The role of the poet : poetry performance at the beginning of the twenty-first century
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This dissertation examines poets’ public performances in order to understand the social role of the poet in contemporary America. In the twenty-first century, poetry is increasingly disseminated through live events and digital media, and a rising number of people publicly share their poems. These changes present challenges for authors looking to attain credibility in the eyes of critics and audiences. The Role of the Poet examines how four poets perform their differences from non-authors, and thus form relationships with their audiences. In constructing roles for themselves, poets also make claims about the ontology of poems—whether they are primarily written, oral, or performative works of art. Each chapter focuses on an individual poet’s strategies for performing the role of the poet, and by extension, constructing the role of the audience. The chapters examine the ways poets define poetry; they include discussions of poetry’s ontology and how public poetry performances affect the artform. Performances of authorship are shaped through the vehicles of poets’ writings, poetry readings, interviews, teaching methods, and public programs. Chapter 2 examines Robert Pinsky’s performance of authorship as authority, relating that performance to Pinsky’s canonical ambitions and his affirmation that poetry is an oral, but not performative art. Chapter 3 focuses on Billy Collins’s performance of authenticity, investigating the apparent paradox of achieving popularity while maintaining artistic integrity. Beau Sia’s political poetry is the subject of Chapter 4; his ability to affect change in his audience is considered, as well as his goal of an author-audience alliance. Lastly, Patricia Smith’s performance of authorship as a means of survival is discussed in Chapter 5. Smith performs intimacy with her audience; by sharing details of her life she models the process of writing in order to deal with various kinds of trauma.