After rupture : innovative identities and the formalist poetry of Akilah Oliver, Sharon Bridgforth, and Alice Notley
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This dissertation reveals a twentieth-century tradition of poetic formalism that positions race, gender, and sexuality as formal concerns, and further, as key factors in the development of contemporary formal poetics. My readings of three contemporary poets, Akilah Oliver, Sharon Bridgforth, and Alice Notley, combine formalist analysis with cultural approaches, including critical race theory and queer theory, to show how contemporary poets use form to confront racist, sexist, and homophobic representational traditions and to reshape identity discourse. This project intervenes in a critical tradition that divorces poetic form from political context and neglects formal aspects of poetries that engage with social identities, especially African American poetry. As Notley, Oliver, and Bridgforth portray racial, gender, and sexual diversity—including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered bodies—they invent and remake forms, genres, and textual strategies, from the feminist epic to the performance novel. These new forms exceed the strategies of rupture, fracture, and fragmentation that marked many modern and postmodern experiments and, in fact, reveal the limitations of rupture as a means of political critique. Instead, they widen the field of formalism, incorporating performance genres (epic, storytelling, blues) and new textual strategies to call attention to the histories of bodies and their representations, assert interdependent identities, promote pluralism, and insist on the interrelationship of literature, orality, and bodily experience.