poem index

A Brief Guide to Futurism

Year

2004
Printer-friendly version

Futurism was a twentieth-century Italian and Russian avant-garde movement in literature and arts. It promoted extreme artistic innovation and experimentation, declaring a radical disassociation from the past and a focus on new art, technology, and politics, commonly manifested through primitivism. The Futurists strongly rejected the self-awareness behind the overextended lyricism of symbolism—the dominant school of the time. In contrast, it showed a preference for the visual arts that discussed conservative social elements and challenged them in order to provoke a violent negative response.

Italian Futurism began with a manifesto by F. T. Marinetti (1876-1944) titled "Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo" ("The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism"), which declared that artistic work without an aggressive element could not be considered a masterpiece. He enunciated the principles of Futurism in relation to poetry in "Parole in Libertà" ("Words in Freedom"), demanding a language free of syntax and logical ordering that allowed the poet to rapidly convey intense emotion. In "Immaginazione Senza Fili" ("Wireless Imagination") and "Analogia Disegnata" ("Pictorialized Analogy"), he discussed the maximum freedom of imagery and metaphor, which led to expressive use of typography—a varying of font sizes and styles within a word or on the same line and free disposition of words on the printed page. Other important Italian Futurists poets were E. Cavacchioli, L. Folgore, and A. Palazzeschi.

Russian Futurism, like Italian Futurism, began as a revolt against the symbolist movement in Russia. The Russian Futurists split into two sub-schools: Cubo-Futurism and Ego-Futurism. Cubo-Futurism called for a broadening of the language with arbitrary and derived words. Major poets of this movement included David Burliuk (1882-1967), Aleksej Krucenyx (1886-1968), Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), and Viktor (Velemir) Khlebnikov (1885-1932).

Khlebnikov was acclaimed as the most profound and inventive poet of the Cubo-Futurism movement. His study ranged from dense and private neologisms to exotic verseforms written in palindromes. His poetry, albeit innovative and inspirational to his contemporaries, was too impenetrable to reach a popular audience. Another widely celebrated poet to come out of Cubo-Futurism was Mayakovsky, whose poetics were a mixture of extravagant exaggerations and self-centered and arduous imagery.

After his death, Mayakovsky was canonized by Joseph Stalin as "the best and most talented poet of the Soviet epoch." The second sub-school, Ego-Futurism, gained momentum in 1911 with poet Ivan Ignate’ev, who lived in Petersburg, Russia. He wrote numerous manifestos and ran the Petersburg Herald. Ego-Futurism, like Cubo-Futuristm, was preoccupied with urban imagery, eccentric words, neologisms, and experimental rhymes. In contrast to Cubo-Futurism, the Ego-Futurists employed a less typographically rigorous method of experimentation and were more interested in the intensive exploration of the "self" through poetry. Other poets in Ego-Futurism include Vasilisk Gnedov (1890-1978), Igor’-Severjanin (1887-1941), and V. Sersenevic (1893-1942).

Futurism became a vast movement in the early 1900s, influencing poets throughout Slavic countries, Spain, and England.


Edward Hirsch also writes about Futurism in his book A Poet's Glossary:

futurism: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944) dramatically launched the futurist movement on February 20, 1909, with his “violently upsetting, incendiary manifesto” called “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (“We had stayed up all night, my friends and I”) and then bombarded Europe with his proclamations about the future. The wordfuturism had a startling success, and the new movement spread rapidly through Italy, France, Spain, England, and Russia. The hyperkinetic Marinetti, who christened himself “the caffeine of Europe,” the self-proclaimed “primitive of a new sensibility,” was the driving force of futurism. “I felt, all of a sudden, that articles, poetries, and polemics no longer sufficed,” he said. “You had to change methods, go down in the street, seize power in all the theatres, and introduce the fisticuff into the war of art.” The manifesto was his weapon, and he used it to praise danger and revolt, aggressive action, “the beauty of speed” (he famously proclaimed that “A racing car . . . is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”), “the metallization of man,” the violent joys of crowds and cities. He also showed appalling innocence about war, which he glorified as “the world’s only hygiene.”

read more