Circus Aesthetics, Travel, History, and Mourning in the Poetry of Robert Hayden
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CitationMicconi, Giovanna. 2016. Circus Aesthetics, Travel, History, and Mourning in the Poetry of Robert Hayden. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractCircus Aesthetics examines the work of the African American poet Robert Hayden and engages with the problem of identifying different frameworks with which to think about Hayden’s poetry and African American literature more broadly. In 1978, two years before his death, Hayden, the first African American poet to be nominated Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress, was still struggling and fighting with the idea of being considered a “black poet” and with the socio-political implications and expectations that accompanied that label. During his address to the Library of Congress on May 8, 1978, he reiterated his discomfort at discussions of whether he was or was not a black poet and claimed that “poets too are keepers of a nation’s conscience, the partisans of freedom and justice, even when they eschew political involvement.” Hayden has often been analyzed and read in the context of his racial, religious, or stylistic affiliations (as an African American, a Bahá’í, or a modernist poet). His poetics, however, are inclusive and engage with the exploration of a universal ethos where alterity is examined and celebrated. Circus Aesthetics argues that Hayden’s formal and thematic features are grounded in the African American literary tradition as well as in cosmopolitan and Universalist principles, thus making of him a rooted “transpolitan,” who defies notions of national borders as well as western understandings of cosmopolitanism. Looking at Hayden’s poetry through careful and sustained close readings, this dissertation adds a new dimension to Hayden’s work by thinking of new, hemispheric ways in which to think of literature and the intersection of time, space, and history.
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