PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Sharif Elmusa on Mourid Barghouti Lorna Goodison Christmas Poem Brian Morton Now Patricia Craig Val Warner: a reminiscence John McAuliffe Bill Manhire in Conversation
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog

This article is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

A Maverick Master Anthony Howell

Two things distinguish the modernist epoch that took up such a large part of the previous century: a preoccupation with stylistic exercises and a tendency to identify with schools or movements. It was in the twentieth century that the still life was finally accorded the status of high art. Before, it had been associated with tavern painting - not that this precluded the application of an appropriate skill - in particular that of trompe l'oeil - but the moderns elevated the genre, deeming its humble ground the fitting arena for innovative perception. In reaction to the deliberately vaunted glory of the Victorian age, there was a reluctance to deal with the high-toned subject. Eschewing histrionics, Cézanne, and later Morandi, pioneered configurations of everyday objects. Picasso painted his breakfast, and also began painting serially, churning out variations to themes. A generous swathe of abstraction could be construed as the promotion of exercises. The more style you had, the less you needed a subject. After all, your style was your subject.

In twentieth-century literature also we encounter a distrust of the hortatory address and a foregrounding of the disciplinary act as content in itself. Sonnet sequences proliferate - Meredith instigating this modernist favourite in the late nineteenth century, followed by Berryman, Berrigan et al. In France, we have Queneau's reiterations of the business of running for a bus in the epic style, the lyrical, the bombastic, the terse, the loquacious. A predilection for the exercise reflects the demise of ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image