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“You sing, you / who also / wants:” Charles Olson, Harryette Mullen, and the representation of political communities in 20th century avant-garde American poetry

Malinowski, Daniel (2015) “You sing, you / who also / wants:” Charles Olson, Harryette Mullen, and the representation of political communities in 20th century avant-garde American poetry. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this thesis, I examine the way in which avant-garde American poetry enacts an expansion of the community to which it speaks and desires to include, focusing on the first section of Charles Olson’s opus The Maximus Poems and Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge. Specifically, in an argument parallel to Jacques Ranciére’s critique of an inherent, platonic ruling class, I explore how these poets enact an expansion of the distribution of the sensible, in an attempt to move beyond the conception of poetry as something that is done by a poetic elite for the benefit of a less capable majority.
In explaining Olson’s solution to the existence of this dichotomy, I discuss Olson’s debt to Pound, and the ways in which the latter’s techniques become less elitist and more populist in the course of Olson’s poetic development. In essays such as “Projective Verse” and “Human Universe,” Olson outlines the way that poetry could allow for a conception of community that would contain active, self-sufficient and equal individuals. His poetics, I go on to argue, are brought to fruition in two poems entitled “Letter from Georges,” where Olson allows the historical voices of fishermen to replace his own. In ceding the voice of the poem to outside sources, Olson enacts the leveled community that he has been gesturing towards elsewhere in his writings, demonstrating how his own perspective is just one of the many necessary contributions that different individuals can offer to the community being outlined in the first book of the Maximus Poems.
The later section of the essay is devoted to Mullen and how she engages issues of black femininity, representation, and the ways in which representations from outside the communities Mullen portrays flatten the inner lives of their members. My readings show how she critiques both those outside representations that would reduce black women to stereotypes, while also revealing how the voices of these women are already capable of self-representation. In juxtaposing the different communities of Mullen and Olson, the thesis demonstrates how the expansion of the poetic subject is an ongoing concern in a strain of avant-garde poetry.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSmith, Philippsmith@pitt.eduPSMITH
Committee MemberHalle, Randallrhalle@pitt.eduRHALLE
Committee MemberFest, Bradley
Committee MemberBarnhisel,
Date: 23 April 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 April 2015
Approval Date: 23 April 2015
Submission Date: 16 April 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 74
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: literature, poetry, Charles Olson, avant-garde
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2015 15:23
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:27


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