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The 20th century saw a wide range of incredibly talented and innovative people, including amazing poets. However, when considering the people that managed to make a difference in the realm of poetry at the time, one must mention Zbyněk Hejda and Josef Hiršal. Known for introducing innovative concepts into poetry, as well as their political activism and the focus on societal concerns, both poets warranted the title of the best poets of the 20th century.
Zbyněk Hejda’s path toward world recognition was rather difficult. On the one hand, his devotion to art, literature, and history made him reach stellar results in his academic life, as well as become a rather prolific author. His first self-published book of poems made him instantly recognizable among Czech poets of the time due to the sharp and expressive manner of writing (Hilder 188). However, his attempt at rebelling against the regime nearly made him a social pariah. While having joined the ranks of the Communist Party in 1947, he continuously criticized the policy thereof and frequently produced rather caustic poems aimed at building political and social justice within the Czech society of the time. However, with the advent of change in the political landscape of the state, Hejda was finally given credit for his unique style and inspirational ideas. Although Hejda was also widely known for his translations of poems by Emily Dickinson, Georg Trakl, and Gottfried Benn, it is his poems that made him famous (Hilder 188). Hejda’s poems are sharp and minimalistic, which makes the reader appreciate the intelligent and accurate choice of words in them even more. Thus, the expressivity, emotional charge, and eloquence of Hejda’s poems made him one of the best poets of the 20th century.
Another poet that made a difference in the realm of Czech poetry, Josef Hiršal must be recognized for his contribution to the development of experimental poetry. Placing a very heavy emphasis on the technique in which poems are written, the experimental genre implies an unceasing search for new tools and methods of expression (Greene and Cushman 140). Hiršal, in turn, reinvented the genre by claiming that the function of speech and its units needed to be reconsidered (Greene and Cushman 140). The poet’s assumption regarding the necessity to breathe new life into words, which must have worn out their meaning to the point where a poet must challenge it led to the creation of bizarre yet marvelous and truly inspiring pieces. Hiršal died on September 15, 2003, yet his legacy still lives and takes a very special place in the poetry of the 20th century (Greene and Cushman 140).
Zbyněk Hejda and Josef Hiršal both contributed massively to the evolution of poetry by incorporating innovative ideas into it but also affected the political and social landscape of Czechoslovakia and, later on, the Czech Republic. Although, technically, the approach to poetry that each of them used was unique and strikingly different from the other, their vision of poetry as the means of expressing one’s artistic intent but also as the means of encouraging a discussion and serving as inspiration made their poems similar. Zbyněk Hejda and Josef Hiršal remain two of the most renowned poets of the 20th century, and their voice is still heard in every line of their work.
Greene, Ronald, and Stephen Cushman. The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries. Princeton University Press, 2016.
Hilder, Jamie. Designed Words for a Designed World: The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955-1971. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP, 2016.