Characteristics of Contemporary Poetry

Characteristics of Contemporary PoetryYou’ve probably heard the phrase contemporary poetry, but what does it mean and what characteristics does it have? In this article, we will look at the four different eras of poetry along with how to spot contemporary poetry using the five basic characteristics associated with it.

First, let’s go ahead and talk about what the phrase means.

It actually depends! Yep, there are actually two different meanings. The first meaning is simply anyone who has been writing recently. Yeah. It is a time word. For example, we can say there are Victorian, Industrial, Modern, and Contemporary poets over the past 150 years.

On the other hand, contemporary can be seen as a style of poetry written today. With this, we can divide poets up into four groups–traditional, modern, post-modern, and contemporary. Actually, many people divide it into only two groups–traditional and modern or traditional and contemporary.

Experience it. Listen to a contemporary poem by Gary R. Hess.

Characteristics of the four types of poets

Traditional: Typically traditional poetry is anything written with a fixed verse.

Modern: Typically modern poetry is infused with diction and rhythm. However, it is established by non-metrical means.

Post-modern: Post-modern poetry emphasizes the role of the poet, the role of the reader, and highlights the cultural place the poem is read. The poem is seen as a cultural artifact.

Contemporary: Typically moves back towards traditional forms. However, it also may include other characteristics.

Five characteristics of Contemporary Poetry:

  1. Contemporary poetry is often written in free verse (unrhymed and with no specific metrical rhythm).
  2. Readers know and can associate with the language.
  3. It is brief.
  4. The poet laces the poem with images using all the reader’s senses.
  5. It invites the reader to interpret the poem without yelling from the rooftops the true meaning of the poem.

Generally speaking, however, we don’t necessarily differentiate poets in such a way. We can use words like contemporary-style and modernist poets but it doesn’t always have the meaning we want. The context of the subject matter is more important than the actual definition the term itself may have.

Nonetheless, context does distinguish poetry eras with good reason. An era does not make a man but men make an era. Eras take on such personality because of an overwhelming majority of established poets writing in a specific style. Nonetheless, not all poets during that time frame will write in that particular style.

A poetic era is a very general term. If someone writes in the era, they don’t always follow the eras form or style.

Post-modern Contemporary Poetry

Today, there are two groups of contemporary era poets. One group is for going back to traditional forms and using meter/rhyme. The other group is returning slightly back towards traditional poetry in the sense of using cadence more than dada-style work we saw in post-modern style poetry (especially in Slam Poetry: see “Justice in Life” for an example).

As we look at the characteristics above, we can see that contemporary poetry is much closer to traditional poetry than its post-modern cousin. However, it is still a step away from modern poetry.

Nonetheless, the gap between prose and poetry is once again widening and experts believe we will see the other side of contemporary authors increasing.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.


  1. nice post. your post reminds me of why i can never understand the use of the phrase “new and improved,” on products. if it is new, it didn’t exist before, if it improved, it can’t be new. so i thank you for explaining this using poetry. in my estimation modern means an improved version of something old – for instance, a 2016 audi is a modern version of a 1987 model. meaning something developed/improved upon from an existing model. for instance, shakespearean language as opposed to modern english in a sonnet. as opposed to traditional – which is a way things are done. e.g. sonnets traditionally have 14 lines and two structures – shakespearean (abab rhyme scheme, three quatrains and a couplet, iambic pentameter) or petrarchan (abba rhyme scheme, divided into an octave and a sestet) etc. contemporary means what is current at any time something is done or exists. which means contemporary could apply in the example given previously to 1987 or 2016 audi. for instance, your use of “yep” in this article is modern. a newer version of “yes”, which will not be applicable in much older blogs which were more rigid and formal. in a sense, you have improved on the stuffiness of blogs from the past. thanks for visiting my blog. this was a good read.

  2. Thank you for this clear presentation of the characteristics of contemporary poetry. By your definitions, I would label myself as traditional/contemporary. I do like to make people think with my poems, but I am turned off by the abstract poems of many modern-day writers that appear to have been written while under the influence of drugs. I write a lot of free verse, but I also love structured poetic forms, both traditional and invented. In fact, I’m in the process of trying them all to see which ones I like best. I could never fill a book with sonnets, like Edna St. Vincent Millay, nor would I want to write everything without rhyme and meter. I believe variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to poetry. 🙂

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