The ABC of Poetism

Poetism, an avant-garde aesthetic programme, was intended to help overcome the mental upheaval caused by the First World War through its positive emotional mood, lyricism and sensitivity. At the same time, it was a manifestation of the dynamic style of the electric century. An unconventional concept of art was created. Picture-poems became the typical expression of Poetism. They were often designed for book covers, which functioned as teasers for the contents of the book.

The theoretical principles of “Poetism” were formulated by Karel Teige, who perceived it as a new aesthetic programme as well as a modern way of feeling about life. With its positive emotional attunement, lyricism and sensitivity, Poetism was to help heal the psychological shocks caused by the First World War. At the same time, it was a manifestation of the dynamic style of the electrical century. Both were reflected in the non-traditional Poetistic concept of art that Teige equated with poetry. The process of bringing together different types of art and the creation of new aesthetic forms corresponded to these ideas. Typical of Poetist creations were the “picture-poems”, composed of various elements – both pictorial and textual. Their compositional arrangement combined the geometrical order and principle of montage, which allowed for a sequential reading and a simultaneous means of perception. The picture-poems were often designed for book wrappers, serving as trailers for the book’s content. They were intended to be reproduced and disseminated in printed form. 

Vilma Hubáčková

Modern typography

As the technological civilization developed, the way of perceiving reality changed, and there arose the need for an internationally communicative language. A visual form of communication came to the fore through this change in the concept of poetry. The process by which it was “opticized” continued; the image and poem were completely intertwined in the picture-poems. The collage and photomontage often employed in designing book wrappers became a suitable means of expression. Devětsil’s members, including Otakar Mrkvička, Karel Teige, Jindřich Štyrský, Toyen, Jiří Jelínek, František Muzika and Adolf Hoffmeister, among others, played a significant role in their implementation.

The new form of the book

The new form of the book from the 1920s was linked with the breakthrough of the new typographical principles that were defined and practiced by Karel Teige. Modernism consisted of overcoming decorativism. The geometric style of the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism became a source of inspiration. Teige’s typography, bringing together the systematics of Constructivism with the associativity of Poetism, greatly contributed to the avant-garde form of published collections of poetry by Czech poets Vítězslav Nezval, František Halas, Jaroslav Seifert and Konstantin Biebl, as well as of translations of works by Guillaume Apollinaire, Ilya Ehrenburg, Marcel Proust and others.


The book Abeceda (Alphabet, 1926) is a seminal work of the Poetist movement. It is a multimedia collaborative work combining various artistic disciplines presented by leading avant-garde artists. The poems of Vítězslav Nezval, inspired by the shapes of letters of the alphabet, were choreographically interpreted by Milča Mayerová. Photographs of her dance compositions taken by Karel M. Paspa were worked with based on the principles of new constructivist typography by Karel Teige. The impression of spatiality was created by combining photography and typography (typofoto). In expressing the form of the letters through modern dance, the borders of art were expanded by another element of performativity.

This website uses cookies.

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, provide social media features and analyze our traffic. We also share information about the use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. They may use the data together with other information they collect about you while using their services.

Deny all
Show details
Allow all