Sound off! : recording voice and the racial politics of American experimental poetry

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2018-05

Authors

Boruszak, Jeffrey Kyle

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Abstract

The racial politics of the avant-garde is one of the dominant and most urgent issues in twenty-first century American poetry. Non-white poets often find themselves excluded from contemporary avant-garde circles, historical narratives of avant-garde practices frequently occlude their contributions, and avant-garde poets rarely include anti-racist rhetoric and principles in their poems. In recent years, the anti-lyric critiques posed by the avant-garde Language poets in the 1980s and 1990s drew increased attention for their role in racially segregating experimental and formally innovative writers. Poetic voice, the rejection of which is a cardinal principle of anti-lyric, became a central figure in these discussions. Yet given that voice can refer to the phenomenal act of speaking as well as serve as a common figure for an individual poet’s style and tone, the nature of the links between voice and race in poetry remain unclear. This dissertation therefore incorporates current trends in the scholarly field of sound studies by attending to postwar American poets who use technology for sound recording and reproduction in their work in order to isolate voice as an object of intense scrutiny. By analyzing the Vietnam-era “auto poesy” of Allen Ginsberg, the dystopian specter colonialism in poems by Cathy Park Hong, and the typographical experiments of Douglas Kearney, this project engages both analog and digital recording technologies and their applications as compositional processes, structural metaphors, and aesthetic influences. Rather than focus on how voice is produced in the acts of speaking and writing, I engage the cultural norms that code sounds and inform human listening practices in order to argue that voice is dynamic, fluid, and contextual. Given their significant overlap in political commitments, acknowledging the whiteness of the avant-garde suggests the possibility of creating a broader and more inclusive coalition of experimental poets whose combined efforts can bring about desirable shifts in political, pedagogical, and publishing norms

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