, among them William X, Duke of Aquitaine, Eleanor Aquitaine, and King Richard I of England. They practiced the art, but its undisputed masters were Bertrand de Born, Arnaud Daniel, Guillame de Machant, Christine di Pisan, and Marie de France. During their heyday, these and other poets routinely traveled to communities to deliver poems, news, songs, and dramatic sketches in their masterful lyrical styles. Among those deeply influenced were Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Forms like the sestina, rondeau, triolet, canso, and ballata originated with the Provencal poets.

The Inquisition doomed the Provencal movement in the 13th century, though a few poets continued to produce into the mid-14th century. Most troubadours fled to Spain and Italy, where two new movements flourished – including the Sicilian School.

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