Why has surrealism been such a success in painting and such a failure in poetry? Why do some of the most striking lines in twentieth-century poetry—Antonin Artaud’s “the sky flows into the nostrils/ like a nutritious blue milk”—go forgotten and unread, if they were ever remembered in the first place? One of the twentieth century’s most recognizable images is Salvador Dalí ’s The Persistence of Memory. But if asked to name a single surrealist poem or line of surrealist poetry, most people, critics included, would be stumped.
These were some of the questions that came to mind as I was reading Willard Bohn’s recent anthology, Surrealist Poetry.