The Many Faces of Poetry: Poetry And Surrealism

Ego within the Ego

Surrealism And Poetry, by Art Rosch

Surrealism as a concept is well entrenched in the world’s consciousness. If you say, or think, the word “surreal”, a panoply of images will no doubt arise. “Weird, strange, odd, Salvador Dali, the subconscious, unlikely juxtapositions.” Anyway, that’s what pops into my head. You might think of snails, rock and roll and Frank Zappa…how the hell would I know what you think? Surrealism can be elusive. Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes the surreal. I find the world itself to be extremely surreal.

Let’s ask the internet. “Surrealism: a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.”

Aha! Surrealism began as a movement around the time of World War One. The fact that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were unlocking hidden layers in our psyches bears strongly on the rise of surrealism. Another important quote:” Surrealism allows us to see art in it’s purest form because it stems from imagination rather than rational thought. Because of this, artists are able to better express their emotions and thoughts through this art form.”

It was the writer Andre Breton who is regarded as the founder of Surrealism. In 1924 he wrote The Surrealist Manifesto. There were heated arguments, even violent brawls, over who got credit for being the father of Surrealism. That seems only appropriate. What events could be more surreal than fights over Surrealism? Consider those fights as early bits of performance art.

Earlier today I was talking to Poetry and I asked it, “When did you abandon rhyme and meter?” Let’s leave aside the vast bodies of oriental literature. They were never as welded to meter and rhyme as was the literature of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Shelley and Keats. I will be writing about this question in a later essay. I was asking the question because I realized that I have hardly ever written rhymed poetry. I realized that I have been a surrealist my whole life. Surrealism dovetails nicely with fantasy and science fiction and, provided one has the chops, er, the technique, the tools of modern poetry are liberating. In fact, rhyming poetry now sounds quaint, even corny. Forgive me if I insult your work, for no doubt there are many exceptional poets who use rhyme and meter.

Here, though, is Andre Breton:


All Paradise Is Not Love

The stone cocks turn to crystal
They defend the dew with battering crests
And then the charming flash of lightning
Strikes the banner of ruins
The sand is no more than a phosphorescent clock
Murmuring midnight
Through the arms of a forgotten woman
No shelter revolving in the fields
Is prepared for Heaven’s attacks and retreats
It is here
The house and its hard blue temples bathe in the night
that draws my images
Heads of hair, heads of hair
Evil gathers its strength quite near
But will it want us?


I think poetry like this is meant to be felt, not to be understood. Put away your rational mind and allow the words to penetrate to a deeper level. That’s what surrealism is asking of us. In the 1920s there was an epochal change in all art, all philosophy, all advanced thought. Science and art were getting closer to one another. Freud’s work was bleeding into the thinking of the poets and painters. There was really something going on, a ferment, a frisson, an explosion of creative energy. Such movements and moods arise in regular cycles. A war had just ended that challenged the very imagination of mankind. And another, even more shattering war, was just over the horizon. Artists of every stripe felt the need to come to grips with the overwhelming sense of violence in the air. Dali was painting clocks that hung melting over tree branches. His “Premonitions Of The Spanish Civil War” is a painting of a monster that can’t let go of itself. The Surrealists flocked to Paris in the 1920s and must have had a hell of a lot of fun. I wasn’t there but I’m here now in another efflorescence of the odd, the weird and the strangely juxtaposed. We are in another one of these epochs of high creativity.

One of my most surrealistic poems is this one, “Ghost Voiices”

Ghost voices grow

like weaving spires in the corridor of the night.

Stalactites of moonlight,

they hum and fade

through the wake of other minds.

A sheet of star rain glinting light,

a mist of moon- heat lost from sight

these spectral hints emerge

from the night floor in the dark.

Silver waving plants recede forever

in a song of twinkling echoes.

Ghost voices, shadow worlds

arise and converse

while my sleep waits beyond the hills,



This poem was inspired by a piece of avant garde music, something I listened to while under the influence of mushrooms. What does it make you feel? Anything? Or does it just go ‘wheeeewwwww…zoooom’ see ya later? That fleeting moment between wakefulness and sleep is called a “hypnagogic state”. I was in such a state when the poem wrote itself. It must have been around 1972. I regard it as surrealistic poetry, unmoored from rationality, free to tickle around inside your psyche.

That, my friends, is this month’s musing on poetry in its wonders and aspects.


Arthur Rosch: A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography.  In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders.  The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression.  He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy.  It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience.  He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California.


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