Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Arthur Smith

Committee Members

Marilyn Kallet, Amy Billone, David Tandy


This creative dissertation is a collection of original poems entitled Field Portrait. The poems in Field Portrait emerge from a long apprenticeship to the aesthetics of poetry, and to the study of how work, family, history, community, and landscape have been represented by poets in the western literary tradition. Many of the poems in Field Portrait are set in rural eastern Tennessee where I grew up, but several poems respond to other places I have lived and visited, such as upstate New York and New Orleans, Louisiana. My poems aspire to an integrated relationship between description and perception, in which the eye of the speaker observes, the mind responds and interacts, and the eye sees again with an enhanced perspective. The work in Field Portrait represents my writing over the course of several years and employs a variety of formal and thematic approaches, and it strives to create art from the diverse experiences of a life closely attuned to the past and perpetually responsive to the present.

The critical introduction situates my poems within the framework of contemporary American lyric poetry, with close readings of how particular poets like Jack Gilbert, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Robert Morgan create a sense of authority through voice, evoke grief at the loss of loved ones, and depict transformative interactions with landscape. A primary goal in the introduction has been to trace a lineage of lyric poetry from its origins in Greek fragments, dating as early as the 7th century BCE, through the great Roman Odes, Renaissance pastoralism, Romantic lyrics of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, American transcendentalism, and culminating in the descriptive-meditative personal lyrics of modern and contemporary poetry. I consider this poetic thread, suggesting it as the model for my own poems, as it has been examined by such critics as M. H. Abrams, W. R. Johnson, Paul Oppenheimer, and Helen Vendler. This expressive mode of poetry represents a central lyric impulse that focuses on the perception of a particular speaker, personal address to an auditor, evoking the texture of lived experience, emotional consequence, and the quest for intellectual significance.

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