Martian poetry was a minor movement in English poetry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Poets most closely associated with it are Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. The term Martianism has also been applied more widely to include fiction as well as to poetry. The word martianism is, coincidentally, an anagram of one of its principal exponents: Martin Amis. Amis promoted the work of both Raine and Reid in the Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman.
The poet James Fenton was first to use the term in a short article in the New Statesman entitled 'Of the Martian School'. Along with Fenton's article Raine's poem 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home' was reprinted; it had first appeared in the Christmas 1977 issue of the same magazine.
Through the heavy use of curious, exotic and humorous visual metaphors, Martian Poetry aimed to break the grip of 'the familiar', by describing ordinary things in unfamiliar ways, as though, for example, through the eyes of a Martian. For instance, books and their effects upon readers are described by Raine as...
- mechanical birds with many wings
- perch on the hand
- cause the eyes to melt
- or the body to shriek without pain
This drive to make the familiar strange was carried into fiction by Martin Amis. His 1981 novel Other People: A mystery story where the story unfolds from the point of view of a protagonist who is apparently suffering from amnesia.
Martian poetry became a popular topic in the teaching of poetry composition to school children.
Related to surrealism, it arose in the context of the experimental poetry of the late 1960s; but also owes a debt to a variety of English traditions including metaphysical poetry, Anglo-Saxon riddles, and nonsense poetry (e.g.: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear). Dr Samuel Johnson's descriptions of the metaphysical poets' approach where 'the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together' could aptly describe much Martian poetry; in this context what was distinctive about Martian Poetry was its focus on visual experience.
- Raine, Craig, The Onion, Memory, Oxford University Press, 1978. ISBN 0192118773.
- Reid, Christopher, Arcadia, Oxford University Press, 1979. ISBN 0192118897.
- Raine, Craig, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, Oxford University Press, 1979. ISBN 019211896X.
- Reid, Christopher, Pea Soup, Oxford University Press, 1982. ISBN 0192119524.
- Morrison, Blake & Motion, Andrew, The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, Penguin, 1982. ISBN 0140422838.
- Diedrick, James, Understanding Martin Amis University of South Carolina Press, 2004. ISBN 1570035164.
- O'Brien, Sean, The Deregulated Muse, Bloodaxe, 1998. ISBN 1852242817.
- Robinson, Alan, Instabilities in Contemporary British Poetry, Macmillan, 1988. ISBN 0333467698.
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