The Lyre Book: Modern Poetic Media
Lyric poetry has always been a media problem. Despite its long dependence on the written page, there are few more enduring commonplaces in literary studies than lyric’s so-called “musicality”—the prosodic, ideological, and historical claims to sound that render silent texts so variously audible. Either as transcriptions of past events, or scores for future ones, lyric poems resist and unsettle their print medium by bringing the printed page into contact with other media, not least the sounding body. The word lyric itself alludes to a musical technology—the ancient Greek lyre—and the etymological persistence of this lyre brands lyric as an exemplary media problem, one defined by the historically variable, phenomenally mercurial tension between writing and sound. “The Lyre Book: Modern Poetic Media” explains how the relations of word to sound on which lyric are founded have been recast, again and again, in dynamic confrontations with modern sound technologies. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, the everyday experience of phonography, radio, and commercial pop music fundamentally transformed the writing of poetry, if not at the level of content than at the level of poetic techn_, or material craft. In the course of unfolding a theory of lyric from the rich archive of poetry’s interactions with this mass-mediated soundscape, “The Lyre Book” discovers in late modernist lyric a surprising potential for media critique. Lyric poetry illuminates the history of technology because its formal reactions to a technologized culture industry furnish a uniquely perceptive record of the social processes determining the force and direction—the cultural and sociopolitical meaning—of these new machines and infrastructures. In other words, lyric poetry is an exquisite barometer of technological change. This dissertation examines such poets as Sterling Brown, Lorine Niedecker, John Wheelwright, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, and Russell Atkins, as well as illustrative collaborations between poets and composers like Harry Partch, Kurt Weill, and Celia Thaew Zukofsky. By arguing for a theory of lyric materiality structured-in-tension between sound and print, lyres and books, “The Lyre Book” establishes modern lyric as a privileged artifact at the intersection of media studies and literary history.
American literature; Lyric poetry; Media; Modernism; Music
Kalas, Rayna M.; McEnaney, Tom
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis