Lyric Vistas: Genre and the American Long Poem from Whitman to Neruda (1855-1950)

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2017-08

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Abstract

The purpose of this study is to take a wide-open view of hemispheric American poetry. World literature and genre studies constitute the framework for analyzing three book-length poems that hybridize epic and lyric modes of poetry. Beginning in 1855 with Walt Whitman’s first edition of Leaves of Grass, continuing through Hart Crane’s 1930 The Bridge, and culminating with Pablo Neruda’s 1950 Canto general, this dissertation dives into the mystery of how this hundred-year hemispheric collection of works composes a genealogy of American poetry and poetics. I also argue for poetry’s own critical and theoretical interventions, tracing idealist and materialist strains of thought in each of these epic projects. The method by which I perform my formal and thematic analyses is close reading. The poetic strategies discovered yielded a theoretical framework I call vista, a term that recasts space as scale, and emphasizes multiple points of view. Vista is a shifting of perspective, reliant on the subjectivity of the lyric mode but shading toward the epic. It implies enormous breadth and suggests futurity. Whitman’s vista encompasses certain things, Crane’s another, and Neruda’s still another. Ultimately, I conclude that the epic poem written in a lyric mode elides distances between literature and theory, between ideology and art, and between reality and the possibilities of the imagination.

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Keywords

American literature, Poetry, Poetics, Genre, Lyric, Epic, Crane, Hart, Neruda, Pablo, Whitman, Walt

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