Lyric Togetherness: Saying “We” in Postwar American Poetry
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CitationSpaide, Christopher. 2019. Lyric Togetherness: Saying “We” in Postwar American Poetry. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation offers a reappraisal of lyric poetry’s communicative reach and a clarified account of the past seven decades of American literary history, all by foregrounding and scrutinizing an underappreciated fact. Lyric poets writing since World War II did not speak for themselves alone: persistently, self-consciously, ingeniously, they spoke for collectives. Dissatisfied with a lyric “I” they saw as restricted or solipsistic, equally wary of pretensions to universality, postwar poets welcomed others into a carefully judged “we.” Their work is done disservice both by commonplace definitions of the lyric, which overemphasize its singular speaker, and by recent historicist approaches alleging that modern poetry has been irreversibly “lyricized”—normalized to a limiting model that idealizes the individual voice. On the contrary: postwar poets were nothing short of deliberate as they repurposed the lyric, stretching its ground from solitude to solidarity. My first chapter follows the legacy of Adrienne Rich’s feminist, intersectional “we,” founded on “a delicate, vibrating range of difference,” to twenty-first-century public poets writing on racist microaggressions, motherhood, and transnational coalitions. My second chapter turns to A. R. Ammons, Rich’s near-contemporary and poetic inverse. Rooting his universality in the material universe itself, Ammons fashioned a biology-based, species-spanning “we,” American poetry’s most expansive pronoun since Walt Whitman. My third chapter explores the African American lyric “we,” past and present, through the bifocal lenses of Terrance Hayes. Irreverently responding to Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Amiri Baraka, Hayes mines his subject matter from the African American poet’s choice between “we” and “I,” between speaking for one’s race and speaking for oneself. My final chapter centers on what I term the “ecopoetic turn of the millennium,” as generations of poets from W. S. Merwin to dg nanouk okpik cautiously revisit the notion of universality, consolidating their collectives around the species Homo sapiens. By overturning uncongenial models for lyric’s collective voice and restoring it to a distinctly American history of public discourse (from “We the People” to “Yes We Can”), my dissertation reveals the lyric to be a genre more inviting, more malleable, and certainly less solitary than we have thus far understood.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42013047
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