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Pylon School

Twentieth Century Verse, The Magnetic Mountain, Livelihood, New Country, British Writers of the Thirties

imagery poets modes britain

a term loosely applied to numerous poets of the 1930s whose work contained imagery reflecting the impact of industry and technology upon Britain's landscape and culture. It was used from about 1935 onward, often disparagingly; Julian Symons, for example, expressed relief in the first issue of Twentieth Century Verse (1937) that Dylan Thomas was not ‘a Pylon-Pitworks-Pansy poet’. Pylons feature in several well-known poems written early in the decade: W. H. Auden refers to them in ‘Get there if you can and see the land you once were proud to own …’ and ‘The chimneys are smoking, the crocus is out on the border …’, as do Cecil Day Lewis in ‘Look west, Wystan, lone flyers’ of The Magnetic Mountain (1933) and Charles Madge in ‘Instructions’; Stephen Spender's ‘The Pylons’ is the definitive specimen, and, arguably, the most vulnerable to ridicule for its ‘Pylons, those pillars | Bare like nude, giant girls that have no secret’. Other poets classifiable as members of the Pylon School are Louis MacNeice, A. S. J. Tessimond, John Lehmann, and Michael Roberts, all of whom make significant use of industrial modernity as a source of imagery in some of their work of the period. Wilfrid Gibson's poetry from Livelihood (1917) onwards prefigures such writing in its social concern and its frequent allusions to mechanical processes. Roberts's New Country anthology of 1933 was rich in references to machinery, factories, and modes of power and transport; among such features, the pylon was emphatically up-to-date, the completion of Britain's National Grid having been achieved in 1933. In British Writers of the Thirties (1989) Valentine Cunningham discusses the pylon's function as a symbol of technological progress and considers the influence of Futurism and related Modernist (see Modernism) modes on the use of such imagery by British poets of the 1930s.

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