Reassigning “Modernism”: The Case for Adopting the Concept as a Period Designation in the Study of British Poetry
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In academic work on modern British poetry, there is a tacit assumption that any poet belonging to the first rank must needs be a “Modernist”. Consequently, scholars and critics are keen to have poets they admire fit in under the “Modernism” umbrella. That desire has led to an extension of the concept–always notoriously hard to define–to the point of meaninglessness. Proceeding from a conviction that modernity affected every poet in the early twentieth century, and that no tenable line of demarcation between different “schools” survives careful scrutiny of what people actually wrote, Marianne Thormählen proposes that “Modernism” in the context of British poetry be employed as a designation for the period from 1910 to 1939. Used as a chronological term, the concept would no longer carry a presumption of quality (or a lack of it). Hitherto neglected good poetry from the period would stand to gain the attention it deserves, as academics abandon the literary quarrels of a bygone age in order to focus on why and how poetry matters.