Lyric as Comedy

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Lyric as Comedy

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Title: Lyric as Comedy
Author: McRae, Calista Anne
Citation: McRae, Calista Anne. 2016. Lyric as Comedy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Although the twentieth-century lyric poem might seem to intensify a genre of sentiment into a genre of meditative or tumultuous solipsism, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, A. R. Ammons, Lucie Brock-Broido, and Terrance Hayes write lyrics that are funny, on several planes. Each of these poets enacts a self-revealing comedy of the mind and its often labored, blinkered, or illogical cognitive processes; each also creates a comedy of style, where language and form exceed and confound paraphrase. This thesis brings out such comedies, arguing that lyric is a livelier, more paradoxical, and certainly less solipsistic genre than is yet recognized. While most theories of the comic emphasize superiority, incongruity, or subversion, lyric poetry suggests that comedy originates in something miraculously apt and failed, at once: the comedy of lyric springs from deflected, or misdirected, perfection, and from the miraculous achievement of a less-than-sublime end. Berryman, who sets formal wildness in a fixed stanza, provides an opening instance of how comedy balances between the decidedly flawed and the marvelous. Lowell’s incongruities, which undermine every quality that threatens to dominate a poem, surprise by the unlooked-for harmonies they produce. Ammons turns his concerns about inarticulate failing into a comedy of ineptness, enacting the workings of an inconsistent mind with precision. Brock-Broido’s humor appears as utter doubleness, requiring that we see the beautiful and the ludicrous together; her comedy does not extinguish her Romantic postures, but suffuses them. Hayes enacts the luck of the erratic, associative mind, as it takes in, is altered by and transforms its surroundings: disparate styles, tones, devices, and allusions come together to convey something beyond their semantic point.
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