Type of Document Dissertation Author Hunley, Tom C URN etd-09212003-211511 Title The Tongue Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title n/a Committee Chair Keywords
- Performance Poetry
- Expansive PoetryExpanded Anthology
Date of Defense 2003-08-02 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe poems in my dissertation are influenced by various populist schools of poetry. Among my influences are the Romantic peasant-poet John Clare, populist modernists like Don Marquis, modernist writers with working class roots such as
Kenneth Patchen and D.H. Lawrence, and some of the more effusive Beat and New York School poets including Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch. I believe that poetry can be intelligent without being condescending; I believe that it can nourish and heal without going down like medicine. Like Vachel Lindsay, who wrote and performed in a Whitman-inspired spirit of inclusiveness, I aim to write poetry that people can enjoy without a lot of training. Three contemporary movements have strongly impacted my work.
Performance poetry, especially as exemplified by the poets in Charles H. Webb’s Stand Up Poetry:
An Expanded Anthology, has given me a model for poetry that is instantly accessible without lacking depth, humorous without being light, and emotive without crossing the line into sentimentality.
Expansive poetry, as practiced by poets such as Annie Finch, Mark Jarman, Kelly Cherry, and Dana Gioia, has shown me how poets might employ narrative coupled with skillful handling of traditional and nonce forms as a means to widen their cultural impact. People respond to rhythm and rhyme, the theory goes, as evidenced by the popularity of rock and roll and rap music. People also respond to narrative: witness the relative
popularity of novels, short stories, and memoirs. Expansive poetry fuses formalism with
narrative in order to reach a larger segment of poetry’s potential audience.
This collection also contains traces of absurdist and surrealist imagery. The touches of surrealism in The Tongue derive largely from my reading of the peculiarly-American brand of surrealism found in poets and prose poets like James Tate, Charles
Simic, and Russell Edson. In their use of contemporary, distinctly American diction and
subject matter, these poets have moved past much surrealist and deep image poetry written under the spell French and Spanish language poets, poetry that sounded like it had been translated from these other languages even when it was written in English.
The Tongue breaks down into three sections: “Delicate Creatures,” “The Hard
Sciences,” and “Some Green Place.” The title of the first section comes from James Wright’s poem “Milkweed,” and the great, epiphanic ending of that poem, typical of Wright’s endings, functions as the epigraph for the first section: “The air fills with delicate creatures/From the other world.” I tried to let both parts of that quote guide me as I wrote and selected poems for the first section; the poems are full of delicate creatures that are also other-worldly.
The second section, by far the shortest of the three, consists of a sequence of poems set predominately in high school and college science classrooms. The title, “The Hard Sciences,” refers to the various disciplines, to the speaker’s difficulties as a bungling science student, and to the hard life lessons the speaker inadvertently learns.
The final section, “Some Green Place,” takes its epigraph from Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver’s recent collection of essays: “In my darkest times I have to walk, sometimes alone, in some green place.” For this section, I have chosen to show speakers struggling to move out of chaos and confusion into green places, figuratively speaking.
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