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Title:Engaging aesthetics: American poetry and politics, 1925-1950
Author(s):Thurston, Michael Tracy
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, United States
Literature, American
Political Science, General
Abstract:Amidst attempts to repoliticize American literary study, some recent scholars have set aside or pushed to the background questions of aesthetic quality in political poetry. But many poets active during the 1930's and 1940's saw political engagement and poetic accomplishment as mutually reinforcing. These poets recognized that effective political poetry must fashion imagined communities, collections of people with shared values, goals, and commitments. I read this poetry in the networks of publication, circulation and reception that surround it, taking these practices into account as crucial components of the textual acts the poems comprise. The poets I discuss--Edwin Rolfe, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and Muriel Rukeyser--represent a range of attitudes toward poetry, politics, and the relationship between the two. My approach addresses a set of broad theoretical issues: the relationship between the categories of the aesthetic and the political, the consequent construction of traditions or canons, and, not least, the cultural politics entailed by these.
In the first part of the dissertation, I focus on two poets who strive to effect political change through traditional poetic strategies. Edwin Rolfe's career illustrates the mutability of the English lyric tradition in the hands of a gifted political poet. Although the texture of Langston Hughes' poetry is obviously different from that of Rolfe's, Hughes' effectiveness as a political poet also rests on his ability to reach out from his cultural position to fashion temporary and tactical alliances between diverse communities.
The dissertation's second part teases out the implications of Ezra Pound's phrase "a poem including history" to address the collision between high-Modernist aesthetics and political work. I examine how Pound and Muriel Rukeyser worked from opposite ends of the political spectrum to assimilate political concerns into their modernist texts by incorporating historical documents.
Issue Date:1995
Rights Information:Copyright 1995 Thurston, Michael Tracy
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9624515
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9624515

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