The Urgency of Community is deeply engaged with understanding a significant but often under-examined moment in the history of 20th century American poetry, wherein two poetry communities of the 1970s, the Loft in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Poetics School at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, created community around poetic work during the 1970s. The Loft was formed in 1974 above a Minneapolis bookstore by culturally and politically active poets who urgently felt the need for a poetic community outside of academia. The Poetics School was co-founded in 1974 by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman to continue the poetic work of the New American Poetry (1960), the Donald Allen anthology that sparked a poetic revolution. Poets who had participated in the cultural and artistic upheavals of the 1960s were compelled to re-group in the 1970s. My project argues, using the theoretical concepts of ideological suture (derived from feminist film theory) and the symbolic construction of communities (derived from the social sciences), that the Loft's and the Poetics School's responses to the upheavals of the 1960s and the new realities of the 1970s shaped current poetic trends and issues. Suture is usually a pejorative term that describes how viewers of classic films are "sutured" into dominant ideologies of gender. This happens when elements of a film are designed to "rupture" cultural gender norms through an unconventional character and then punish or reform that character as the film progresses, "suturing" the audience back into "normalcy." Theorists such as Kaja Silverman read suture as a mechanism by which difference is obliterated and ideology takes hold. Yet these theorists also acknowledge that we are never outside of ideology, and that it behooves us to be aware of the productive ideologies, such as a sense of political or cultural belonging, into which we are sutured. I take the idea of ideological suture into poetry studies to describe the work--both repressive and liberating--undertaken in poetry communities of the 1970s.
These communities created ruptures and intervened in poetry and culture in the 1960s by challenging received notions of poetry readings and by erasing the lines between poetry and activism. They responded to the larger ruptures and changes in culture and society in the 1960s and `70s, including economic recessions, new social realities involving race and gender, and increases in governmental and private arts funding. Such ruptures, or crisis moments, forced these communities to commit to goals and desires for their organizations. Ethnographer Anthony J. Cohen calls these commitments "symbols" that are perceivable on the boundaries of these communities, as they demonstrate to members and non-members what the groups' values are. Communities are thus constructed symbolically. Sometimes disagreements within communities occur when members cease to agree on the primacy of one value or another. Boundaries are thus ruptured, and communities need to re-suture their members, usually by evolving. Both the Loft and the Poetics School have had such moments, and my two middle chapters explore how these crises changed the groups and their poetic work. By deploying methods from history, the social science of communities, literary analysis, and the economics of fringe venues and publications, my focus on poetry communities is decidedly interdisciplinary. The Urgency of Community is part of a critical discourse in American poetics studies that rejects traditional models of poetry scholarship focusing on biography or close-reading techniques of a few poets or works. Rather, the emerging inquiries investigate discourses, communities, and institutions in American poetry.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2011. Major: English. Advisors: Maria Damon and Jane Blocker. 1 computer file (PDF); iii, 217 pages.
The urgency of community: the suturing of poetic ideology during the early years of the Loft and the Jack Kerouac School of disembodied poetics..
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