Poetry's Work: Labor and Poiesis, 1950 to the Present

Turner, Lindsay, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ramazani, R, Department of English, University of Virginia
Fraiman, Susan, Department of English, University of Virginia
Spaar, Lisa, Creative Writing Program, University of Virginia

Although Plato famously expels the poet from his Republic, Poetry’s Work: Labor and Poiesis, 1950 to the Present argues for the poet’s continued place in the contemporary city not only as a visionary or an intellectual, but—returning to the etymology of “poetry” in the Greek verb for “to make”—as a maker, subject to but uniquely able to help us think about the global transformations, contradictions, and crises that characterize work today. My research brings the work of theorists such as Sarah Brouillette, Silvia Federici, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Cedric Robinson, and Saskia Sassen, among others, together with readings of poems, assembling a set of modern and contemporary American poets whose politics, racialized or gendered identities, and aesthetic practices—as well as their various positions in and among hegemonic and often exported forms of labor—give unique vantage points at moments during a global transformation of work. Joining scholars of form and poetry such as Caroline Levine, David Palumbo-Liu, Jahan Ramazani, Anthony Reed, and Dorothy Wang, I focus on the particular capacities of poetic form to reveal the social and historical world of the poem’s making. Setting poetic and non-poetic making as kindred and complementary activities, I offer a version of poetic form that reveals its own creation as bound up with both global processes and aesthetic value, and, in so doing, opens onto new understandings of labor, as well as renewed emphasis on the value of aesthetic work.

My first chapter charts changes in globalized labor of information that are linked to a shift from Fordism to what has been seen as a regime of “immaterial labor” through the work of John Ashbery and Ara Shirinyan, using the poetic figure of ekphrasis. These poets provide a nuanced view of the work—material as well as “immaterial”—involved in this shift. Together, they point to the conditions of worsening global inequality that characterize the period under consideration. In a second chapter, I examine the forms of “song” and “sonnet” beside gendered reproductive or domestic labor in the poems of Alice Notley, Catherine Wagner, and Sandra Simonds; these forms provide flexible and dynamic models for a multi-valenced type of work that has been difficult to categorize. A third chapter takes up the problem of the massive expulsions and displacements from work happening today on a global scale. The work of a set of contemporary poets—Mark Nowak, Fred Moten, Caroline Bergvall, and Bhanu Kapil—gives a range of formal manifestations of life and work on what Sassen terms “the systemic edge.” A final coda tracks the figure of paralipsis across different contexts (creative labor, gendered domestic or reproductive labor on several geographical scales) in the poetry of Anne Boyer, demonstrating the flexibility of this rhetorical form, its ability to contain resistance to work and awareness of work’s value simultaneously, and its self-awareness of both similarities to and differences from other sorts of work.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
poetry and poetics, contemporary American poetics, global literature, labor
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