Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Arthur Smith

Committee Members

Marilyn Kallet, Benjamin Lee, Mark Hulsether

Abstract

In the lyric tradition of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Terrible Sonnets and James Wright’s odes to the Midwest, the poems in Collateral interrogate the complexities of faith and doubt in middle-class America and present a witness compelled to translate suburbia’s landscapes and evangelical banalities into a testimony of hard truths. These poems explore the emotional exhaustion that accompanies language’s broken connection to ideal meaning and how both are unable to fully correspond to our lives. The manuscript is also an exploration of my own corresponding lyric struggle to reconcile what is and what should be, the personal and the political as well as the personal and the theological, what poet Carl Phillips calls, “the sensibility of struggle—between private feeling and public expectation, mortality and divinity, the human impulse toward order and the disordered experience of being human.”

In Collateral, I seek to present a collection of poems that raises up the banner of what Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz calls, “a passionate pursuit of the Real.” The poems in this manuscript also attempt to bear witness to a culture that institutionalizes the purgation of the devalued from the public sphere’s imagination. They are also an argument for a lyric poetry that is aware of poetic representation’s ethical import, one that exemplifies a process working toward social change, a process that, for me, has deep roots in Christian theology.

The collection’s critical introduction examines how, as a consequence of American poetry’s contemporary fragmentation, the lyric has lost the political and social heft necessary to address its audience. I present two responses to the crisis in the lyric. The first reexamines the role of faith and doubt in lyric poetry. The second suggests a new framework for thinking about lyric’s social role in response to agon: the lyric as theodicy.

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