Guy L. Rotella


Mary Loeffelholz, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon

Date of Award


Date Accepted


Degree Grantor

Northeastern University

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department or Academic Unit

College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Department of English.


Carl Phillips, Contemporary Poetry, Frank Bidart, Henri Cole, Jorie Graham, Postmodern Poetry


English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America | Modern Literature | Poetry


This dissertation examines the career arcs of four representative current poets in order to develop a tentative narrative to account for recent and emergent poetic practice. Poets who began publishing between the 1970s and 1990s inherited two powerful aesthetic traditions. On the one hand, they write in the shadow of postmodern poets who find liberation in the embrace of radical linguistic, epistemological/ontological, or subjective uncertainty and exhibit intense skepticism about intellectual closure or claims of privilege for aesthetic production. On the other hand, they also find aesthetic reserves in the work of high modernists who felt they faced similar philosophical or aesthetic uncertainties, but whose poems generally made claims for privileged aesthetic construction to contain or manage them. However, the poetry crafted by Jorie Graham, Frank Bidart, Carl Phillips, and Henri Cole neither wholly embraces radical ontological/epistemological, linguistic, or subjective uncertainty, nor wholly puts faith in permanent aesthetic resolutions of it. Rather, their poems negotiate between the poetic terms set by immediate and less immediate predecessors in a "neither/nor" fashion. This entails the crafting of poems which exhibit history as neither continuous nor discontinuous, but as ongoing chaotic evolution; which employ self-conscious linguistic strategies to give tenuous parameters for the self; which act as neither solely public nor solely private communications, but public methods of intimate exchange between reader and writer; which re-use a large body of self-generated work to connect the self of the writer to that self's material history; and which make claims, though chastened, for the value of a high art aesthetic. The poems produced by these "third way" poets, work to rehabilitate, in a chastened way, the function of the poem as a space for the development of a contingently coherent sense of self in relationship to the self of the other/reader. Once this relationship is established, so the poems of these writers often claim, both reader and writer, as selves stabilized by the readerly/writerly relationship, can begin to counteract the alienation produced by ontological and epistemological uncertainty and ongoing historical flux.

Document Type


Rights Holder

James Richie

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