Spell From The Colored Section: Performance And Segregation In Contemporary Us Poetry

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All published since 2002, A Van Jordan's Macnolia, Fanny Howe's Tis of Thee, and Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary share a fascination with formal experimentation and with the relationship between the textual and the performative; they also share a focus on segregation that would seem to imply that the problem of the color-line continues to afflict the twenty-first century-though the line is located, forty years after the Civil Rights Movement, not in law but in other places, including in certain performances of language. My dissertation traces the resonance between, on the one hand, poetry's ability to employ language that exceeds racist constraints, and on the other, its exhausting, deforming and reshaping of received literary constraints. Jordan's, Howe's and Mullen's approaches to cross-genre abecedarian play insistently probe double consciousness and double voicedness-both as effects of and as potential tools against racism; my dissertation investigates the complex relationships in all three poets' work among aesthetic stance, audience, the poet, the communities they represent, and those in which they intervene. My dissertation demonstrates how 21st-century poets are building new, hybrid poetics, radical both in form and content, by drawing upon 20thcentury traditions like Black Arts, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Dada, and Oulipo without pledging orthodox allegiance to any single movement. I argue that such collaged stylistic interventions lend new vigor to the literary project of interrogating American racial and economic formations, thereby opening new poetic avenues to the liberatory performance of repetition with a difference. The dissertation takes as foundational Judith Butler's claim that illicit speech "performatively produces a shift in the terms of legitimacy," while it also addresses Robyn Weigman's notion of "the spectacle" as "the culminating moment for the panoptic's reinforcement" in the Jim Crow social order. To explore how these two insights inform practices of racialization in the present, I further draw on Saidiya Hartman's ideas concerning stage, spectacle, and scene to describe a disjunction between Butler's claims about the performativity of identity and the way contemporary poetry presents the lived experience of race.

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poetry; race; performative identity


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Samuels, Shirley R

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Van Clief-Stefanon, Lyrae
Gilbert, Roger Stephen
McClane Jr, Kenneth Anderson
Mao, Douglas

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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