The View from Key West: Toward a Global South Atlantic Lyric

Campbell, Marvin, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Cushman, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

“The View from Key West” argues that the map of American modernist and contemporary poetry and poetics cannot be drawn without the Global South Atlantic that operates from Key West—a liminal space for writers of the twentieth-century to rethink nation, race, sexual difference, and gender within a transnational frame. Though the increasingly global dimensions of literary study remain focused on the novel, crossings have been equally significant to Anglophone poetics. As Jahan Ramazani’s work has repeatedly shown, there exists a “traveling poetry” even when poets remained fixed, because poems travel—literally and figuratively. “The View from Key West” offers one such mapping of a travel, looking to the South Atlantic, instead of the North, for an understanding of how a phase of American literary history has been formed, shaped, and inflected.
From the peninsular tip of the United States to the larger Gulf Region and beyond, the Global South Atlantic has facilitated a crosscultural exchange where poets in the United States, Caribbean, and Americas dissolve national borders and geographical boundaries, alongside conceptual ones of culture and identity, at the same time as they run up against the gaps, tensions, and violence, of a sharp power differential left by the Middle Passage.
Focusing on the work of Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, Derek Walcott, and Jean Toomer, my study shows how American poetry both remapped itself and was itself remapped by this wide array of Anglo-American, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean poets.
Launching investigations into Cuba, Brazil, Aruba, Central America, the Galapagos, St. Lucia, on the one hand; and the Plains States, the Midwest, the Southern United States, and New York, on the other, they reveal at once the productive cross-connections and insurmountable tensions that define the relationship between North and South. By rendering the hemisphere as mutually constitutive in this way, the Global South Atlantic Lyric decenters the former in favor of a fluid, free-ranging matrix without a center, placing into conversation poets who are often segregated by race as well as nation, crediting investments in social reality and identity to others, such as Stevens, who are not often credited with them, and revealing that American literature—like American history—must be viewed through the lens of South Atlantic, which begins in Key West and extends infinitely outward.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literature, poetry, American modernism
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