Canon and corpus: The making of American poetry

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Title: Canon and corpus: The making of American poetry
Author: Upton, Corbett Earl, 1970-
Abstract: This dissertation argues that certain iconic poems have shaped the canon of American poetry. Not merely "canonical" in the usual sense, iconic poems enjoy a special cultural sanction and influence; they have become discourses themselves, generating our notions about American poetry. By "iconic" I mean extraordinarily famous works like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride," Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," and Claude McKay's "If We Must Die," that do not merely reside in the national memory but that have determined each poet's reception and thus have shaped the history of American poetry. Through case studies, I examine longstanding assumptions about these poets and the literary histories and myths surrounding their legendary texts. In carefully historicized readings of these and other iconic poems, I elucidate the pressure a single poem can exert on a poet's reputation and on American poetry broadly. I study the iconic poem in the context of the poet's corpus to demonstrate its role within the poet's oeuvre and the role assigned to it by canon makers. By tracing a poem's reception, I aim to identify the national, periodic, political, and formal boundaries these poems enforce and the distortions they create. Because iconic poems often direct and justify our inclusions and exclusions, they are of particular use in clarifying persistent obstacles to the canon reformation work of the last thirty years. While anthologies have become more inclusive in their selections and self-conscious about their ideological motives, many of the practices regarding individual poets and poems have remained unchanged over the last fifty years. Even as we include more poets in the canon, we often ironically do so by isolating a particular portion of the career, impulse in the work, or even a single poem, narrowing rather than expanding the horizon of our national literature. Through close readings situated in historical and cultural contexts, I illustrate the varying effects of iconic poems on the poet, other poems, and literary history.
Description: viii, 233 p. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
Date: 2010-12

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