Hush, somebody's calling my name : the Haint elegy and Black women's poetry

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2017-05

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“Hush Somebody’s Calling My Name: The Haint Elegy and Black Women’s Poetry,” examines haunting as an epistemological structure that makes a distinctive contribution to elegy, the poetry of loss and mourning. I posit that as categorically marginal figures, black women appear in elegies as both the haunted and the ghost, a liminal position I call the haint. By reckoning with haints in these poems, black women rework the genre of elegy, challenging canonical ideas about who lives and who dies, who mourns and who remembers. As Avery Gordon suggests, haunting “registers the harm inflicted or the loss sustained by a social violence done in the past or in the present.” It is not always obvious to those outside its reach. Similarly, black women’s elegies are not always overt; the haint must be witnessed to be meaningful. A signifier of harm and unjust absence, it also signifies what remains; black women’s elegies are sites of social death and subjective resurrection. Using a black feminist methodology I apply close readings and formal analysis that takes into account lived experience, and social, emotional and spiritual climates as conditions of lyric construction. The introduction grounds Phillis Wheatley as the archetypal haint, a conduit for understanding the nature of haunting in the tradition of the American elegy and to navigate the work of three contemporary poets, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Akilah Oliver, and Claudia Rankine. Across the dissertation, I consider the haint as a figure of the erotic, ancestral and sacred, as a casualty of soul murder, and as an absent-presence, made invisible and hyper-visible. I conclude with an epilogue that ruminates on the haunted house as a mnemonic trigger across all of the texts in my study, and show how the poets’ use of form functions as a means of “housing” the haint.

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