Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Arthur Smith

Committee Members

Marilyn Kallet, Robert Stillman, Robert Sklenar


Talk to Me: An Apology for Poetry, explores the intersection between readers and writers of poetry in the past and the present, the idea of the teaching poet, and poetry’s more formal defenses as articulates the twenty-first century poet’s responsibility. The poems are informed by the critical introduction’s examination of Philip Sidney and Percy Shelley’s formally titled defenses of poetry alongside Milton, Wordsworth, and Whitman’s defense-prefaces as well as many individual poems participating in what I call the defense tradition: a tradition predicated on trans-historical reading practices turned writing practices; a tradition assuming poetry begets poets who beget poetry because the art is based in teaching through dialogue.

The further I move into the world of English letters, the more I sense the discord (voiced or not) between those identifying as “creative writers” and “scholars.” Such discord suggests poets have stopped communing with poetry in the defense tradition, understand poetry’s defenses as historical documents, and take poetry’s cultural and educational place for granted. Such discord is indicative of the crisis I sense in poetic and educational practices reinforcing the conception of poetry as an isolated activity, which has allowed poets the possibility to disregard the reader’s place in the act of poetic making and, risky as it is to suggest, the role of craft in the poet’s act of making. I suggest, in response to such discord, that teaching writers to read and readers to write is the responsibility inherent in both poetry and the poet’s vocation.

My aim is to re-open the poetic past in the contemporary moment so I am not just reading in the past, but communing with poetry’s past as a present: a practice I offer as a response to my perception that contemporary poetry is relatively defense-less. Engaging poetry trans-historically, however, highlights the teacher/writer duality so often assumed by Early Modern writers and helps defend poetry’s existence in the twenty-first century. Talk to Me relies on the dialogic nature of critical inquiry and creative making to apply the Early Modern assumptions that poetry’s ultimate end is to teach and delight.

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