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Experimentalism

Experimentalism is one part of modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something that’s never been seen before. 

Writers who try to create experimental poetry want to provide readers with a new point of view. They are uninterested in walking the same ground as poets and authors before them. Instead, they are willing to take risks and try things, as the examples below prove, that some readers may not understand. 

Experimentalism pronunciation: ex-per-eh-men-tahl-eh-zum

Experimentalism definition and examples


Experimentalism Definition

Experimentalism is a term used to describe poetry and other forms of literature that pushed the boundaries of what was considered literature during the modernist and post-modernist movements.

Some of this poetry has been widely accepted by readers around the world, while other examples are still considered quite difficult to understand and have yet to be welcomed into the mainstream. 

These poets were seeking out a new way of telling stories and evoking feelings. They were interested in surprising readers in many different ways. They did this through fractured images, experimentation with spacing and word choice, visual art additions to their work, found poetry, cut-ups, and more. 

Examples of Experimental Literature 

The Humument by Tom Phillips

This example of found poetry is a perfect combination of the world of visual art and that of written art. The Humument is a work in progress that Phillips began in the 1960s. 

It is an altered Victorian book that he found in a second-hand shop and has since been deleting and painting into. He allows some of the original text to show through the paintings, creating poems and statements, as well as a larger story within the artwork. 

The work tells a nonlinear story with a narrator and protagonist named Bill Troge. This experimental piece of poetry is often studied by artists and writers. 

A Throw of the Dice by Stéphane Mallarmé

This very experimental poem was written by 19th-century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé. The poem takes an unusual form, using different amounts of blank space between words and lines. The lines are also indented to different degrees. This piece was published in 1897. It spans a total of twenty pages. 

Here are the first few lines: 

     NOTHING

              of the memorable crisis

                       or might

                                  the event        have been accomplished in view of all results  null

                                                                                                                             human

The best way to read this poem is by looking at the original text. The spacing between the words, and lines, make the experience very different. 

The Cantos by Ezra Pound 

This collection of poems was composed while Pound was in prison in Pisa in 1945, just after the Second World War ended. Throughout, the poet takes the reader through Odysseus’ journey into the underworld, providing readers with a new take on the story. The first poem starts in the middle of the action, a technique known as in medias res. Here are the first lines: 

And then went down to the ship,

Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and

We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,

Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also

Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward

Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,

Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.

Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,

Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end. 

The Cantos are 800 pages and are considered to be incomplete, along with being a very challenging read. 

Read more Ezra Pound poems

The Computer’s First Christmas Card by Edwin Morgan 

This experimental poem was written in the mid-1900s. It presents readers with an interesting concept—a Christmas card written by a computer. The reader is asked to peruse numerous lines of compound words. This pokes fun at early computers while also alluding to the progress in the future. Here are the first few lines: 

jollymerry

hollyberry

jollyberry

merryholly

happyjolly

jollyjelly

jellybelly

bellymerry

hollyheppy

jollyMolly

marryJerry

merryHarry

happyBarry

This is only the computer’s first Christmas card, so there are more to come, readers can figure. 

FAQs 

How do you write an experimental poem?

There are endless ways one might write an experimental poem. Plus, what is experimental for one writer might not be for another. One can try automatic writing, cut-outs, found poetry, and false translations as places to start. 

What are the three common types of poetry?

Three of the most common types of poetry are narrative, lyric, and dramatic poetry. But, there are many other styles and genres of poetry that writers have engaged with throughout time. This includes the many types of experimental poetry. 

What is experimentation in modern literature?

In modern writing, poets and authors engage with new ideas and practices that help produce literature that surprises readers. They are interested in concepts of individualism and value artistic freedom. Most modern writers also sought to break out of traditional methods of writing. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Found Poetry:  a type of poem that’s created using someone else’s words, phrases, or structure.
  • Dadaism: an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s. 
  • Avant-garde: the term avant-garde refers to poetry or prose that pushes the boundaries and is experimental.
  • Theatre of Cruelty: an experimental genre of theatre that’s concerned more with audience sense-experience than it is with dialogue and content.
  • Literary Modernism:  originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
  • Antinovel: any novel that disregards traditional conventions of novel-writing. These books push the limits of what a novel can be.
  • Metafiction: stories in which the characters, author, or narrator acknowledge the fact that they’re parts of a fiction.


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