Non-Traditional Poetry – CoBrA Movement

Harmony Cardenas

Recently, I was paging through a poetry book I had kept from a Creative Writing course in college. The book, Poems for the Millenium contains a collection of Modern and Post-Modern poetry. It remains one of my favorites from college. What I love about this book is that it showcases what I consider to be a great aspect of modern and post-modern poetry – rebellion.

As writers, we’re given the freedom to create whatever we want. Who says we have to stick to traditional rules? That’s what I love about modern poetry – it defies the rules set up by its predecessors. Take the CoBrA (also known as Cobra) movement of the late 1940s as an example.

The name CoBrA comes from the cities in which the artists and poets lived – Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. At this time, Europe was just emerging from a time of war, and this postwar group sought to continue life through art.

Similar to the Dadaists of the art world, the Cobra artists rebelled against the popular Western culture of the time.

“We suppress aesthetic principles. We are not disillusioned because we have no illusions. We never had them.”

– Constant, Reflex Manifesto, 1948

The artists purposefully defied the principles of aesthetics and form, instead focusing on the power of words. Artists and poets combined their works to create art that could not even be bound by a name.

After reading the following poem, you may think it’s nonsense, unnecessary repetition. Taken in a social context, though, its repetition, lack of capitalization and punctuation means much more. It was a reaction to the popular styles of the time

Mad Talk by Karel Appel

Mad is mad

Madmen are mad

To be mad is everything

To be everything is mad

Not to be mad is everything

To be everything is not mad

To be nothing is to be mad

To be mad is nothing

Everything is mad

Mad is everything

Because everything is mad

Yet everything is mad

And not to be mad is to be mad

Nothing is mad after all

Non-madmen are mad

Madmen are not mad

Mad is mad

Mad mad mad

Much of the work of the Cobra movement would be difficult to reproduce here. If interested, look up a few of the following artists/poets: Lucebert, Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Pierre Alechinsky, and Hugo Claus.

The movement of Cobra was shortlived, though it is these rebellions that cause new movements, that cause overall styles to shift and change.

While it’s important to respect and honor traditional styles, I think it’s also imperative to the whole literary world to rebel against them, too. Experiment with your art, with your writing. While it may not always be well-received, it’s yours to do with what you wish.

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