Tactual Poïesis: Material Translation In Contemporary Women's Poetry

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Critical studies of literature and the arts have long emphasized visual comparisons between the two-dimensional spaces of the page and the canvas, often to the exclusion of other senses, dimensions, and media. Tactual Poïesis develops an expanded vocabulary for how to read literature and the arts through attention to tactile, multi-dimensional innovations in the poetry of Susan Howe, Cecilia Vicuña, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. As contemporary poets continue to broaden the material, tactile dimensions of their writing, an equal expansion in critical discourse becomes necessary. For Howe, Vicuña, and Cha, ordinary textual conditions no longer satisfy-the poem must be seen, heard, and felt. At the heart of each poet s formal innovation is the potential for tactual poïesis: a rewriting of history and a reordering of the contemporary world through poetic and readerly processes that are, literally, hands-on. I argue that it is precisely a poem s tactility that makes its text, and the histories contained therein, actual, present, and physical-and therefore, subject to manipulation by both poet and reader. The histories these poets revise are numerous and far-ranging: from personal, familial narratives in Howe s The Midnight and Cha s Dictee, to cultural and national memories in Dictee and Vicuña s cloud-net, to linguistic and literary conventions in all three works together. My first chapter examines Howe s textual and visual collage in The Midnight as an elegiac performance, whereby the poet transforms the book into a costumed extension of her own body. This transformation animates the text from within and activates an intermediate space between the living and the dead. My second chapter argues that Vicuña s cloud-net relies on bodily contact between poet, reader, and text to open the "trans": a transitive space between the present and an earlier time prior to globalization, global warming, and species loss. From the "trans," the poet attempts to reclaim the forces of universal genesis and heal the destruction wrought since then. My third chapter argues that Cha s Dictee imagines the possibility of the material, tactile word as a means of concretizing history and exchanging the seeds of anti-colonial resistance from one body to another.

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poetry; visual art; touch


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Gilbert, Roger Stephen

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Samuels, Shirley R
Kalas, Rayna M

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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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