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Martian Poetry

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, locus classicus, Arcadia, Pea Soup, Looking into the Deep End

poets imaginative

James Fenton's term for a mode of composition characterized by the use of startlingly unusual metaphors and similes produced by imaginative transpositions of visual data. The heyday of Martian poetry began in 1979, when Craig Raine's A Martian Sends a Postcard Home appeared, the title poem of which is the locus classicus of the idiom; its opening lines provide an example of the procedures by which everyday objects, in this instance books, are metaphorically estranged: ‘Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings | and some are treasured for their markings’. Occasionally, familiarity is so thoroughly displaced by Martian strategies that the reader must endeavour to establish correspondences between images presented and the actualities from which they derive; success affords a satisfaction akin to that experienced upon solving crossword puzzles. Eminent among the other poets of the school are Christopher Reid, whose Arcadia (1979) and Pea Soup (1982) exhibit great dexterity in the manipulation of detail, and David Sweetman, whose Looking into the Deep End (1981) was noted for the acuity and strangeness of its imagery. The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry (1982, edited by A. Motion and Blake Morrison) accorded significance to the Martians, whose characteristic tone of detachment is indicated in the Introduction's view of them as ‘not inhabitants of their own lives so much as intrigued observers’. The movement, although little heard of after about 1985, was of value in stimulating new interest in the imaginative aspects of poetry and had a subtle but pervasive influence on the techniques of image formation in the work of numerous poets.

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