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Title:Tactics and Tradition in the Poetry of Thomas McGrath
Author(s):Smith, Donald Sinclair
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) is the kind of literary figure scholars interested in canon revision dream of finding: an arguably major twentieth-century American poet whose work has gone almost unnoticed by academics, and one whose signature poetic concerns and strategies require research into theoretical issues of canonicity and literary history. Born in the agrarian socialist hotbed of North Dakota, his father a one-time I. W. W. member, his mother a devout Catholic (and her family Gaelic-speaking), McGrath became a Communist Party member in the 1930s, a close student of Cleanth Brooks's at Louisiana State University in the year of the publication of Modern Poetry and the Tradition, a radical organizer on the 1940s New York City waterfront, a Rhodes Scholar, the first poet published by Alan Swallow, and a Los Angeles teacher and screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s. McGrath's career both places him at a number of important moments in this century's political and literary history and at the same time shows how he has slipped through the cracks in the canonization process; yet his work remains in print today and widely read.
This dissertation takes up McGrath's poetry in detail, both for itself and as a means to raise questions about conventional canonical narratives, not just those that have acted to repress much of this century's Left literature but also those that have shaped the academy's readings of narrower issues in poetics, prosody, and the politics of poetic form. I broach these issues chiefly by way of close rhetorical analysis: the dissertation juxtaposes McGrath's poems to analyses of the literary critical debates of his time on poetry's social function, tracing in the poetry McGrath's uses of both the most canonical and the most noncanonical literature. McGrath brings an impressive literary education and sophisticated poetic technique to bear on the task of making poems that frankly steal from the cultural landscape with the same irreverence, and for the same political motives, as the songs of the I. W. W. Songbook. The result is a poetry of tremendous range, fully modernist in ambition, yet at the same time remarkably accessible.
Issue Date:1995
Description:233 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1995.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI9543728
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1995

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