Date of Award

12-1984

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

B. J. Lettett

Committee Members

William H. Shurn, Marilyn Kallet, Betsy C. Postow

Abstract

Many critics have argued that modern poetry is most comprehensively understood as an expansion rather than a rejection of the romantic tradition. Simply stated, their claim is that the romantic lyric, in which the mode of perceiving rather than the perception itself is the central subject of the poem, remains the dominant form in modern and post-modern poetry. In general, contemporary poetry also presents itself as an act of the mind encountering and evaluating the external world. As a poetic movement influenced by feminist thinking, contemporary women's poetry grounds itself in the romantic tradition while deviating from it in ways that indicate a difference in poetic theory. By retaining the romantic conception of the poem as an act of the mind privately making meaning, but also continually acknowledging that the formation of that "mind" consists of a complex web of social, cultural, and political facts and values, contemporary women poets both enlarge romantic poetic theory and criticize its tendency toward isolationism and idealism.

An analysis of poems and essays by Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Carolyn Forche, Olga Broumas, and Cathy Song reveals that poets influenced by feminist thinking define the poem more specifically as an act of the mind in dialogue with itself and with the outer world. The power of the dialogue relation, in which the separation of subject from object is undermined, is a common theme in women's poetry, and the dialogue structure often serves as a formal design for women's poems. Since by definition the dialogue is openended, women poets view the poetic experience and the dialogic relation it makes possible as tools for exposing culturally legitimated delusions of determinism, whether these be aesthetic, philosophical, or political closures of meaning. For women poets, then, poetry is not only capable of transforming the individual but also crucial in revising social ideologies. Finally, through their poetry these women poets define the poem as an act of the feminist informed mind breaking through self-imposed and culturally-disposed barriers in order to renew itself and society.

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