Saying “I am” experimentalism and subjectivity in contemporary poetry by Claudia Rankine, M. Nourbese Philip, and Myung Mi Kim
This dissertation enters the conversation about what experimentalism has to do with poets of color while paying particular attention to the ways in which three women writing now—Myung Mi Kim, Claudia Rankine, and Marlene Nourbese Philip (the latter poet publishes under the name “M. Nourbese Philip)—deal with the complicated matter of contemporary selfhood. In all of their works, one of the central questions of poetic inquiry, “Who is speaking?” turns out to be a rather inappropriate question that forces traditional readings on these non-traditional texts, thus producing meanings that have more to do with poetic convention than the texts at hand. Instead, this project approaches these writers' texts asking, what kind of reading do these texts invite, as well as resist? Indeed, what kind of contemporary poetics do they create?
This dissertation looks at how contemporary experimental poetry of racial mourning locates its grief not in racial experience itself, but in what produces identity-based experience in the first place. It contends that racial identity creates melancholia precisely because it is, paradoxically, a social construction that feels natural to us. Poets Kim, Philip, and Rankine use formal and linguistic innovation—including fragmentation, stammers, brackets, blank spaces, made-up words, lists, and pictograms—to re-imagine identity as inauthentic and unstable, while acknowledging the desire for a sense of one's self that's more whole, more sayable, more recognizable. This dissertation contextualizes their experimental work by charting a kinship between them, early elegiac poetries of racial mourning, and other contemporary poetry from Frederick Douglass to Major Jackson.
0591: American literature