Word Of Mouth: Gossip And American Poetry
"Word of Mouth" divulges the dynamic relationship between gossip and twentieth-century verse, placing particular emphasis on the queer sensibilities expressed and engendered by a lyric negotiation of gossip's risks and pleasures. Over the course of an introduction and three chapters I examine what I call lyric gossip-a subgenre of lyric poetry, modeled on the discourse of gossip-primarily as it appears in the work of Gertrude Stein, Frank O'Hara, and James Merrill. At first blush, gossip's ostensibly frivolous talk about others would seem at odds with a lyric poetry commonly understood as serious, subjective, solitary expression. Yet the poets I consider make significant use of the often-disavowed gossip that circulates about them and their work, turning to the rhetorical strategies of what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes as the "precious, devalued arts of gossip" in part to address shifting conceptions of privacy and publicity, self and community, and talk and technology, and in part to illuminate and reinvigorate lyric precepts and practice. More than simply mapping a curious poetic mode, I find in their lyric gossip a peculiarly rich vantage from which to spy twentieth-century poetry more broadly, including larger questions of agency and relationality that inform figures of poetic address, voice, speaker, and tone. Throughout "Word of Mouth," such questions arise especially from queer cultural contexts in which the vexed issues of sexuality and style coalesce around both the idiom and figure of the gossip. Of course, not all gossip is queer, but all gossip, by virtue of its motivating interest in the non-normative, potentially entails queer effects. The poets in my study pursue such effects, exploring how phobic sexual suspicion can paradoxically limn queer possibility-how repressive gossip can become a vehicle for the performance of alternative sexualities and concomitant meditations on alternative modes of lyric practice.
Gilbert, Roger Stephen
Fried, Debra; Hanson, Ellis; Salvato, Nicholas G; Mao, Douglas
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis