<%BANNER%>

Lyric Voice and American Democracy


PAGE 1

LYRIC VOICE AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY By GLENN J. FREEMAN A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2005

PAGE 2

Copyright 2005 by Glenn J. Freeman

PAGE 3

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This dissertation would never have been completed without the help of many people along the way. Foremost, I would like to thank Marsha Bryant for her encouragement and scholarly advice. She challenged me and helped my thinking about this subject evolve every step of the way. The rest of my committeeStephanie Smith, Brian Ward and Lamonda Horton Stallingshave likewise been instrumental in this project. Julian Wolfreys, Sidney Dobrin, Malini Schueller, Mark Reid, and Tace Hedrick have also offered invaluable support. I would also like to thank my new colleagues at Cornell College for their support and encouragement. I also could not have accomplished this without the support of many friends along the way. I would especially like to acknowledge Chris Jones, Bradley Dilger, and Suzanne Zweizig at the University. John Toren in Minneapolis was instrumental in this project as my conversations with him have always energized me to keep going and challenged me to rethink and/or clarify my positions. Similarly, my good friend Walter Butts has always reminded me of the importance of poetry in our lives. My family has also offered unfailing support. My parents, Jim and Lois Freeman, have always helped out in any way they could; I could not have done it without them. My brother Craig and his family provided many much-needed breaks for fun and laughter along the way. Finally, I owe this all to my beautiful, loving, and supportive wife Mary Beth. She has been beside me every step of the way, and I could not imagine taking this journey without her. iii

PAGE 4

PREFACE The following abbreviations will be used throughout this dissertation for in-text citations of frequently used texts: BB Breaking Bounds, Betsy Erkkila and Jay Grossman, eds. CP The Collected Poems: 1912-1944, Hilda Doolittle; Louis Martz, ed. DS The Dream Songs, John Berryman. EW Whitman East & West, Ed Folsom, ed. LG Leaves of Grass, Norton Critical Edition, Walt Whitman. LH The Collected Poems, Langston Hughes. MS The Measure of His Song, Perlman, Folsom and Campion, eds. iv

PAGE 5

TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .................................................................................................iii PREFACE ..........................................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT ......................................................................................................................vii INTRODUCTION ...............................................................................................................1 TOWARD A THEORY OF LYRIC ....................................................................................7 The Lyric as Voice ........................................................................................................7 The Problem of Genre ..................................................................................................9 Who Speaks? The Problem of Voice and Agency ......................................................17 Lyric and the Oral Tradition .......................................................................................21 A Poetry of Democracy ..............................................................................................24 WALT WHITMAN: THE INDIVIDUAL AS NATION ..................................................29 A Lyric for the New Democracy ................................................................................34 Constructing a New Reader ........................................................................................39 Toward the Modern .................................................................................................43 Whitman and the Other ...........................................................................................51 H.D. AND THE DIVIDED SUBJECT ..............................................................................61 H.D. and the Poetic Tradition .................................................................................67 Modernism, Individualism, and the Freudian I .......................................................78 Toward an Open Voice ...............................................................................................83 Voices from the Margins ............................................................................................86 LANGSTON HUGHES AND THE MASKS OF AUTHENTICITY ...............................94 Art and Representation in the Harlem Renaissance ...................................................98 The Lyric Label as Rhetorical ...............................................................................105 The Rhetoric of Authenticity ................................................................................108 Dialect and Identity ...................................................................................................117 Personae and the Multiple Voice ..............................................................................121 v

PAGE 6

JOHN BERRYMAN: AMERICA IN FRAGMENTS .....................................................127 The Problem of Confession ...................................................................................132 The Freudian Voice ..................................................................................................141 Voice, Vernacular, and Blackface ............................................................................145 In Search of an American Culture ............................................................................151 CONCLUSION: WHITMAN ON THE RESERVATION ..............................................156 Introduction: Lyric Nationalism ...............................................................................156 Lyric and Ways of Sounding .................................................................................160 Multiculturalism, Lyric, and the Academy ...............................................................169 WORK CITED .................................................................................................................172 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ...........................................................................................179 vi

PAGE 7

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy LYRIC VOICE AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY By Glenn J. Freeman May 2005 Chair: Marsha Bryant Major Department: English Lyric poetry is most often considered to be an asocial or apolitical art form, timeless or universal rather than socially engaged. This dissertation attempts to counter that perspective and show the ways in which American lyric poets have profoundly engaged with political issues of their times. It explores specifically the relationship between lyric voice and emerging, or changing, models of American nationalism. I look at the way that the lyric voice can function simultaneously as individual and choral, personal and social. Criticism of lyric tends to focus on the romantic model in which a private form of speech is overheard by the reader. I contend that we need to see the way a romantic model intersects with the classical model in which poetry is performed before an audience that also participates in the poetic voice. This dissertation argues that the lyric should not be read through only a classical or romantic vii

PAGE 8

lens, but to see how they function together, how the individual and the communal voices are conflated within the lyric. This dual nature of the lyric voice is particularly productive for American poets as they work within a culture that is fiercely individualist at the same time that it demands national allegiances. The lyric poem, then, can embody the tensions inherent in American society; the lyric voice is metonymic of the national voice in which individuals and groups compete for representation. Each chapter explores a particular era during which an American identity has been reevaluated and groups within the nation have struggled for representation: the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Suffrage Movement and the rise of Feminism, the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement, and the era of Cold War containment. For each of these eras, I examine a poet that engages with these issues: Walt Whitman, H.D., Langston Hughes, and John Berryman, respectively. I conclude this dissertation by examining how lyric poetry can engage effectively with the struggles of a pluralist American identity in the 21 st century. viii

PAGE 9

INTRODUCTION In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration began a campaign of cultural diplomacy by publishing an anthology of 15 essays that engage the question of what it means to be an American writer. The anthologydesigned to be distributed internationally with translations in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian among otherswas designed to illuminate in an interesting way certain American valuesfreedom, diversity, democracythat may not be well understood in all parts of the world (Clack, George, ed. Writers on America. U.S. Dept of State International Information Programs. 09 Dec. 2002. 15 April 2005 http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/writers ). 1 Appropriately, the anthology uses a passage from Walt Whitmans Crossing Brooklyn Ferry as its epigraph: It avails not, time and placedistance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, Just as you feel when you look on the river and the sky, so I feel, Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, Just as you are refreshd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refreshd, Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried, Just as you look on the numberless masts of the ships and the thick-stemmd pipes of steamboats, I looked. (n.pag.) 1 An interesting side note to this anthology is that technology has allowed a reading that American law does not. The Smith-Mundt act of 1948 does not allow the domestic circulation of any official information meant for a foreign circulation, including this anthology. Technology has made the act irrelevant as internet sources are not tied to international borders, and thus allow an interesting look at American culture as it is specifically crafted for an external audience. 1

PAGE 10

2 Certainly this poem captures the promise that such an anthology attempts to fulfill: the opening of one person to the many, one culture to another, the blurring of past and present, self and other, in some timeless sense of shared humanity. Yet certain ironies and contradictions also present themselves in the use of this poem as a form of cultural diplomacy. For instance, in Whitmans claims of human unity, the individual is washed away as each individual becomes part of a larger scheme, a scheme that for Whitman is synonymous with America. 2 Whitmans democratic claims, then, intersect with a global version of Manifest Destiny, mirroring the odd paradox inherent in this anthology that attempts to show how we are all similar (just as you feel . so I feel) at the same time as exclaiming an American exceptionalism. Where this anthology sets out to counter ideas of American hegemony, the opening poetic lines unwittingly reinforce notions of American cultural dominance. This problematic use of Whitmans poetry shows the way that the American lyric is integrally tied to social and political concerns, a fact often overlooked as poetry is usually relegated to an ahistorical or acultural position, the most private art. More importantly, Whitmans poetry shows how the voice of the poem engages these contradictory American impulses: his poem can be seen as promoting an egalitarian, inclusive view of world democracy but it can also be seen as a form of cultural imperialism. I would argue that such contradiction stems from Whitmans effort to simultaneously construct an individual voiceone that speaks from an American culture of individualismand a choral voiceone that speaks as a national identity. In other words, Whitmans voice strives to be both the one and the many. 2 As an example, in Democratic Vistas, Whitman says, I shall use the words America and democracy as convertible terms (LG 758).

PAGE 11

3 This dissertation will argue that the dual nature of the lyric voice allows it to serve as a productive genre in which individual-social dynamics can be investigated and re-envisioned with radical possibilities. This tension of voice has been especially productive for American poets whose culture simultaneously promotes a fierce individualism and demands a group/national allegiance. The struggle to construct a lyric voice reflects the struggle to construct a political voice; poetic and political representation become conflated within the lyric voice. At the same time, because the voice functions in multiple ways, the lyric can often reveal the contradictory impulses at the heart of the democracy as we see in the Whitman quote and the uses to which it is put. The editorial comment about American valuesfreedom, diversity, and Democracyoffers a valuable lens through which to consider these contradictions. Freedom, in American terms follows a Jeffersonian model in which individual freedom reigns supreme. This, of course, runs counter to the implications of the collective in which the needs of diverse communities clash against such individual liberties. While E Pluribus Unum serves as an idealistic motto for the possibilities inherent in American democracy, it is also the source of endless struggles for representation and voice within the government and culture. Central to my discussion is Gary Gerstles useful distinction between civic nationalism and racial nationalism that reflect fundamentally conflicting notions of the nature of American society, the former an inclusive, egalitarian society while the second reserves rights and national identity for particular groups. 3 As we have already noted with Whitman, it is possible for these two ideas to challenge each other even within the same lyric. I argue, then, that the lyric is uniquely situated to 3 Gerstles American Crucible explores the dynamic between these two versions of nationalism as they play out across the 20 th century, arguing that America is essentially a nation divided against itself (80).

PAGE 12

4 negotiate these national struggles and to construct alternative narratives of self and national identity. The American lyric tradition as I define it rests on three innovative strategies: the use of musicality as a means to embody multiple voices; challenges to the author-reader or text-reader relationships and conventions that construct new reading subjects; and most importantly the construction of a simultaneously individual and communal voice. This lyric voice likewise is constructed out of three often competing strains: the classical lyric in which the voice is a performed choral voice, the romantic based on the individual voice, and the modern with its emphasis on making it new, 4 an experimental model that pushes at the very conventions of lyric. These three traditions offer the American poet a means to negotiate a culture of fierce individualism, the struggles over group/national allegiances, and the demands of an increasingly complex modernity. While I argue that American poets have effectively negotiated these traditions to craft a unique tradition responding to the dynamics of American culture, criticism most often reads through the lens of individualism. I contend that more often than not American lyric is misread due to the inability to see these traditions in dialogue; my goal in this dissertation is to offer a new paradigm to offer effective means to read the lyric poets engagement with American culture. I do not intend, though, to construct a rubric that can simply be placed over each poet equally. What is important is to offer a framework that points to the ways in which poets have engaged with the evolving demands of American democracy. 4 This phrase was Ezra Pounds rallying cry for a modern art.

PAGE 13

5 This project specifically explores the ways in which the lyric has been configured at points in history when the narratives of American national identity have been destabilized. Each chapter investigates a particular poets struggle to redefine an American nationalism through the construction of a lyric voice. First, I examine Walt Whitmans engagement with a divided America that was struggling to define itself in the face of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. I argue that Whitman is one of the first poets to experiment with the lyric form as a medium to develop a new national narrative and offers a useful model against which we may consider other poetsand a model to which, as Ed Folsom has pointed out, poets have continually attempted to talk back. 5 Following my discussion of Whitman, I examine the ways in which H.D.s lyric voice embodied the struggles of women in America in the first half of the 20 th Century. Her poetry engages with the emergence of feminism and the suffrage movement, attempting to redefine American national identity as inclusive in terms of gender and sexuality without essentializing such identities. Langston Hughes, writing during the Harlem Renaissance, similarly attempts to redefine American identity in ways that will afford racial inclusivity. Hughes uses the individual/choral lyric voice to affirm an essential black identity worthy of American rights at the same time as constructing a hybrid, modern American identity. John Berrymans voice also confronts an increasingly consumer-oriented American society in an increasingly isolationist, cold-war era of containment and growing racial unrest the growing at the same time as engaging with the Civil Rights movement as it heads into the 1960s. Berrymans voice circles back to Whitman in which the multiple voices reflect American diversity, even as he 5 Folsom argues that much of 20 th century American poetry is ultimately a dialogue with Whitman. (Introduction, MS, 21-74)

PAGE 14

6 reflects a White, middle-class, male perspective. His voice, then, again puts us squarely in the middle of the conflict between a civic and a racial nationalism, between the one and the many. Each of these epochsReconstruction, Suffrage, Civil Rights, Cold War containmentrepresents a point in which the lyric underwent major changes not in artistic isolation but as a response to changing social conditions; the struggle for political/cultural representation necessitated new forms of artistic representation. In each instance, the attempt to redefine the lyric voice was an attempt to redefine America. Because criticism has often distorted these poets work in counterproductive ways, each chapter will attempt to accomplish three things: first, I will show the ways in which the work has been misrepresented through particular lyric lenses. Second, I will examine the artistic/cultural conventions of the time to understand the environment in which each poet was writing. Third, I will attempt to offer new ways to read each poet. Such a project, however, demands some working definition of lyric and an understanding of how poets have historically engaged with this evolving form. To begin, then, I will attempt to construct a brief history of lyric criticism and to pose a new model for the American lyric.

PAGE 15

TOWARD A THEORY OF LYRIC The Lyric as Voice From Plato onward, the nature of lyric poetry has been tied integrally to questions of voicewhether voice is synonymous with authorial self-presence, a synecdoche for an autonomous identity, or viewed as a figure or trope for lyric itself. Because of the insistence on voice, though, the genre has always had a vexed relationship to social discourse and critique, read most often as individualist rather than social. Even as many poststructural critics have argued the death of the author, the lyric is, more often than notespecially in contemporary Americaread as self-expression, a romantic Wordsworthian overflow of emotions. 6 It is the last genre in which the notion of coherent, sovereign authorship and mimetic self-representation maintain a persistent hold. While critics from different schools have argued the nature and intention of the lyric voice, the genre predominantly has been seen as outside the domain of social or historical discourse. On one hand, Marxist and cultural critics, following the lead of Althusser, tend to argue that such self-representation is merely a form of bourgeois individualism, an art form marked by false consciousness. For instance, Antony Easthope claims that the Romantic lyric is individualist, elitist and privatized as 6 The notion of lyric as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings was developed in Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads (Kaplan 260). What is less-often remembered is the second part of Wordsworths poetic equationrecollected in tranquilitywhich suggests a very different perspective of the romantic project than has been historically constructed. 7

PAGE 16

8 compared to earlier forms of the ballad that were collective, popular, and intersubjective(75). On the other hand, the New Criticswho seemingly take personal or historical considerations out of the poem, considering voice a construct distinct from authorial identityargue the poem as a linguistic object, similarly separating the poem from the social sphere. For the New Critics, though, its separation from the social and historical is what gives the form its power; the lyric becomes universal experience, a non-relative aesthetic. From quite different critical perspectives and to quite different ends, then, the effect is the same: the poetic voice is removed from social engagement, defined as personal not social, timeless not historically situated, universal not culturally contingent. At the same time, a plethora of contemporary poet-critics tout authorial voiceor more specifically personalityas the epitome of poetic achievement, that presumably coherent, pre-existing entity that a young poet must struggle to find. This image of the poet most closely reflects what might be considered poetrys mass audience, the popular narrative of the solitary poet struggling to express his or her inner, tormented self. Ted Kooser sums up this narrative: I grew up believing a lyric poet was a person who wrote down his or her observations, taken from life [. .] When I says something happened, I believe it happened, and if something awful has happened to I, I feel for the poet (Sontag 158-9). There is, then, a marked divide between a variety of critical approaches to the lyric and its popular lived experience. Both approaches to the form, however, set unfortunate limits on the way that an audience reads. On one hand, the self-expressive model easily allows voice to slip into a closed or totalizing ontology, limiting the lyric possibilities of embodying a divided or

PAGE 17

9 fragmented experience and/or engaging in rhetorical self-critique. On the other hand, any critical approach that removes the lyric from social discourse ultimately denies the voice its potential as a position of both personal and social agency. To bridge this gulf, it is necessary to see how the lyric still retains a connection to its Classical Greek roots in which the lyric was foremost a public performance. Such a performance was often accompanied by a chorus so that many voices merged to speak as one. By seeing the lyric as performance, I argue that 1) the lyric voice is not self-presence but rather a figure for presencea prosopopoeiathat is embedded in historical formations and 2) any supposed self-expression or self-presence is not merely a capitulation to capitalist ideology but a potential site of individual and group resistance. In fact, the lyric is useful as a tool to deconstruct any strict boundaries between the individual and the social on which American capitalist individualism relies. The lyric voice cannot, and should not, be read as merely autobiographical nor as a nave or false consciousness but rather as a form of social engagement and cultural critique; the lyric I functions as a locus for resistance and imaginative reconstructions of individual and communal/national identities. The Problem of Genre In contemporary usage lyric is often considered synonymous with poetry. 7 To some extent, this is a valid perspective: any poetic utterance carries at least the vestige of voice. As Chaviva Hosek argues, unless signs directly point to the contrary, we infer a voice whenever we read a poem (16). Yet certainly important distinctions exist, for instance among traditional forms such as lyric, epic, and drama or, more recently, the 7 See, for example, Holden, The Prose Lyric (The Rhetoric of Contemporary Lyric 57-68).

PAGE 18

10 divide between Language poetry and lyric. If lyric and poetry become synonymous, these distinctions get lost and the canon of acceptable or important poetry can be shaped in ways that ultimately affect cultural narratives negatively. The problem, though, is that even as I claim the importance and viability of maintaining generic distinctions it is true that no transhistorical or transcultural form can delineate the lyric poem, no generically pure lyric. It becomes necessary, then, to ask how the term has functioned in different historical eras. The lyric has evolved, for instance, from its Classical Greek origins in which the poem was performed before an audience (with choral support and/or audience involvement) to what is now considered the most private genre, that intimate form of speech that we overhear. 8 The Western lyrics source is communal but has developed into an extreme form of individualism. Historically, the primary models of lyric have revolved around two poles: the Classical Greek and the Greater Romantic lyric. From Wordsworth on, the romantic has served as the predominant model; critics have varied widely, however, about the nature of the form. There are two main challenges with the romantic bias. First, as Raymond Williams has clearly shown, 9 the romantic designation ignores and/or misreads the actual work of the original romantic poets. Within the lyric models that have predominated from the late 19 th century through the 20 th the romantic notion of the artist is of one indifferent to the crude worldliness and materialism of politics and social affairs (Culture 30). But as Williams notes this is not the original sense; what 8 The notion of lyric as overheard utterance was first suggested by John Stuart Mill and was later developed into a nearly ubiquitous concept by Northrop Frye in The Anatomy of Criticism. 9 These ideas of the romantic run throughout Williamss work but are discussed in detail in The Romantic Artist (Culture, 30-49) and Romantic (Keywords, 274-76)

PAGE 19

11 became competing interestspersonal feeling vs. social; aesthetic vs. politicalwere originally one and the same. Any understanding of the personal was also an understanding of the social. What complicated the evolution of this term was the fact that notions of the individual imagination or artist were originally responses to the increasing mechanization and industrialization of the late 18 th and early 19 th centuries, and thus socially motivated developments. This has been distorted or ignored, though, as the individualism of the artist has been transformed into merely personal interests, or in Williamss terms indifference. This is the paradigm into which lyric has generally been forced: an asocial, romantic art pitted against other social forms. Second, even in the seemingly coherent romantic model, the genre is defined along different axes. The form is often defined, for instance, as musical language as opposed to speech or prose; personal language versus dramatic characterization; the individual voice as opposed to collective speech; a poetry of sincerity rather than artifice; emotion not intellect. But each defining set of terms is a gradient rather than an absolute binary. Where do we mark the line between any of these opposites? For instance, where exactly does music differentiate from speech? Can any writing be truly considered sincere and not an artifice? Likewise, while each of these factors is important, none of them can serve to define the form on its own. The lyric, then, should be defined not on a single axis but as the intersection of forces: the individual and the choral, music and speech, the contemporary and the historical, the formal and the organic, artificiality and sincerity, poet and audience. Most importantly, a returned focus on the classical model of the lyric as performance can help show how the lyric changes according to mutable historical circumstance at the same time as allowing the genre a historical continuity. For instance,

PAGE 20

12 what defines sincerity to one age will certainly not represent sincerity to another. The lyric, then, may be based on an idea of sincerity but that will not create a similar poetic expectation to different audiences. Poetic decorum, to say another way, functions as any other rules of discourse, delimiting the sayable but not defining the possibilitiesand like any other discourse, poetic decorum changes. These different elements may be grouped into two major lyric models within the romantic tradition. The first model defines the lyric as musical language. A wide range of critics see musicality as central to the definition of lyric, agreeing with C. Day Lewis who, early in the 20 th century, proclaimed simply that lyric is written for music (3); likewise, they suggest that straying from its musical roots signals the demise of lyric (as many criticsEasthope as a prime exampleclaim is the result of the rise of the voice-driven poem (60-65)). What exactly critics mean by musicality, however, is contradictory at best or undefined at worst. For instance, music to Pound represented poetrys connection back to its physical roots, its relationship to breath and dance. To Northrop Frye, it is the way poetry foregrounds the signifier over the signified (or as he terms it, babble versus doodle 10 ). They both argue for lyric as musical language but are defining music on quite different terms. Music, rather than suggesting a clearly delineated poetic element, has functioned instead as a trope for lyric itself. Music is a way for the voice to maintain distance from mere communication and to focus rather on artistic creationthat is, it foregrounds the lyric as art rather than statement. The other important aspect that most critics seem to agree on is that the relationship to music 10 In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye refers to what he calls Babble, or the musical/sonic quality of poetry and Doodle or the structure and rhetoric of poetry.

PAGE 21

13 returns the lyric to its classical origins as poetry that was literally sung, which I argue allows the voice to serve a communal function. The most important aspect of the classical model as I have said, though, is its nature as public performance. Music, I contend, originally served as a particular way of engaging a physically present audience. Lyric poetry, by being sung, was able to allow choral participation and the individual voice to speak as a dramatic construction. On one hand, the audience could actively take part in the enunciation, imaginatively identifying with the speaking voice; on the other hand, the voice could still speak/sing as an individual without, because of its nature as song, collapsing into mere individual expression. Even the individual voice maintained its effect as poetic artifice rather than mimetic representation: the sung lyric was still foregrounded as artistic construction, rather than transparent self-expression. The classical model, that is, was always concerned with its rhetoric. Where romantic theory tends to ignore the nature of the audience in favor of the speaker (although it is important to remember, as Williams pointed out, this is a misreading of the original romantic intent), the classical model is always concerned with how the lyric engages an audience and its expectationsalways functioning as a rhetorical/cultural practice. The lyric, likewise, allows the poet to push at the boundaries of those cultural expectations and/or assumptions. The second ongoing, influential model of the lyric is what T.S. Eliot referred to as meditative verse, 11 the most individual, private form of poetry. This notion of the lyric as the self speaking to the self or to no one at all (6) has been central to the thinking of 11 In The Three Voices of Poetry, Eliot distinguishes the meditative voice from the voice addressing an audience and from the voice of the poet speaking through a dramatic character. This same model has also been used by others to make the distinction from epic poetry (Pound, for instance) or from Epos or recited poetry (Frye).

PAGE 22

14 critics from Pound to Frye to Easthope to Vendler. Generally, this model distinguishes the genre from both the epic and the dramatic monologue, divisions to which I have already pointed: in the first, lyric is timeless as distinguished from the historical epic, and in the second, the personal lyric voice is distinguished from the dramatic, that of a historical character outside the self. It is also important to see that this individual model is exactly opposite the classical modelthe only audience of the romantic lyric is one that is privileged to overhear the poets inner thoughts, not engaged directly as the lyric singer would on a stage, or to ever sing as a choral entity. Helen Vendler suggests that Lyric, unlike the social genres, does not incorporate interaction with a collective; it privileges the mind in its solitary and private moments. The poet does not have to make any special effort to place himself in solidarity with the collective (qtd Bahti 6, emphasis mine). In this model, genre distinctions actually feed the divide between the social and the individual. As Williams has noted, the decision that one is forced to make between being a poet and a sociologist is a rather recent development. During the early 18 th Century when the romantic tradition was being developed, there was no such distinction. Any understanding of individual experience, Williams notes, was a reflection of social experience (Culture 42-48). The distinction has been fed by American individualism and has thus effectively pushed the genre out of the realm of social or political discourse. The main challenge of the meditative, interior model is that it assumes, or perpetuates, a belief in a coherent subjectivity. For instance, the argument suggests that the dramatic monologue is clearly a construction of a voice when the poem spoken from the presumed self is not. The textual subject is always already radically split from the

PAGE 23

15 author and, thus, even the meditative verse represents a dramatic construction of an historical figure. Likewise, as Barbara Herrnstein Smith has pointed out, even the poem supposedly grounded in an authors own sense of voice can still, at best, only represent a possible utterance, not an actual one (Holden, Style and Authenticity 114). The divide, then, between the lyric and the monologue is arbitrary. In the same way, Pound's notion of the epic as the poem containing history 12 is also arbitrary. To suggest this division is to suggest that the lyric voice can simply transmit its transcendental existence unproblematically through language rather than similarly being constructed by language (and, thus, history and culture) in the first place. Recent paradigms of the lyric have emerged, however, as poststructural thinking has helped to break down the clear divide between the individual and the social or historical, but certain lyric definitions persist. For instance, the essays in Lyric Poetry: Beyond the New Criticism (1985) offer productive reevaluations of the genremost notably making lyric studies more interdisciplinary, defining the lyric as more intertextual, and focusing on voice as a self-reflexive figure 13 all of which are central to my conception of the form. More traditional lyric models, however, are reinscripted in counterproductive ways. For instance, Tilottama Rajan and Herbert Tucker still both conceive of a transhistorically delimited lyric form. Rajan refers to the deconstruction of the lyric moment through its insertion into a narrative or dramatic context (206), clearly marking lyric as distinct from narrative or drama, and Tucker considers the dramatic 12 For Pound, the distinction is between his early lyric work and his later epic, The Cantos. The Cantos attempt to poetically embody large portions of the history of civilization, most importantly European culture. 13 Jonathan Culler Changes in the Study of Lyric (Hosek and Parker 38-54). Culler also notes the deconstruction of the symbol-allegory opposition as a central change in lyric studies.

PAGE 24

16 monologue as a response to lyric isolationism (243), perpetuating the notion of lyric as personal. I contend that the lyric bridges the individual-social divide and, thus, cannot be distinguished from narrative or drama. These terms, rather, are culturally specific, reflecting poetic conventions of a given historical era. For instance, W.R. Johnson has suggested that by the 3rd century BC, the conventions of lyric had changed so dramaticallyfrom a sung genre to a spoken one, from an inclusive audience to more specifically an educated onethat many Latin poets struggled to re-envision their role within the community: where earlier Greek poets such as Sappho and Pindar could sing of communal emotional and religious experiences, Latin poets such as Catullus and Horace sang of alienation and distance from an audience. These Latin poets still attempted to function within the theatrical model of Greek lyric but in the context of radically different cultural expectations. 14 The history of lyric has been a perpetual reinvention of poetic (and social) engagement, not a static genre but a constant dynamic between poet and culture. The text and poetic convention are always in dialogue as a process of evolution, the poet making use of conventions while simultaneously distorting them. Static notions of genre do not allow for an understanding of the ways in which a reader is always forced to position him or herself in the midst of such change and allow, rather, for a view of the reader as passive recipient. A more flexible model of lyric, however, forces the reader to adopt a new stance to read, to construct the author-reader contract in the very process of reading. As Jonathan Arac has suggested, lyric refers as much to ways of reading as it 14 See Johnsons The Idea of Lyric, especially 110-122, for a more in-depth discussion of these changes.

PAGE 25

17 does to defining characteristics of the text (Hosek and Parker 345-356). Bahti, in The Ends of Lyric, agrees: Lyric, it seems, shapes and reshapes itself between the limit cases (254). Most importantly, since the lyric is still grounded in the illusion of a speaking individual, the assumptions that an audience brings to the lyric are based on assumptions about the subject; by constantly rethinking or reimagining the lyric an audience reshapes its assumptions of reading itselfand thus the larger implications about the nature of human subjectivity. The construction of a lyric self is a performative means of claiming agency; lyric criticism has reduced the lyric to mere self-expression perpetuating a bourgeois, capitalist ideology, not the lyric itself. As Judith Butler argues, it is a false assumption that to be constituted by discourse is to be determined by discourse, where determination forecloses possibilities of agency (182). Within the lyric, the subject is paradoxically engaged in both its own construction and deconstruction; the lyric drive itself, I contend, is the drive to locate the agents of personal and social change. Who Speaks? The Problem of Voice and Agency Obviously, any claim that a discursively constructed subject can also speak with agency is problematic at best, yet any agenda of personal or social change rests precisely on this notion. Claiming such agency is double-edged: it can create the site of possible change but risks reducing the subject to a humanist and/or essentialist figure. Constructed by historical and discursive forces, the individual does, nonetheless, accrue meaning and material effect, and thus agency as well. As Butler says, Construction is not opposed to agency; it is the necessary site of agency (187). I build on Butlers ideas to argue that the lyric I is always a performative utterance (as both linguistic

PAGE 26

18 performativity and as theatrical performance) that, rather than expressing any a priori self, constructs an identity as a perpetual process. Any notions of individualism, romantic self-expression, or humanism rest on notions of a subject that is originary, knowable, and expressible. As Julian Henriques has noted, at the core of American individualism is a humanist belief in the unitary and rational subject (ix-xi). Such a subject, Henriques goes on to argue, is also necessarily founded on notions of a recoverable archivethat individuals origins that are revealable or confessable (11-25). In fact, I would argue that the notion of the archiveand its necessary disclosurehas become part and parcel of the American ethos and its emphasis on personal confession and self-revelation. Freud and Lacan, however, both offer profound ways to see the subject as fundamentally unknowable and inexpressible, two characteristics that are essential to understanding the lyric I. Rather than seeing the subjectas the humanist heritage of Descartes has dictatedas rational and unitary, Freud and Lacan posit a subject that is contradictory, decentered, and multiple. Both, however, retain their sense of the recoverable archive, those originary events that create the decentered consciousness. More importantly, both posit a universal subject, one that is not historically or culturally situated. Cathy Urwin effectively argues, however, that we do not need to lose the foundations of either theory in order to create a culturally specific subject. For instance, the subjects entrance into the field of language can be seen as derived from historical relationships (which are necessarily linguistically founded) rather than a pre-given symbolic order (Henriques 264-322). The split subject is still created by its entrance into language but a culturally specific language; the subject, then, is still composed of the social, but the theory need

PAGE 27

19 not be constrained by a single Oedipal Law of the Father. Rather than a pre-given or universal subject, subjectivity is always a contingent linguistic (and, thus, cultural) construction. Likewise, the subject does not consist of a singular archival history but of a multiple nexus of formative subject positionsthat is, in relation to any particular formative experience, the subject exists in multiple, contradictory positions, of which no single position can be recovered. In the same way that the rules of any discourse delimit the sayable but do not close the possibilities, a discursive construction delimits subject positions but does not represent closure. In American, capitalist culture, however, the belief in a unitary, rational, non-contradictory selfthe illusion of a coherent subjectivityis afforded a great investment; this illusory coherent subjectivity, then, accrues meaning and power. As Henriques argues, the subject is fragmentary and illusory, but not powerlessit is rather repositioned moment to moment (288). In other words, the subject, functioning from a position within a culture of individualism with the knowledge that the individual is not a closed system, serves as a radical presence, what Julian Wolfreys calls an affirmative resistance. 15 The Althusserian position that individual agency is merely bourgeois ideology is an essentialization of both power and possible resistance and an essentialization of the individual and the social. Henriques has effectively argued the necessity of breaking down the individual-social binary that is the foundation of the Western, and especially American, imaginary (11-25). Any resistance to social structures is limited if the individual is a distinct construct separate from the social field. Notions of coherent 15 See Wolfreys, The Rhetoric of Affirmative Resistance.

PAGE 28

20 subjectivity necessitate a firm border between inner and outer, self and other. Theorizing the self as part of an ongoing, non-originary discursive fabric, however, allows the subject to function as the nexus of possible subjectivities, and to see the self as intersubjective as well as interpenetrating the outer culture. The subject itself is a defensive posture against destabilization, an imaginary container of an inner self opposed to an external other. The subject, that is, is always in process, never occupying a coherent or stable position but becomes invested in its own identity. If seen as an imaginary container, though, the subject then is also capable of being re-imagined or re-constructed. 16 Functioning as an individual, then, is a cultural performance rather than the expression of a sovereign self. Again, this does not mean it is powerless: being aware of the multiple ways in which one has been constructed allows the subject an active role in its ongoingnesswhat Annie Finch refers to as coherent decentering, functioning from an intelligible position that does not collapse into a mere humanist version of the sovereign self (Sontag 137-157). Coherent decentering is the very foundation of the lyric voice that I am exploring. The lyric as I see it need not be radically fragmentary or disjointed as many critics, such as Marjorie Perloff, 17 would claim in order to speak of the fragmentary or illusory subject. The divide between coherent and fragmentary is itself illusory, a re-essentialization of the self-other, individual-social binaries. As Judith Butler has shown, 16 I am indebted here to the work of Julia Kristeva. Though these ideas run throughout her work, I am particularly drawing from The Semiotic and the Symbolic and Negativity: Rejection in Revolution and Poetic Language. 17 Perloffs ideas of the avant-garde traditions are developed particularly in Can(n)on to the Right of Us, Can(n)on to the Left of Us: A Plea for Difference and Traduit de lamericain: French Representations of the New American Poetry in Poetic License.

PAGE 29

21 even if the stable self is an illusion, it becomes invested with potential power. 18 In fact, speaking from a coherent position allows it a cultural intelligibility and position of power in ways that the completely fractured subject and/or text well may not. Lyric and the Oral Tradition In Poetic License, Marjorie Perloff makes a case for an avant-garde poetics that does not center itself in voice or self-presence. Perloff clearly believes that experimental Language poetrypoetry that, rather than speaking from a coherent voice or center, pushes the signified/signifier gap to its extremerepresents the future of American poetry. Her argument, though, conflates poetry and lyric, reducing the very canon of American poetics to an experimental work in which innovation is most often valued for innovations sake. What Perloffs argument essentially accomplishes is to take American individualism out of American poetry. If for no other reason, this points to the necessity of maintaining distinctions under the broader label of poetry. Lyric and the individual voice serve an essential role in a culture so fiercely individualistic as America. Even in an era of poststructural criticism, American poetry and theory remain invested in a culture of individualism. For example, Rita Felski has noted an important and relevant difference between French feminist theory and American; the first, she claims, is based on psychoanalysis and issues of repression while the second is grounded in issues of autobiographys/confession and individual expression 19 even if acknowledging a radically decentered subject, American theory tends to search for, and retain faith in, the 18 Butlers Gender Trouble is invested in the deconstruction of any stable notions of subjectivity. At the same time, she does not posit this as a lack of political power or voice, but rather sees the discourse in which identity is articulated as the very locus of the political. See especially Conclusion: From Parody to Politics (181-190). 19 Felskis section of Beyond Feminist Aesthetics of the same name, especially pp 19-30, highlights these distinctions.

PAGE 30

22 individual agent that is at the center of American individualism. Despite cultural criticism, such as that of Raymond Williams, which shows the idea of culture to be more productive when considered as the whole of a societys experience as opposed to the cultivated sensibility of an elite, (Culture 295-338; Keywords 87-93) arguments such as Perloffs keep the poetic as a cultivated, avant-garde domain without any bearing to a larger public audience. On the other side of the spectrum, Robert Pinsky has been the most prominent critic to explore the relationship between lyric, democracy and a popular audience. His book Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry shows how the lyric voice is central (or should be) to the workings of a democratic society. A strong proponent of a voice-based lyric in contemporary American society, Pinsky makes an impassioned case for the lyric voice as the embodiment of democratic individualismthe counterforce to a mass culture. While he does an excellent job of promoting this lyric potentialand promoting, in general, a somewhat populist version of poetry to American societyhe falls into two problematic modes of reading. First, Pinsky sees the voice as absolutely mimetic and not performative, a definitive binary between lyric and theatricality. The voice for Pinsky represents a palpable presence that is transferred unproblematically to a reader. Second, while Pinsky suggests that the lyrics individualism is simultaneously a social act, this social nature is merely because of the fact that it is read. To some extent, he suggests, poetry always includes the social realm because poetrys voice evokes the attentive presence of some other, or its lack: an auditor, significantly absent or present(Democracy 30). While this is certainly important, it maintains the notion that the social is an individual effect, that is individuals speaking to individualsnever

PAGE 31

23 for or as. The voice itself cannot become a communal entity which is the tension between individual and social that represents the lyrics larger possibilityespecially in terms of democratic representation. Walter J. Ongs work in Orality and Literacy becomes important here as he effectively argues that, rather than a social effect, the technology of print has constructed an ever-more individualist consciousness: When a speaker is addressing an audience, the members of the audience normally become a unity, with themselves and with the speaker [while] writing and print isolate (73). Ong shows how print played a dominant role in the growth of personal privacy. The old communal oral world, he notes, had split up into privately claimed freeholdings. The drift in human consciousness toward greater individualism had been served well by print (129). The implication for this discussion is that the lyric voice represents a drive to maintain the effects of oral cultureseven within a culture of individualism. In fact, we might consider the divide between Language poetry and lyric poetry as the divide between a rhetorically, self-consciously print medium and a medium that strives to retain its sense as an oral practice respectively. This is in no way to suggest that contemporary poets can simply ignore, or attempt to ignore, the materiality of their mediumthere is no way to escape the fact that poetry exists as a print culturebut that poets can foreground the effects of orality in a way that allows a more communal experience than poetry that foregrounds the arbitrariness of language as Language poetry does. Oral utterance, as Ong has noted, also retains the sense that language is never autonomous (as New Critics would suggest) but always based on a non-verbal context.

PAGE 32

24 A Poetry of Democracy Since lyric can be seen to engage with changing audience expectations, lyric change intersects inevitably with cultural change. The form becomes especially important at those points in time when an audience is actively reimagining itself. The American lyric has been especially productive as the country has reconstructed the shape of its democracy, the mid-19 th century, for instance, as the struggles over slavery and economic disparity led to war and eventually to reconstruction. Likewise, we can point to important moments in the struggle for womens suffrage and economic equality, the Civil Rights movement, and Cold War-era struggles over privacy. In each of these instances, the shape of lyric representation embodied the struggle for political representation; lyric voice was political voice. Yet a distinction is often made between the poetic (or aesthetic) and political. In New Critical or formalist models, for instance, the political becomes equated with message or content as opposed to form. John Crowe Ransom uses two metaphors to describe the lyric: a house and a democracy. Both metaphors make a distinction between prose-sense and the poetic quality. For instance, in a house, the poetic is equal to those changeable elements, paint, wallpaper, etc. Likewise, in a democracy the state (the prose-sense or message) does not control the individual (the poetic) as a totalitarian state doesthe poetic, that is, must be free and beyond the constraints of message. 20 What strikes me as curious is that neither of these two fundamental images/conceptsshelter and government, home and societyinvokes the actual people living in either of them; they remain strictly aesthetic terms. In that way, the poem is still allowed to be divorced 20 While these are recurring images in Ransoms work, they are most clearly defined in Criticism as Pure Speculation (Kaplan 450-469).

PAGE 33

25 from its cultural situation: a poem may well be a democracy but not of a democracy, not of any political use. In The Well-Wrought Urn, Cleanth Brooks, likewise, argues that the poetic is that which cannot be paraphrased, not some effect that is hung on the poem like clothes on a rack but as the structure itself (192-214). This idea that became a New Critical staplethat the poetic is the unparaphrasable aestheticlends itself, though, to a vision in which the aesthetic is inherently separated neatly from the politicalthe political being defined as message. I would contend that we need to view the political in two ways: as both voice and structurenot merely message but as poetic structure, the relationship between self and world, individual and society. Likewise, voice is not important as merely identity politicsthat is, the expression of some marginalized groupas many critics would claim, 21 but in the way that the tensions between individual and social are aesthetically embodied within the voice, an aesthetic negotiation of the individual/social dynamic. Poetic structure is simultaneously subjective and social. If we view the political in this way, the very structuring of the poetic house, of a structure mediating a constructed subject interacting with the world is itself the potentially radical poetics of the lyric. I argue, then, with Rachel Blau DuPlessis that a methodology of close reading need not necessarily force the poem out of the social domain. DuPlessis specifically uses what she calls a social philology: an application of the techniques of close reading to reveal social discourses, subjectivities negotiated, and ideological debates in a poetic 21 The distinction between identity politics versus aesthetics has been widely debated. In this dissertation, I have already noted the ways that avant-garde theorists such as Perloff maintain this binary. I would also point, though, to the re-emergence of a Formalist school of poetics that maintains the New Critical distinction between poetic/political. A short list of such poet-critics would include Dana Gioia, Jonathan Holden, and Timothy Steele.

PAGE 34

26 text (Genders, Races 12). Where DuPlessis is mostly concerned with words and word clusters, phonemes, and puns, I am mostly concerned with questions of voice and structure. My sense of structure here relies heavily on the notion of the poetic house to which Ransom refers, but in the sense that structurelike a houses architectureenacts the subjects interaction with the social. A tightly shuttered, locked building represents a very different posture toward the world than an open, large-windowed and terraced-style house. Poetic construction likewise represents a means of interaction, and as such the linguistic subject embodies all of the latent, yet fundamental, contradictions of the American experience: public and private, self and other, individual and group. The lyric is uniquely able to interrogate and deconstruct the individual-social binary that is essential to enabling new visions of individual and group agency and which is integral to the ongoing evolution of a Democratic society. Lesley Wheelers The Poetics of Enclosure productively defines the lyric as an enclosure that embodies cultural forms of confinement and privacy, enacting gendered relationships to the world. I build on Wheelers ideas, but conflate the idea of the lyric house with the notion of a democratic house of representatives, not merely an individual relationship to the social sphere but a choral structure in which competing interests struggle to find voice. Where Ransoms house is a strictly individual, solitary aesthetic object, I would argue that the lyric house is inherently social and political. In fact, we can think of the lyric voice as a house, an imaginary container in which subjects (individual and group) are constructed, compete to be given voice, and thus cultural/political representation. Rather than claiming some extra-cultural, transcendent

PAGE 35

27 aesthetic, the lyric should be seen to be engaging the fundamental, historical questions of the nature of American democracy. The shape of the lyric house necessarily engages the democratic house. The poets that I will examine in this project all work, in quite different ways, to restructure this house of representatives to reveal the contradictions of the American I and attempt to negotiate new possibilities for the American subject. One of the defining characteristics of the lyric as I am defining it is based on Finchs model of coherent decentering as a way of engaging a given audience. The tradition of American lyric, I contend, is founded on placing speaker and audience not in a formal, linguistic house but within an always changing cultural performance. Such a definition of lyric allows an elasticity to the genre that is essential (and what makes it so culturally important) at the same time as situating it within ongoing traditions. Other genres may have more definite borders; lyric, though, remains an opening, a space in which things intersect, a house where people come and go, move in or move out; there is redecoration, renovation and reinvention. Each lyric redefines the possibilities of the house itself. That founding gesture is one in which the reader is allowed to participate, to imagine the shape of the house, or the democracy, along with the poet. Rather than seeing lyric poetry in America as simply privileging the individual self, we need to see the way that selves are constructed and examined. This puts the genre at the very center of contemporary critical theory debates. The lyric is particularly suited to explore issues of privacy and disclosure, of representation and voice, of individual and group allegiances that are the heart of the American experience. Lyric is a form that forces an investigation of the intersection of linguistic and social forces that determine

PAGE 36

28 subjectivity. Identity is always a constructive, performative processin life and in the poem. Lyric is a structure, then, in which discursive forces and individual agency can be explored in order to imagine new paradigms of identity. As the poets that I will examine in this dissertation show, the American lyric serves as an invaluable cultural practice, a space in which our deepest beliefs and visions can both be affirmed, challenged, and changed. To say that any of the poets in this project are most interesting as figures embedded in historical circumstance is not to suggest that they are merely reflectorsor mere productsof their culture; it is rather to see their poetics as most radical in their confrontation with historical experience, as figures in time rather than beyond. The lyric poet is inherently positioned at the nexus of contradictory cultural energies. These energies are particularly poignant in America, a culture based on the contradictions of identity: the American is expected to be both profoundly individual and defiantly American, to retain ones cultural heritage while simultaneously melting into an American identity. An American national identity, founded on notions of exceptionalism, requires that members pledge allegiance and commonality at the same time as remaining unfailingly unique. The writers in this project all confront, through the very structure of their work, these contradictions that compose the American ethos; each poet, in creating an art that challenges how we read, challenges us to re-read America itself.

PAGE 37

WALT WHITMAN: THE INDIVIDUAL AS NATION An oft-quoted passage from Song of Myself indicates the new poetic voice that Walt Whitman attempted to construct in his Leaves of Grass: Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself / (I am large, I contain multitudes) (LG 78). The I here, rather than a distinct individual, is a composite persona, embracing the masses and the complex variance inherent within such a disparate body. The I speaks as the nation itself and its intrinsically contradictory diversity. At the same time, though, the title points to the ways in which the poem insists on the speaker as an individual, the sole creative force behind the poem. Whitman constructs a voice that is neither individualist nor communal but both. The voice of Leaves of Grass, that is, embodies the complex interrelation between the one and the many that defines a democracy; the poems become a crucible in which the problems and possibilities of American democracy are constantly refigured. But these problems and possibilities, while shifting focus perhaps, are never resolved: the tension between individualism and group allegiances are still at the heart of the American experience, making Whitmans poetics as relevant as ever, a soundboard against which any reader voices his or her version of America, an always multiple and unresolved process. In fact, we might say that Leaves of Grass creates a perspective of America and democracy as process rather than a product or definition, a process that each act of reading engages anew. Simultaneously individual and communal expression, solo and choral, Whitmans voice at once reflects a fierce American individualism and opens itself to the democratic 29

PAGE 38

30 masses, a radically new poetic structure that enacts the democratic ideal of equal access and representation. At the same time, this voice mirrors an American cultural exceptionalism and imperialism: the openness of Leaves of Grass is not only welcoming but also often subsuming. The voice in its increasing largeness inevitably overtakes difference and speaks for, which places the intersection between artistic and political representation at the forefront of Whitmans poetry. Whitman might speak for as a way to give voice to marginalized groups, but he also risks speaking in place of those groups, that is speaking for rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. In many respects, we may think of these tensions in Whitmans poetry as representing what Gary Gerstle has referred to as civic nationalism and racial nationalism. 1 Within Whitmans poetry, the impulse to define America based on the promise of equality clashes with the need to define Americanness based on a model of racial heritage, or a melting pot in which the right of American identity is tied to the melting of difference into a white, Anglo identity. Whitmans poetry, then, represents a psychosocial struggle in which the individual and the communal voices merge and compete. Both political and psychological, the poems represent a complex narrative of emerging individual and national identities. Whitman specifically engages with three radical new strategies of constructing a poetic voice that reveals these psychosocial tensions. First, Whitman challenges the contemporaneous expectations of the reader-text relationship or the reader-author contract. The authorial presence is seemingly no longer bound by the traditional confines of the text as reader, likewise, is explicitly brought into the text and made an agent in the 1 Gerstles American Crucible argues that these two distinct forms of nationalism have been defining forces in the shaping of an American identity.

PAGE 39

31 construction of the voice and the production of meaning within the poem. Rather than presenting a finished product, Whitman suggested that his poetry must be completed by each reader anew. His investment in the reader reflects a changing cultural perspective in which each citizen is the source of authority rather than priests, monarchs and authors. Second, the I functions as a choral voice, a composite persona that attempts to give voice to all. By giving voice to the masses, Whitmans poetics embody the ideal of a representative government in which all citizens will have a voice. Poetic representation then is equal to political representation. Likewise, the I is constructed in a way that reflects what later theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari would refer to as rhizomatic. 2 That is, the I has no single source, no discernible center; the center, rather, exists everywhere within the poem. By constructing an I without center, Whitman refuses the notions of margins in favor of a political state in which all voices are equal. Finally, Whitmans I suggests the double nature of choral. As mentioned, the voice is not singular but a chorus of multitudes, but it is also choral as a reference to its musicality. Song of Myself for instance reflects Whitmans interest in opera, a poetic structure in which a multitude of characters and voices all sing as Iwhat he refers to as the nature of his poetry as ensemble. 3 It is also important to consider Song of Myself not just a song about the self but a singing of the self into being; the I of these poems is a perpetual becoming, enacted with each reading of the text. In this way, Whitman has constructed a poetics that allows each successive generation of readers to reconstruct the 2 This image of the rhizome runs throughout Deleuze and Guattaris work, but it is especially central to A Thousand Plateaus. 3 The phrase comes from a letter to William Douglas OConnor from March 5, 1889 (LG xxvii).

PAGE 40

32 I at the center of these poems, and, thus, to reconstruct its version of American democracy as well. To a large extent, we can see these three strategiesthe challenge to author-reader conventions, the dual nature of the lyric I, and the notion of poetic music as ensemble performancereflect the merging of three different traditions: the classical, the romantic, and the modern (while certainly we cannot classify Whitman as a High Modernist writer, the periodization of such a term proves problematic with a writer such as Whitman). I will argue that the weaving of these three strands is what ultimately marks what I am defining as an American lyric tradition in which the lyric voice is able to embody the political tensions of American democracy. It would be a naive reading of Whitman, though, to disregard the complex function of the Other within this seemingly democratic voice. The Other who is seemingly welcomed into the embrace of democracy serves just as often as a border to the identity being constructed and, likewise, serves a historical function to support the claims of cultural progress that Whitman supports. The I of these poems, then, is continuously at odds with itself as it both merges with these endless figures in a democratic embrace and uses them as the Other from which to construct its own identity. Two sets of competing narratives play themselves out through Whitmans poetics. First, we can read Whitmans Americanness as an example of a postcolonial anxiety, revealing the need to break free from British and European cultural/intellectual/artistic control as Whitman envisions himself the new Adam giving voice to the New World. At the same time, though, Whitmans ideas of progress (which affords America its increasing status as bearer of the modern) necessarily involve notions of cultural

PAGE 41

33 evolution. To give credence to this narrative of progress, he must not break free from Europe but, rather, claim America as taking on the mantle of European control. 4 Second, Whitmans poetics also attempt to construct a universalahistorical and aculturaldemocratic subject, allowing equal access and representation for all. Conversely, his belief in progress also means he must see figures as radically historical, identifying groups as signposts in a historical narrative of progress from which America has emerged as the new or the modern. 5 Rather than particulars, then, groups often become identified as figures within a historical narrative; for instance, the Native American serves as the child that modernity has surpassedboth source and artifact. This voice, then, embodies the fragmentation of the mid-19 th century marked, as Eric Foner says, by the interplay of race, class, and political ideology in a society undergoing both a sectional confrontation and an economic revolution (9), a society in which the gaps between rich and poor, capital and labor, owner and slave, north and south threatened its own dissolution. At the same time, America was attempting to construct its own identity as separate, and exceptional, from the rest of the globe, forcing a division between increasingly native and global impulses. Most importantly, these tensions have never been resolved: the history of America has been an ongoing cyclic reconfiguration of these essential confrontations between the individual and the state, the one and the many, the nation and the globe, individualism and group allegiance. Whitmans poetics, then, remain as central as ever to understanding the American ethos. 4 For a useful discussion of the effects of the postcolonial experience on U.S. writers, see Buell (196-201). 5 For a thorough discussion of the manifestation of this narrative of progress that fixes figures as static representations in much 19 th -century America literature, See Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms.

PAGE 42

34 A Lyric for the New Democracy The 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass did not bear a name or a signature, only an etching of Whitman himself standing confidently in workmans clothes. The effect of such a radical gesture was to suggest that the book did not represent a creation by a particular author but rather was the author himself. Camerado, this is no book, / Who touches this touches a man, (LG 424) he says in So Long, the poem that ended every version of Leaves of Grass since the 1860 edition. Again and again, throughout the collection, Whitman attempts to create the sense that the text is the actual life, not a representation. Many critics, then, reduce the poems to personal utterance, a phenomenological revelation of a pre-existing self. For instance, James Miller refers to Whitman as ever the confessional (Leaves of Grass: America's Lyric-Epic 113) and Robert Phillips suggests that Whitman may have been Americas first blatantly confessional poet (3). Folsom similarly repeats Whitmans claim: The book the reader holds is Whitman himself (MS 24, emphasis mine). Such a critical approach comprises only a small part of Whitman criticism as a whole, but what is important is that Whitman promotes such a reading even as the work clearly goes beyond such claims. In his 1855 Preface he claimed, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains (LG 624), suggesting a new author-reader relationship, supposedly unmediated by artifice or convention. Throughout Leaves of Grass, curtains are undraped and clothes are pulled away to reveal the real, Whitman, the naked self. Certainly the self-revelatory character of these poems is important but the figure of I is much more complex than Whitmans own claims might suggest. The question is not whether Whitman intends for the reader to equate the I with an individual

PAGE 43

35 personality, but for what purpose. Even as astute a critic as Allen Grossman has suggested that Whitman's poetic authority is J.S. Mills overheard soliloquy of feeling (LG 881). But clearly, rather than working within this romantic model of the lyric, Whitmans poetry engages, if not assaults, the reader directly. In fact, if we use the traditional signposts of lyric poetryoverheard utterance and musicalityWhitmans poetry might not be considered lyric at all. Both music and speech, though, function in Leaves of Grass as a lyric performance in which the reader is drawn into relationship with the speaker: You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me (LG 624). Rather than a private, overheard utterance, Whitman is suggesting a communal act, focusing heavily on the oral quality of speech that, as Walter J. Ong has noted, creates a shared experience as opposed to the isolation of the printed page (115-135). Whitman does hold certain poetic sensibilities in common with Wordsworth: poetry should be of everyday events, in a language of real men. 6 But rather than a poetic introspection, Whitman speaks directly toand forhis audience, performing a particular version of selfhood for a contemporaneous audience and attempting, in fact, to create a new audience and thus a new cultural identity; the poems are not only a response to Emersons call for a new poetic expression 7 but are actually an effort to develop a new national identity. Literature for Whitman is not the reflection of an existing culture but the means of forming culture. His poetry attempts to both speak to, and for, America. The American ethos to which he is speaking is integrally grounded in notions of 6 These claims for poetry are developed in Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads (Kaplan 256-275). 7 This call for a new form of distinctly American literature was the focus of Emersons The American Scholar (51-71).

PAGE 44

36 personality and individualism; to engage with such a culture, then, his poetics are likewise grounded. Music, or poetic structure, for Whitman is not a case of an a priori formal quality as had been true for much European (and earlier American) poetry but an effect that suggests a spontaneous imaginative act. That is, Whitman insists on the individual imagination as the source of poetry and music. He, likewise, must speak as the master of his own creative pursuits, praising his originality over any sense of tradition. Especially in the 1855 version of Song of Myself, this sense of originality is created by the lack of structural definition; the poem has no numbered sections and moves freely from experience to experience all revolving around the Is seeming definition of itself, progressing, as Betsy Erkkila notes, by image association rather than by cause-and-effect (90); the center of the poem exists equally everywhere, and meaning is generated not in a linear progression but as accumulation or, as he suggests within Song of Myself, centrifugally and centripetally. 8 Whitmans poetics, then, engage with a Jeffersonian model of individualism and self-sovereignty. This very notion of the creative personality that Whitman helped produce was concurrent with, and reflected, the evolution of an American national identity. 9 Despite the body of critical work that expounds upon Whitmans mystical or transcendental orientation as distinct from historical cultural/political formations, 10 what poems like Song of Myself reveal are the 8 These terms come from the 1855 version of Song of Myself, line 1007 in which he refers to himself as One of that centripetal and centrifugal gang (LG 702). 9 See a thorough, parallel discussion of self-sovereignty, imperialism and the work of Herman Melville in Dimock, Empire for Liberty. 10 Allen, The New Walt Whitman Handbook and Studies in Leaves of Grass; Matthiesson, The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman; Miller, James E. Jr. A Critical Guide to Walt Whitman.

PAGE 45

37 ways in which the poetic voice dramatizes a culture, a voice defined through notions of democratic individualism. Alexis de Tocqueville seemed to be speaking prophetically of Whitman when he suggested that the literature of democracy will never demonstrate the order, regularity, skill and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be ignored or despised. The poetry of a democracy, he continues, will be made of a rough and untutored energy (qtd Gray 14). The poetics of Leaves of Grass attempts to embody the unruly yet optimistic inclusiveness of the new democracy; his poetry must break free of tradition, especially European models that had dictated poetry until that point. In an 1866 letter to W.D. OConnor discussing Leaves of Grass, Matthew Arnold expressed the conservative perspective against which Whitmans verse was working: While you think it is [Whitmans] highest merit that he is so unlike anyone else, to me this seems to be his demerit [ . ] a great original literature America will never get in this way, and her intellect must inevitably consent to come, in a considerable measure, into the European movement. That she may do this and yet be an independent intellectual power, not merely as you say an intellectual colony of Europe, I cannot doubt; and it is on her doing this, and not on her displaying an eccentric and violent originality that wise Americans should in my opinion set their desires. (MS 82) But, for Whitman, new ways of reading actually indicated new approaches to society, and, thus, new ways of writing were essential. The American character could not thrive under the cultural standards of Europe. The hierarchy of author-reader is broken down in an attempt to invite the reader into the process of making poetry, Whitmans poems not so much vessels of meaning but the event from which meaning might be made. The poet must not serve as a figure like a king or priest who hands down meaning to the masses but should actually give voice to the multitude. In other words, Whitman believed that just as a new democratic society demanded a new citizenship, one in which the authority

PAGE 46

38 becomes invested in the individual, so too literature demanded a new readership, one in which meaning stems from the reader. Not only must he distance himself from tradition in order to create such a poetry, he must disinvest himself of authority: He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher (LG 706). Similarly, Whitman attempts to help the reader become an active participant in the making of meaning: Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origins of all poems, [ . ] You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, or take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. (LG 663) The reader here represents both the active reader and the new active democratic citizen. Knowledge is constructed by the reader (not secondor third-hand) and not stored in the static realm of books. Each reader, as each democratic citizen, must serve as his or her own filterboth source and judge of knowledge, an idea that embodies a Jeffersonian philosophy of an individualist democracy. Likewise, in terms of subject matter, Tocqueville suggested that a democratic poetry must necessarily be about the poet himself, a singular embodiment of the democratic mass. Considering Tocquevilles claims, Richard Gray goes on to argue that the only way in which [Whitman] could participate in a common cultural effort, he believed, was by behaving as a supreme individualist (20). One of the great tensions and innovations of Whitmans poetics, then, is his attempt to be profoundly individualistic at the same time as he claims a national identity, the way in which these two interpenetrate, the one becoming the many.

PAGE 47

39 Even the terms by which Whitman affirms his own individual nature become ambiguous: Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos (LG 680). 11 The terms by which he defines this individual move from the biographical name, the historical individual, to a national affiliation, followed by two more ambiguous adjectives, a rough and a kosmos, wrapped in a syntax that clouds the relationship between terms. For instance, the term roughs seems particularly multiple. On one hand, it surely represents a class marker, the rough representing the manual laborer. Whitman aligns himself with the nations workers rather than the elite. Likewise, in mid-19 th century America, the term carries with it homosexual overtones. In both cases, Whitman positions himself at the margins of national identity. On the other hand, the term roughs can refer to a national characterthat Americans are the roughs. So, the term can equally suggest a group identity within the nationone of those roughs within Americaand a national identity, suggesting that America itself is one of the rough, unpolished new countries, a national identity that Whitman positions against what he sees as the overly refined sensibilities of Europe. A kosmos presents a similar ambiguity. Is Whitman, the biographical figure, a kosmos within himself, or does his notion of self begin to transcend the physical, to reach into the kosmos? Or, is it actually America that becomes a kosmos? The syntax itself allows these multiple readings so that, even as the self is seemingly affirmed, it dissolves into ever-larger spheres. Constructing a New Reader This ambiguity allows Whitman to speak in multiple ways, but it also puts the reader in a new position within the text. Throughout Leaves of Grass, the reader 11 The terms and syntax have become much less open-ended in later versions of the poem. For instance, the final version is Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son (LG 45).

PAGE 48

40 becomes central to the construction of this poetic voice and of meaning itselfmeaning not as a static entity, but an ongoing process of dialogue between text and reader. In some senses, the speaker of these poems reaches out beyond the confines of the page. For instance, in Trickle Drops, the speakers blood spills onto the page and beyond: confession drops, / Stain every page, stain every song I sing, every word I say, bloody drops / Let them know your scarlet heat, let them glisten, / Saturate them with yourself all ashamed and wet (LG 107). The physicality of the speaker actually drips from the page. In the context of the Calamus cluster of poems in which this poem resides, though, we might also consider this blood as a sexual fluid, so that the poem is a confession of ones sexuality and a masturbatory image 12 projected toward the reader who responds ashamed and wet. These poems represent a new national identity marked by sexualitya nation in which its puritan roots meet with a new model of openness and inclusion. Throughout Leaves of Grass, the borders between personal and public are tested. James E. Miller Jr. refers to Leaves of Grass as a lyric-epic, the first half denoting (for Miller) the private, and the second denoting the public. But this binary is constantly undercut by the poems themselves as the I becomes the very ground on which the culture itself walks. By the end of Song of Myself, for instance, the speaker has become air, dusk and dirt, claiming finally that to find him we must look for him beneath our boot-soles. Is the I then public or private? Whitmans poetics insist that it is both. The poems are seemingly spoken directly to each reader, Whoever you are holding me now in hand (LG 99), at the same time that this reader seems to be an 12 For a thorough discussion of the poem as masturbatory act, see Erkkila Public Love: Whitman and Political Theory (EW 113-144).

PAGE 49

41 intimate, particular reader: This hour I tell things in confidence, / I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you (LG 676) which opens up the question of who this you is if not a democratic everybody. Likewise as the voice enacts a communal speech, it also stems from a more personal relationship and loss: I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not returnd, / Yet out of that I have written these songs (LG 115). At times, the speaker is on the periphery of the readers consciousness, almost as a stalker: Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you . All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured, / You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me . I am to see to it that I do not lose you (LG 109). At other times, he is in a direct, sensual contact with the reader: thrusting me beneath your cloth, / Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip . For thus merely touching you is enough, is best (LG 100). The speaker longs to infuse myself among you till I see it common for you to walk hand in hand (LG 113) as if he attempts to reach out to the reader in both sexual embrace and in democratic solidarity: I will make divine magnetic lands, / With the love of comrades (LG 100). The nature of this union is left open in way that, as Sherry Ceriza notes, allows readers to feel included rather than excluded. Ceriza argues that words such as comrade or lover signify according to their context and to their reader (EW 107) rather than designating a singular definition and, thus, allow the reader to construct the poetry for him or herself. The amativeness or adhesiveness 13 of these poems functions on multiple levels simultaneously, from an individual declaration of sexuality to a communal bonding indicative of democratic possibility, but all revolving around the notion of human contact. 13 The terms adhesive and amative are used quite frequently in Whitmans prose to signify democracy.

PAGE 50

42 Contact, in fact, is one of the prime drives of a poem like Song of Myself: I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, / I am mad for it to be in contact with me (LG 662). At the same time that the speaker reaches out from the page for this contact, though, the reader is invited to enter into union with the text/speaker: Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as I pass, / Be not afraid of my body. (LG 96). In the poem that would later become Song for Occupations, the speaker says Come closer to me, Push close my lovers and take the best I possess, Yield close and closer and give me the best you possess This is unfinished business with me. (LG 710) The effect of this passage is to draw the reader into closer, and more intimate, contacta give and take between author and reader that is unfinished business. Erkkila has noted that the Calamus poems, like the Enfans poems, suggest forms of affection that are neither private nor always sexual and genital but public, erotic, and multiple 14 a practice of everyday life that is visible and pervasive (EW 131). At the same time, however, the Calamus poems enact a sexual covering, as the speaker engages with his own sexual uncertainties: Sullen and suffering hours(I am ashamedbut it is uselessI am what I am;) Hours of tormentI wonder if other men ever have the like, out of the like feelings? (LG 755) To some extent, we may see the desire to create a marginless poetics as a desire to allow an uncertain or unaccepted sexuality a place, or voice, in the new nation. Likewise, as 14 Though Emerson considered Leaves of Grass to be a work of American genius, he believed that Whitman should remove the Calamus section from the collection, pointing to the challenge these poems present to a reader. See Pease (162-163).

PAGE 51

43 the speaker confesses his own homosexuality and uncertainty about it, in A Woman Waits for Me, the speaker also engages in a heterosexual union that becomes emblematic of both a creative and national force as well as a release of personal energy: I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these States, I press with slow rude muscle, I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties, I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me. Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself. (LG 88) While not ignoring the problematic fact that this poem both enacts a violent sexuality and relegates the woman to the role of child-bearer, 15 I would like to suggest that the body in these poems becomes the source of a democratic and creative energy. Sexuality, if these poems are viewed in the context of the others, also refuses an essentialized categorization and does not define the subject. Physical/sexual embrace becomes emblematic of an inclusive democratic embrace. It is this embrace that allows the divide between social and individual to become porous, to create what Michael Moon refers to as the complex fluidity of identity, (LG 856). This fluidity, this openness of expression, allows the voice to become profoundly communal while remaining its sense of individuality. Toward the Modern Whitman is the first major poet to radically open the lyric house, or lyric structure, so that the subject at the center of the poetics is literally opened to the world: Unscrew the locks from the doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs! (LG 46) (a phrase that radically challenges any thinking of the poem as a self-contained unit). The poems enact an open exchange between self and other, or as Stephen Mack argues, blur 15 While beyond the scope of this dissertation, there is much excellent criticism of the problematic relation of Whitman to women. See, for instance, Vivian Pollak, Whitmans Visionary Feminism (BB 92-111).

PAGE 52

44 the boundary between externally perceived objects and internally experienced emotions. He has erased the subject-object distinctions (26). The lyric voice, through such association, merges with the external world and demands, then, a poetic structure large enough, and free enough, to likewise encompass the world. In a letter to William Douglas OConnor in 1887, he claimed that the Leaves were like a great city to modern civilization & a whole combined clustering paradoxical identity a man, a woman (LG xxvii). Ransoms poetic house then has been opened out into the vast, sprawling growth of the population. Whitmans lyric is not a pre-determined structure but one that grows in accordance to changing needs and, like a city, the poems grew in relation to the demands of the nation. As poem becomes city or community or nation, poetic liberation likewise becomes metonymic of national liberation. In the 1872 preface, Whitman says I have in my mind to run through the chants of this volume (if ever completed) the thread-voice, more or less audible, of an aggregated, inseparable, unprecedented, vast, composite, electric Democratic Nationality (LG 651). Likewise, in the previously mentioned letter to OConnor, he refers to his revolutionary poetics not as an individual utterance but as an ensemble (LG xxvii). Even as Whitman engaged a culture increasingly founded on notions of individualism and personal liberty, then, the I works in multiple ways, speaking as self, nation, globe, and cosmos. Certainly the creation of a voice that functions simultaneously on such levels is one of Whitmans great poetic achievements, but it is also what manifests the psychosocial tensions of both Whitman and an American culture.

PAGE 53

45 Even as he proclaims that he celebrates himself, the speaker of Leaves of Grass asserts that every atom belonging to me belongs to you (LG 662) counteracting the notion of supreme individuality or difference. In a tangibly political reading, this latter claim is one of an egalitarian democratic society in which access to the nations bounties belongs to everyone, a socialist democracy. Yet in the discourse of mid-19 th century America, such a democracy also reflected an imperialist tendency. The nature of democracy, that is, was naturally to expand. The nation was expanding its borders westward just as the voice of these poems, with its insistently inclusive structure, was gathering everything into its fold. Whitman clearly saw the nature of American democracy (and, in fact, he views the terms America and democracy as synonymous 16 ) such that Cuba, Mexico, and Canada would happily fall into, and become part of, America. By the time of A Passage to India, we see that this vision has encompassed the whole globe. This reading certainly supports Whitmans radically accumulative structure in which the poem reaches larger and larger areas of experience, as if the poem itself represents what Stephen Mack suggests is the cosmic analogue of American imperialism, manifest destiny gone stellar (46). In the process of such radical accumulation, however, the individual is actually lost. The I of these poems can embrace everything in general but nothing specifically, claiming the central importance of the I even while showing the I to be without attribute. As Wai-Chee Dimock has argued, Whitmans democratic poetics, in short, can have no access to that chaotic world of special loves and hates [. .] If nothing else, Whitman makes us long for what he does not and cannot offer: an ethics of preference 16 In Democratic Vistas, Whitman says I shall use the words America and democracy as convertible terms (LG 758).

PAGE 54

46 (BB 78). Even as Whitman insists upon individualism as the basis of his poetics and American democracy itself, he must also create a categoric, non-contingent self upon which the full rights of democracy can be conferred without qualification. Interestingly, the speaker makes a distinction between some internal self and the act of observation and contact. In what would become Section 4 of Song of Myself, the speaker notes that the many types of contact with the world, Trippers and askers . People I meet . The latest news . .My dinner . . are not the essential self: They come to me days and nights and go from me again, / But they are not the Me myself (LG 664). John Stephen Mack suggests that the self in Whitmans poems is both subject and object, a subjective I and an objective Me. In this way, the Poet may differentiate himself as an object available for introspection and translation (26). This distinction also creates a me that Dimock suggests is the subject upon which we can /must confer democratic rights, while the I is the agent of such democratic considerations. While his poetics reflect this political egalitarianism throughout the many versions of Leaves of Grass, it is most true of his 1855 version in which any sense of an ordering, or hierarchical, principle is missing. 17 The seemingly endless listing is clearly manifest in what would become section 16 of Song of Myself in which the speaker declares himself of old, young, foolish, wise, maternal, paternal, child, man, southerner, northerner: A boatman over the lakes or bays or along coasts. . a Hoosier, a Badger, a Buckeye, A Louisianan or Georgian, a poke-easy from sandhills and pines, At home on Canadian snowshoes or up in the bush, or with fisherman 17 The issue of arrangement and structure of the collection seems to be an issue with which Whitman struggled throughout its many versions. The 1860 version was the first to display any kind of ordering or structured arrangment. The emergence of the Calamus theme and, more importantly, the Drum-taps poems that struggled specifically with the nation at war, seem to have been the strongest impetus for his increasing sense of order to the poems and to the collection as a whole.

PAGE 55

47 off Newfoundland, At home in the fleet of iceboats, sailing with the rest and tacking, At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine or the Texan ranch, Comrade of Californians. . comrades of free northwesterners, loving their big proportions, Comrade of raftsmen and coalmencomrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat; A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfulest, A novice beginning experient of myriads of seasons, of every hue and trade and rank, of every caste and religion, Not merely of the New World but of Africa Europe or Asia. . a wandering savage A farmer, mechanic, or artist. . .a gentleman, sailor, over or quaker, A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician or priest. (LG 674) A catalog such as thiswhat Walter Grunzweig refers to as a census or an inventory of American (and world) culture (EW 31)defies us to know the particular Whitman; if the speaker responds to everything equally we may say that he responds to nothing in particular. And without such responses we can never actually know the individual. Even the insistent use of the indefinite article a instead of the suggests a detachment from particulars even with a list of specifics. In fact, we may see such listings as an affirmation of a laissez-faire economy and culture: the subject approves of everything equally, without discrimination; the universe is expanded and embraced infinitely and optimistically. Oddly, this equates to a passive speaker who claims no agency. Mack argues: The idea of human agency seems strikingly absent from Whitman's democratic vision in 1855 and 1856. The self he represents in the first two editions seems either to observe events from a distance or only passively to participate in them. .Nowhere in the first two editions of Leaves of Grass do we find a poet who must grapple between alternatives and decide among them. (60-61) The speaker, even in his optimism, refuses to distinguish himself from evil: I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also. What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?

PAGE 56

48 Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent. (LG 44) Even as the poet here embraces his whole world, he will (must?) stand indifferent to moral questions. In fact, the very notion of a democratically defensible subject for Whitman lends itself (or mirrors) an expansionist or imperialistic mindset: the view of American democracy as the future or the modern combined with a passive, laissez-faire approach of equal opportunity created what Dimock notes is a parallel between the American narrative of human progress and the narrative of Jacksonian imperialism (20). Just as Whitmans speaker embraces everything and everyone equally, that voice attempts to become everyone equally: the slave, the woman, the native. Even as he espouses the rights of such individuals, the act of a composite persona appropriating their voices embodies the imperial mindset of the 19 th century. Whitmans multiplicitous and open voice is, to a large extent, a response to Emersons call for a new, American literature: We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe (70) (even as Emersons own poetics still largely mirrored European traditions). In a catalog such as the one quoted above, Whitman is giving voice to the new continent, the experience of the new Adam. The continent itself becomes a beacon for a future global utopia in which all are welcome. The voice in section 24 of Song of Myself can be read as the poet speaking for the multitude, the voice of democracy itself serving as the channel through which all will have voice: Through me many long dumb voices, Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves, Voices of the diseasd and despairing of thieves and dwarfs, Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion, And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff, And of the rights of them the others are down upon, Of the deformd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,

PAGE 57

49 Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung. Through me forbidden voices Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veild and I remove the veil, Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigurd. (LG 46) Just as Whitmans poetry grants access to subjects normally cast out of poetic decorum, in Whitmans new world all will have a voice and all will be unashamedly present. This act of inclusion, of course, represents a linguistic challenge. Especially in Song of Myself, Whitman suggests that no language is large enough to contain the self 18 (and, thus, the new democracy). As he suggests in the final section, I too am untranslatable (LG 77). The accumulative, expansive language responds to the first frustrated attempts to find a language for, or give voice to, the New Worldan alien world to which the European languages could not respond. The poems draw from native languages, then, and create an inventory of the New World as he sees it. More importantly, rather than expressing a pre-existing subject (self or nation), the poetic strategy is one of singing the subject into being: My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach, / With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds (LG 48). Song of Myself becomes an operatic drama of a self woven and unwoven through the singing itself: Now I will do nothing but listen, / To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it (LG 48). Everything that this speaker experiences actually becomes the speaker in the process of the poem, so that when Whitman says I sing myself, it is a literal action, and the song itself is woven out of the external world, just as the child in There Was a Child Went Forth: There was a 18 Whitman referred to Leaves of Grass as primarily a language experiment in which the self (or the body electric) is immersed in linguistic energies and syntactical streams. See Folsom, Introduction, Recircuiting the American Past (14).

PAGE 58

50 child went forth every day / And the first object he lookd upon, that object he became (LG 306). Listen to the repetitions of this theme throughout Song of Myself: Absorbing all to myself and for this song (LG 35), And of these one and all I weave the song of myself (LG 39), and Now I will do nothing but listen / to accrue what I hear into this song (LG 48). This process of becoming is not a static self-definition but a self in flux. Just as agonies are one of my changes of garments (LG 58), so too we can assume are his joys and ecstasies: Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity (LG 50 ). This voice, then, does not equate to a static identity, but suggests identity as eternally in flux, an identity that does not rely on a division between inner and outer, individual and social. More importantly, if the subject here is a dynamic interrelation between individual and social, or subject and object, it is never finished, never fully defined. In that way, Whitman has created a voice that continues to live, continues to be redefined in each successive reading, by each successive generation of readers, until at last Whitman himself vanishes from the text as he does at the end of Song for Occupations and the psalm sings instead of the singer [. .] the script preaches instead of the preacher (LG 712). And as any new reading redefines Whitman, so, too, it redefines America. It is important to remember, though, that since America and Democracy are synonymous terms for Whitman, this future global utopia is ultimately an expansion of the United States. In Whitmans global vision, all figuresracial, gendered, sexual, and religiousbecome subsumed in his master narrative of democracy (a term that Donald Pease notes is more prescriptive than descriptive (153) for Whitman). His vision of the nation and the globe is ultimately of the melting pot that figuratively melts away difference: to become the new, the modern, or the democratic citizen, the

PAGE 59

51 individual must assimilate to Whitmans version of the global, American dream (remembering that America is more a democratic ideal than a geographic or political entity). Once entered into this American dream, though, Whitman will grant that every atom belonging to me as well belongs to you. These tensions, again, reveal the dual narratives of racial nationalism and civic nationalism; in the case of the latter, Whitmans America is ultimately a socialist democracy that runs contrary to the Jeffersonian individualist tradition. In the case of the former, America is constructed out of troubling relationships with a distinct sense of otherness. Whitman and the Other This idea of becoming American is certainly complicated at the point in history that Whitman is writing, as racial, sexual, economic and class divisions of the mid-19 th century began to tear at the fabric of the American people. As Erkkila notes, The political union to which [Whitman] stakes his identity as the poet of democracy began to dissolve under the pressure of slavery and other contradictions in the body politic of the American republic (EW 124). Slavery, the oppression of women, the destruction of native populations were all imprinted on the poetics. On one hand, Whitmans version of democracy certainly cannot bear the existence of slavery, slaughter, or oppression; his political claims depend on notions of equality and universal suffrage. On the other hand, he needs the image of these groups as primal source from which the modern democracy obtains its rights of power; Whitmans narrative of progress needs figures for the primitive past, images that point toward the movement of civilization. In the 1872 Preface 19 Whitman notes the importance of the poetic image in developing cultural 19 Though the 1872 version did not specifically have a Preface, his published letter to Emerson was clearly meant to serve that function.

PAGE 60

52 narratives: I say the modern Image-Making creation is indispensable to fuse and express the modern Political and Scientific creation (LG 649). Images of the native and the slave, thenwhile treated differently and serving a different function in Whitmans narrativeshare one important aspect: however problematic their contemporary situation may have been, it was unavoidable at best or, at worst, a necessary evil that served the growth of the Republic. Even in Whitmans welcoming embrace, groups are represented in troubling ways. A prime example is his worldly lists in Salut Au Monde!: You Hottentot with clicking palate! you wooly-haird hordes! [. .] You human forms with the fathomless ever-impressive countenances of brutes! [. .] You Austral negro, naked, red, sooty, with protrusive lip, groveling, seeking your food! [. .] You plague-swarms in Madras, Nankin, Kaubul, Cairo! You haggard, uncouth, untutord Bedowee! You benighted roamers of Amazonia! you Patagonian! you feejeeman! I do not prefer others so very much before you either, I do not say one word against you away back where you stand, (You will come forward in due time to my side). (LG 125) The primitive here is a brute, red, sooty and groveling, uncouth, and untutord. There is a doubleness to the gesture as Whitman welcomes, in due time, all of these figures into his fold even as they remain figures of the savage past. They must come forward to be with the modern Whitman, to stand by his side, not the other way around. Guiyou Huang argues, Whitman upholds a more inclusive and receptive attitude toward other races, but only under the condition of domination by the American race. Huang goes on to suggest that Whitman represents a Darwinian streakonly the fittest of individuals can qualify and survive to become members of the new American race (EW 166). More importantly, though, these figures are represented in such a way to serve as a

PAGE 61

53 border or defining limit to the American or modern identity he is constructing; that is, these figures become the borders for a new national identity. Such representations are at the complex heart of his contradictory democratic impulses. These cultural images afford Whitman the narrative of progress in which America finds its birthright and out of which the modern democratic subject is born. At the same time, Whitman knew that his civic nationalism could not accommodate the contemporary treatment of natives and slaves. His representations, then, also provide the means to explain/justify such troubling aberrances and develop his racial nationalism. One of the most visible tensions in Whitmans body of poetry is his relationship with the Native American. The native serves for Whitman as the raw, authentic experience of the new world, a savage expression of the wilderness. Indians serve as a counter to the artificiality of civilization, serving instead as the representative of nature: I see swarms of stalwart chieftains, medicine-men and warriors, / As flitting by like clouds of ghosts . (Race of the woods, the landscapes free, and the falls!) (LG 440). At the same time he refuses them definition as American. America is not a place or a particular political entity for Whitman but an ideal to be enacted; America as landscape or location is much more metaphor for the ideal of democracy, and the native, thus, is capable of becoming an American but is not inherently granted that status through birthright. In a late poem, Yonnondio, 20 Whitman shows the historical Indian to be in need of preservation: No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future:) / Yonnondio! Yonnondio!unlimnd they disappear (LG 440) In other words, it is necessary to 20 Whitman notes that the term is an Iroquois word meaning Lament for the Aborigines (LG 440).

PAGE 62

54 portray these past, noble figures lest they disappear. The contemporary figure, however, is readily expunged. The disappearance of the Indian was regrettable but was also inevitable; like the black, there is no true means of coexistence in the new, white democracy. Of course U.S. treatment of the native casts a large shadow on the optimistic vision that Whitman attempted to portray, but Whitman portrays this as a necessary part of cultural progress. Democracy as the future is to be welcomed and the savage (while perhaps noble) is to be subsumed into the modern. Those natives who do not adapt to the emerging vision of Americanness remain an ahistorical figure, serving as a backdrop against which progress is played out rather than gaining any substantive access. At the same time, however, Whitman turns to the Native as source of the nation. In this way, the native conflates with Whitmans notion of woman, a figure that literally gives birth to the nation but is not granted a role in its development. Both the native and the woman serve as figures of a natural state, an unchanging source of a modern state. He says of the friendly and flowing savage that Wherever he goes men and woman accept and desire him, / They desire he should like them and touch them and speak to them and stay with them. Even as the world progresses past it, the Native offers words simple as grass . .uncombed head and laughter and naivet [ . .] the common modes and emanations, / They descend in new forms from the tips of his fingers (LG 697). In a very similar fashion, woman is an image of an unencumbered past: The female contains all qualities and tempers them . . she is in her place . . she moves with perfect balance, She is all things duly veiled . .she is both passive and active . .she is to conceive daughters as well as sons and sons as well as daughters. (LG 734)

PAGE 63

55 Her role as motherhood is both figurative of a national origin but also quite literally to populate the new country: She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers. Her daughters or their daughters daughters . who knows who shall mate with them? who knows through the centuries what heroes may come from them? (LG 736) In relation to the 19 th -century cult of domesticity, Whitman relies on notions of Good Motherhood as a solution to the problem of modernity, a figure of origin and continuity in the shifting passages of modernity. Woman serves as the source of male energy that then constructs and expands the democracy. Women are represented as selfless, or as Vivian Pollak says, an archetypally gratified and gratifying mother (BB 99). Women, granted authority within the home but not within the public sphere, serve as a reassuringly continuous subjectivity that does not challenge social conventions in the way that he, as a man, is able to. Woman serves as a counterpoint to the muscular, manly new world; native and woman become historical figures lacking agency. Whitmans poetics manifest a more troubling relationship with slavery and African-Americans. Certainly his stance toward the abolitionist movement and the Free Soil party changed throughout his career, 21 but whether blacks were to be accepted in the universal democratic suffrage always remained questionable. For instance, many critics point toward Whitmans 1858 editorial concerning Oregons new constitution as a definitive statement of Whitmans feelings about black citizenship: 21 When Whitman worked for The Brooklyn Eagle in the 1840s, he endorsed the papers expansionist views. In 1848, though, Whitman had become a Free Soil Democrat. He was fired from the paper for an editorial that espoused his new political views. See Pease (150-51).

PAGE 64

56 Who believes that the Whites and Blacks can ever amalgamate in America? Or who wishes it to happen? Nature has set an impassable seal against it. Besides, is not America for the Whites? And is it not better to be so? As long as the Blacks remain here how can they become anything like an independent and heroic race? There is no chance for it. (qtd. Klammer 16) Is this the same individual that houses the runaway slave in section 10 of Song of Myself? The same person that welcomes the slave to sit next him at the table? There are several important aspects to note in terms of this relationship. First, the presence of African-Americans in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass actually lessens with each progressive edition. His vision of democracy demanded more and more distance from the black experience. Secondly, as Jonathan Arac has argued, the role of the slave in section 10 remains oddly objective; that is, the slave becomes an object through which the speaker derives identity and moral authority. Every verb has I as its subject and the slave (or some part thereof) as its object; the slave is without agency even as he is granted safety (BB 46). In fact, the figure of the Black not only affords the speaker nobility but is also incorporated into his sense of identity: rather than the Blacks liberation serving as its own goal, it becomes metaphoric of the drive for a sovereign subjectivity. Whitman is willing not to merely speak for the slave but to appropriate his voice: I myself become the wounded [slave]. (LG 692). In a paradoxical gesture, the figure of the other becomes both part of an emerging American identity at the same time as it is cast as a backdrop against which the new subject can define itself. It is, of course, his own Anglo-American subjectivity that allowed Whitman to make the claims he did in the first place. We have seen the way that he grapples with notions of center and marginality by denying the very figure of center. His vision accepts or admits no outsider status. But how can we possibly align this utopian vision with the material realities of his world? Can the slave experience/envision America in the same

PAGE 65

57 way that Whitman can? As Alicia Ostriker has argued, High and low, rich and poor, the enslaved and the free are for him all actors in a pageant. Such a solution is beautiful but useless to one who is a slave. Happily independent of institutions [ . .] he has no sense of what it means to be crushed by them (MS 464 emphasis mine). A poetry lacking all hierarchy actually denies the reality of inequality that it attempts to speak against, denies the race conflict and radical difference that defined America in the mid-19 th century. It is only from a certain social status that one can claim, as Whitman repeatedly did, the beauty in everything. Even evil is somehow beautiful in Whitmans eyes, but this clearly points to his own position of privilege. As optimistic and egalitarian as his vision may seem to be, it is certainly sculpted out of his particular historical situation. What these tensions suggest is that Whitmans poetic voice itself embodies the tensions of America during his erathe contradiction between the belief in a egalitarian, democratic ideal and the inability to live up to such an ideal. This is not, however, to merely portray Whitman as a racist, imperialist poet. If Whitman attempts to configure his I as a national identity, that I necessarily embodies the contradictions at the heart of such an identity; the tensions between an absolutely individualist stance and a democratic, universal subjectivity inherently mean that the formation of the subject undergoes the same psychological stresses that the nation undergoes. We might productively view this process through a psychological lens and see that the subject is attempting to demarcate identity by a process of othering, marking what the self is not, the borders that will delineate identity. On the other hand, Whitman simultaneously attempts to erase subject/object distinctions so that the borders of self and nation are never stable and never complete.

PAGE 66

58 The paradox of Whitmans (and Americas) democracy is that one must be profoundly individual (locating sovereignty, as Jefferson believed, in the individual consciousness 22 ) and must destroy individual boundaries; the individual must stand as one and as the many. This, ultimately, is the heart of Whitmans genius: even though we can point clearly to the negative implications his work poses in terms of representation, such representation is never complete. Any form of identity defies closure, inviting rather the reader (and, most importantly, future readers) to define and redefine the subject at the heart of his poetry. The fluidity of self and other is profound in the way that it forces a reader to recreate Whitman or America with each reading. Even as Whitman attempts to define the self and a national identity, the poetry remains vital for such definition today. The act of reading Whitman is always an open-ended conversation. As Folsom suggests, To address Walt Whitman, after all, is to complete his poetic act, to create the other half of the dialogue he initiated (MS 24). The way that poets have come to talk back 23 to Whitman suggests the complex and ongoing role he plays within Americas cultural heritage. For many recent Native American writers, such as Simon Ortiz and Sherman Alexie, Whitman represents the voice of the white pioneer, an American poetry that came at the expense of the multitudes of still bodies of Indians, massacred in the name of American progress (MS 69). For African American writers, though, the problems lie not so much with Whitman but with the white academy. Black poets from 22 Jeffersonian democracy hinges on the notion that morality must come from the individual consciousness, not from any state mandate. In other words, Jeffersons theory of democracy was founded on a humanist notion of self-sovereignty. As Dimock notes, The best government for an empire, according to Jefferson, was self-government: the government of the self by the self (Empire for Liberty 38). 23 Folsom argues that much of 20 th century American poetry constitutes an ongoing dialogue with Whitman (Introduction, MS 21-74).

PAGE 67

59 Langston Hughes to June Jordan have lamented the way that Whitmans poetry of egalitarianism and freedom was kept from view; for these poets, Whitman offers an important, liberatory vision and the academy kept such possibilities out of their lives. In 1946, Hughes was adamant about the necessity of Whitman to his political discourse: Perhaps, too, because his all-embracing words lock arms with workers and farmers, Negroes and whites, Asiatics and Europeans, serfs and free men, beaming democracy to all, many academic-minded intellectual isolationists in America have had little use for Whitman, and so have impeded his handclasp with today by keeping him imprisoned in silence on library shelves. (MS 186-87) Obviously, Whitman serves a different cultural/political role for Hughes than for Alexie. To hold on to a specific view of Whitman denies the plurality of readings his work allows; it also risks silencing potential cultural positions. Whitmans democracy serves quite a different function for 20 th -century Black Americans than it does for Jewish Americans such as Ginsberg or, more importantly, for the academics who determine his position within the canon. We might view his democratic vision as ultimately flawed, but does this make it invalid? If so, what groups of people are cut off from productive dialogue with that vision? In our academic efforts to see the imperialist realities of his vision, would we cut off the new wave of democratic challengers such as Hughes? Whitman himself claimed that he was not a poet but that poetry would be born out of dialogue with his work. We can also claim, then, that a poet such as Hughes is the fruit of Whitmans labors. The point here, then, is not to condemn Whitmans poetic project but to remain aware of its complex and contradictory nature. The flawed representation and appropriation of other cultures and perspectives does not inherently deny his democratic vision. The tendency to read him as the prototypical prophet of the liberal self or the universal without also acknowledging his claims of cultural superiority and his

PAGE 68

60 tendency toward imperialism points toward the ongoing conflict of identity within American culture. More importantly, without considering our own position within this cultural production we create a distorted view of both who he was and what the nation is. The way that writers have continued to respond to Whitman in varied ways points to the fact that we are still a nation defined by the promise of a socialist democracy in which all will have a voice and the inability of society to live up to that promise. To suggest that the voice of Leaves of Grass was often racist or imperialist is not to deny its importance to American cultural history; in fact, I would argue that it makes it all the more important to us today. Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes) he says (LG 77). Indeed, this is a central truth of American history and identity. And the very difficulty of living as a multitude is the central challenge that Whitman poses for us, again and againa challenge to which America has yet to successfully respond.

PAGE 69

H.D. AND THE DIVIDED SUBJECT It might seem curious to follow a discussion of Walt Whitman with a discussion of H.D. since, in general, criticism would suggest that H.D.s modernist sensibilities oppose the romanticism of Whitman. Where Whitman was open and expansive, the latter was closed and elliptical; where Whitman was unabashedly nationalisticif not jingoisticH.D. was an expatriate, tentative at best in her relationship to America; where Whitman tended toward inclusive lists of the everyday, H.D. turned toward classic, if not rarefied, myth and image. These two seemingly disconnected writers did share several important traits, however, that will help in my consideration of the lyric. Both writers invited the reader into the process in fundamentally new and innovate ways, implicating the reader in the process of making meaning. Both allied themselves with figures at the margins of national identity even as they attempted to reconfigure gender roles and sexual stereotypes, placing questions of gender and sexuality at the center of national narratives. Both blurred the boundaries between self and other, the individual and social, andthough admittedly far from the optimistic American that Whitman wasH.D. similarly attempted to construct new models of an American culture. And most importantly, both grounded these projects in a lyric voice that functioned simultaneously as individual and as a chorus. This is not to suggest that H.D. can merely be roped into the shadow of a Whitmanesque tradition; I do contend, though, that for both poets the lyric served as a flexible genre through which they could reimagine the possibilities of individual and 61

PAGE 70

62 communal identities; the lyric, that is, served as a container in which they could forge radically new American possibilities. In 1910, when H.D. was 24, the Washington legislature approved a referendum on womens suffrage. The referendum served as a national catalyst, energizing women who joined forces in the drive for the suffrage. After ratification of the 19 th Amendment in 1920, however, other issues beyond the vote disrupted this unity of the womens movement. As Lynn Dumenil argues, Womens widely varying agendas made it difficult for them to translate political enfranchisement into political power (111). This tension suggests the paradoxical nature of any group struggling to find a voice within a democracy: the necessity to act, and speak, as a group in order to gain representation at the same time as allowing diversity and individuality within the group. DuPlessis refers to this as a distinction between female otherness and female sameness or perfect equality, going on to argue that While H.D. . profited from rights feminism, she was extremely drawn to the feminism of difference (Bloom H.D. 36). We might think of the female sameness or rights feminism as a form of civic nationalism, a society in which all are afforded the same rights and opportunities, while the feminism of difference envisions a national identity that counters an exclusive national identitysimilar to a racial nationalism in which a national identity is granted only to particular groups. As Gary Gerstle has pointed out, though, women faced a problem quite different from race: women were granted an American identity, even as they were relegated to second-class citizens within that society. 1 1 See Gerstles discussion of the gendered character of American nationalism in American Crucible (178-180).

PAGE 71

63 As a way of reimagining notions of national identity, H.D.s poems conflate a Greek landscape with an American landscape as a way of returning to the very source of Democracy, and to reimagine the cultural landscape based solidly on notions of civic nationalism. Cliff Temple opens up with a fairly typical H.D. coastal image: Great, bright portal, shelf of rock, rocks fitted in long ledges, rocks fitted to dark, to silver granite, to lighter rock clean cut, white against white. Highhighand no hill-goat tramplesno mountain-sheep has set foot on your fine grass; (CP 26). Susan Stanford Friedman suggests that these landscapes come from her American childhood: in particular the harsh northern seacoasts of Cornwall and Maine (Psyche Reborn 40) while a critic like Roger Mitchell sees her poems landscapes as purely Greek (Myers 44). H.D. herself refers to the poems as nostalgia for lost land. I call it Hellas. I might, psychologically just as well, have listed the Casco Islands off the coast of Maine (qtd DuPlessis H.D. 14). While the supposed clarity of Imagist poetry would suggest we all respond to the same visuals, these poems actually create an open-ended visual landscape that the reader must complete, a lost land that is both personal and cultural, Hellas as a utopian, democratic vision. It is also important to recognize how many of these landscapes are borderlands, particularly coastlines that serve as a demarcation of both self and national identity. These poems look at figures at the margins, figures that are either invaded (colonized) or cast out in the name of a national character. As a way of aligning with the marginal figure, H.D.s poetics construct a choral structure in which multiple groups are given

PAGE 72

64 voice and representation. We can certainly read her work as feminist in that they imagine a society in which women are active participants, but she doesnt necessarily want to bring women into the center of society. Her poems suggest, rather, that the margins are productive, arguing against any essentializing definition of woman (or any such group). She breaks, rather, any distinct binaries, allowing a national identity large enough to embrace differing sexualities, genders and races. H.D.s lyric voice enacts alternative models of Americanness and of woman. As Rita Felski has argued, the struggle for modernization and modernity is integrally tied in to questions of gender, woman most often scripted as a figure of nostalgia or sentimentality. The maternal, likewise serves as source or origin, a figure of authentic harmony but remains tied to the past (The Gender of Modernity 35-60). As we saw with Whitman, woman serves most often as a figure of the pre-modern against which the modern is cast. Even as H.D. struggles to construct woman as an essential part of an American identity, she also attempts to break through this notion of woman as originary or authentic. For instance, in a poem such as Night, the rose (that traditional romantic image for beauty) has its petals peeled away, leaving the stark core / of the rose / to perish on the branch (CP 33). The very search for essence, or core, is actually an act of violence rather than a welcoming embrace. Again and again, even as the voice affirms a female identity, the images with which women have been traditionally associated become victimizing: she is choked by the beauty of flowers (Sheltered Garden CP 19-20) and flayed by fruit blossoms as she pleads spare us the beauty / of fruit trees (Orchard CP 28). As women are struggling for a voice within an American national

PAGE 73

65 identity and a political voice, H.D. constructs a model of gender that is highly complex and contradictory. The very lyric traditions and representations that H.D works within, and against, are parallel to the ongoing struggles for democratic representation. Lyric representation, as I argue, is about the very nature of identity; aesthetic choices, then, reflect new social and linguistic possibilities, and innovative poetic forms represent alternative cultural forms. H.Ds poetics are not only responses to ongoing artistic traditions but to the pressures of social circumstance, pressures manifest in the earlier poetics of Walt Whitman. One of the paradoxes that Whitmans lyric unveiled was the role of the woman in the American democracy. Whitman saw women as central to the foundation of the new nation, but they then were reified as source or mother: women serve as a creative or generative source but then are overtaken by the a male leadershipa democracy in which they might be represented or spoken for but not allowed their own voice. The woman may be inseminated and serve as source or mother of the democracy but not as an active constituent. In poetic terms, we can see this as the woman as muse but not poet, or as Cynthia Hogue says, the object, but not the subject, of poetic contemplation (xvii). As a method of countering these forms of poetic representation, H.D. carefully developed a poetry out of differing lyric traditionsthe classical and the romanticas a way of negotiating an increasingly misogynistic modernism. The lyric voice becomes a malleable construct, functioning at once as an individual and as a chorus, both promoting a new lyric subjectivity and refusing any reification of the subject. H.D.s lyric voice is elusive and performative and, most importantly, is not meant to be reduced to any

PAGE 74

66 singular reading, demanding that a reader maintain multiple contradictory readings at the same time. This demand on the reader also reflects H.D.s lyric sensibility. Like Whitmans, H.D.s poems engage a contemporary audience and involve them in the process of making meaning. This often occurs in her poems as she shifts from an I toward addresses of You and We in poems like Helmsman for instance: We worshipped inland / we stepped past wood-flowers, / we forgot your tang, / we brushed wood-grass (CP 6). The poems themselves become shared rituals in which an audience speaks together. This act of reader involvement, along with her use of multiple traditions, however, has had unfortunate effects on her place within the canon. Critics have never been too sure where, or how, to place her work within the canon and have, then, placed limiting terms (most notably the detrimental Imagist label) on her work, obscuring the innovative ways in which she forces us to read. In fact, the problematic reception of her work often becomes the subject of the poetry itself, the challenges with a poetic culture serving as a trope for culture in a larger sense. This chapter will focus on her early work because in these shorter, imagist poems she effectively challenges lyric and social conventions; likewise, her reputation now rests firmly on her later poems that receive the bulk of critical commentary. Even as ardent an admirer as Denise Levertov suggests that The icily passionate precision of the early work, the Greek vision, had not been an end, a closed achievement, but a preparation. In a now generally accepted critical move, Levertov emphatically labels H.D.s later work the most important (Bloom H.D. 10). I would like to suggest that these early poems are not merely precursors to the later poems, or a developmental stage in her maturing process as has been often claimed, but visionary

PAGE 75

67 works in their own rights. These poems show the lyricwith its dynamics of openness and closureto be a metaphor, as Lesley Wheeler has suggested, of identity itself (70-1). This chapter will explore the early lyrics of H.D. as transgressionspoetic, sexual, socialthat challenge conventional modes of representation and attempt to redefine notions of American identity. H.D. and the Poetic Tradition The romantic tradition as envisioned by Wordsworth, and expanded by Emerson, perpetuated a belief that the poet/speaker stands as representative of universal experience, a man speaking for all men. 2 Womens experience, however, has never been granted the universality that a mans experience has. As Joanne Feit Diehl has noted, the Emersonian sublime puts man at one with the cosmic law. The authority that such an equation offers is not available, though, to a poet on the outside of the tradition. Emersons poet presumably speaks for everyone, but woman has been, especially in the 19 th century, relegated to the minor position of Poetess (1-25). Luce Irigarays notion that only woman is gendered supports this idea: since man is not gendered, he can speak as the universal while woman is limited to speaking only as woman. Likewise, as Friedman has noted, women in modernist poems rarely exist as authentic people; they are, rather, feminized principlesboth threatening and life-giving, and not particularized human beings (Bloom H.D. 48). In this cultural context, women have served as minor poetic figures or, more often, as the midwife for male artists. Whitman added another layer to this problem as he suggested that the poet should bare the self, to stand naked with as little as possible between poet and audience. 2 See especially Emerson, Nature and The American Scholar (7-72).

PAGE 76

68 Nakedness, however, tends to not mean the same thing to a woman writer as to a man. Woman is the possessed object, not naked but a nude on exhibition. We can vividly see this in a theory of poetry like Edgar Allen Poes in which he claims that female beauty (or more specifically the death thereof) is the essence of poetry: The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world (756). Likewise, what is often cited as a strength in many male poets (especially with the advent of modernism)emotional ambiguityis most often seen as a weakness for women, pointing to their inability to stretch past womens concerns into any universal poetry. 3 American women poets in the 20 th century, then, have necessarily struggled to find their place in a tradition to which they do not belong, inherently outsiders. For a poet to merely disregard the tradition, however, is to concede the possibilities of audience engagement and cultural representation offered by those traditions. Aesthetic tradition is a means of cultural/political representation; to simply write outside of the tradition is to perpetuate models in which groups or individuals remain outside of a given culture. The question that women poets have faced is how to use the tradition without being defined by it, to use inherited meanings in order to shape a new subjectivityto see lyric discourse, that is, as shaping the sayable without allowing it to limit the sayable. H.D., then, speaks from within certain traditions even as she maintains the position of outsider to the tradition, functioning subversively within lyric models that she also counters. In Notes on Thoughts and Vision, she aligns her creative source with the 3 I.A. Richardss Principles of Literary Criticism offers a fine example as he praises Eliots ambiguity then goes on to argue that the problem with H.D.s poetry is The loss of so much formal structure leads otherwise to tenuousness and ambiguity (206).

PAGE 77

69 womb and the body, countering a male-dominated modernism with a feminine principle. 4 H.D.s early work weaves together two seemingly conflicted traditions, Greek Classicism and American Romanticism as a way to enter into dialogue with American Modernism. But it is important to remember that Raymond Williams has effectively shown that the classical and the romantic are opposed to naturalism rather than to each other (Culture 37-19). The tendency of modernist poets was to reject the romantic model of lyric in favor of a less personal or self-expressive poetics, or as Marjorie Perloff suggested, a yielding of romantic emotion to a Poundian esthetic of the mind (Wheeler 3) which is generally considered a response against lyric. By functioning in a lyric framework, H.D.s poems always existed in a vexed relationship with modernism. But rather than considering whether the poems are or are not modern, I contend that they use both a classical and a romantic tradition to challenge the increasingly accepted orthodoxy of modernism. For instance, consider the opening of her poem Mid-Day from her first book Sea Garden: The light beats upon me. I am startled A split leaf crackles on the paved floor I am anguisheddefeated. (CP 10) Two impulses fuse here, the impersonal imagistic impulse of the split leaf image and the highly personal, I am anguisheddefeated. This tension continues throughout the poem, moving from images like the blackened stalks of mint to thoughts such as I am scattered in its whirl. It would be easy to read the latter as an overly romantic or melodramatic sentimentality, even echoing Shelleys Ode to the West Windthat now 4 For a useful discussion, see Laity, H.D. and the Victorian Fin de Siecle (ix-xiii).

PAGE 78

70 classic model of romanticismand its images of winged seeds in the swirl and chaos of the wind, the wind itself both Destroyer and Preserver (577-79). But in the middle of H.D.s poem, we learn that it is in fact the speakers own thoughts that are tearing her apart, My thoughts tear me, / I dread their fever. The tension between the image and thought enact the split psyche that can in some ways be attributed to modernisms impulses toward self-reflective thought, or a tension between a classical and a romantic sensibility. Neither the romantic nor the classical tradition will sustain her, and she accordingly attempts to create a new synthesis. Adelaide Morris has accurately noted that her poems think about thinking and they think toward action: they are, that is, philosophical and ethical (2). This observation suggests two important facets of H.D.s work. First, even in a seemingly emotional poetics, she still reclaims philosophy as her subject that has generally been seen as the domain of a male poetics (counter to the supposedly appropriate work of the Poetess). Second, the intellect of the poems actually reflects Perloffs Poundian esthetic even as the poems reclaim a romantic heritage to which it supposedly runs counter. That is, the poems exist in liminal states that challenge the boundaries of convention, pushing equally at the limits of classicism, romanticism, and modernism. Sea Rose, the opening poem of Sea Garden functions as a similar kind of performance: Rose, harsh rose, marred and with stint of petals, meagre flower, thin, sparse of leaf, more precious than a wet rose single on a stem-

PAGE 79

71 you are caught in the drift. Stunted, with small leaf, you are flung on the sand, you are lifted on the crisp sand that drives in the wind. Can the spice-rose drip with such acrid fragrance hardened in a leaf? (CP 5) We might consider this poem a dramatic performance about H.D.s poetry itself. The rose, of course, is a traditional symbol of love, beauty, poetry. But this particular rose is in the least promising, least nourishing, environment imaginablean environment that is the equivalent of a womans poetry in a male artistic tradition. Interestingly, the adjectives are words often usedas praise and condemnationfor her imagistic poetry: harsh, meagre, sparse, stunted. The poem is in fact a reflection on both her relationship as an outsider to the tradition, and of a woman in a society to which she exists as outsider, as other. We can also see that, even as the poem suggests alternative figures of beauty, this new self does not seem to be granted agency: caught, flung, lifted. The voice, then, is a complex embodiment of womens experience early in the 20 th century. A poem like this suggests, then, that H.D. is working in several different modes, on the one hand attempting to speak as an individual to a society that responds to the individual voiceforcing a reader to respond, or finish the poemwhile, on the other hand, speaking as a group, or chorus. In this way, her voice is often like the chorus in a Greek tragedy singing the part of an individual. In Sea Rose, for example, the you is an undefined entityher poetry, perhaps, or a part of herselfbut it also becomes a readership with which she claims allegiance. You who are cast out like me are the most beautiful she seems to be saying. The otherness of woman is conflated with the

PAGE 80

72 otherness of the artist, a space from which the subject, both individual and group, can speak. 5 As already suggested, women poets hold a particularly vexed position within the romantic tradition. If a woman poet follows the modernist lead and writes a more impersonal poetry, she gives up the ability to speak as woman, to give voice to an experience that has already been shut out of artistic and social discourse. The romantic tradition, however, allows the space to speak in a seemingly personal manner, as a woman. To do so, though, puts a poet in the position of still being labeled a Poetess, a woman writer concerned only with womens experience, not universal expression. And, as Eileen Gregory has noted, the early poems generally suffer for the same reason that they were once praised, as representations of the Poetess (Friedman and DuPlessis 130). The sensual, erotic persona of H.D.s romantic tendencies is, on one hand, a subversive possibility in the context of modernisms impersonality. 6 On the other hand, such a persona is limiting and stifling. As Gregory notes, the Poetess has been identified with the prolific, sentimental, songbird of 19 th -century romanticism . this woman appears as withdrawn, sensitive to the point of neuroses and hysteria, passionate, ecstatic and morbid (129). The answer, for H.D., was to meld the tensions of classicisms impersonality and discipline with romanticisms spontaneous and emotional expression into a radical new poetics. While both of these impulses must be held in dialogue without resolution, criticism has tended to take one or the other approach to reading H.D., resulting in a series of misreadings and mislabelings, more often than not maintaining her 5 I am drawing here on ideas from DuPlessis (H.D.: The Career 31-69). 6 For a useful discussion of this idea, see Dickie Women Poets (233-259).

PAGE 81

73 position as a disenfranchised poetess rather than the enfranchised poet she struggled to be. Though accepted to varying degrees over the years, and fortunately now generally accepted as the innovator that she was, H.D.s work has suffered by being falsely classified into an easily understood but limiting term originally thrust upon her by Pound: H.D. Imagiste. 7 There are two general effects this has had on her work. First, many critics merely lump her in with other Imagist poets, seeing her work then as merely derivative of stronger, more importantly male influences such as Pound, Williams, and Lawrence. Recent scholarship, however, has clearly shown that this reading is not historically supportable; 8 H.D. was clearly an innovator in the Imagist movement, actually writing poems that would spawn Pounds poetic credos rather than responding to them. Second, and more importantly, this reductive labeling has obscured the innovative ways in which her poetry forces us to read, limiting the ways in which we read the image itself. I.A. Richards offers a New Critical response to H.D.s poem The Pool in The Principles of Literary Criticism: The experience evoked in the reader is not sufficiently specific . The loss of so much formal structure leads otherwise to tenuousness and ambiguity . Had the poet said only I went and poked about for rocklings and caught the pool itself, the reader, who converts what is printed above into a poem, would still have been able to construct an experience of equal value; for what results is almost independent of the author. (206) 7 Pound originally submitted H.D.s poems to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, in H.Ds words, scrawling H.D. Imagiste at the bottom of the page (Friedman and DuPlessis 87). 8 See especially Cyrena Pondrom, H.D. and the Origins of Imagism (Friedman and DuPlessis 85-105).

PAGE 82

74 In other words, poetic control must be manifest by the author, not the reader. However, I would contend that it is precisely the ambiguity of the poem that allows a reader a variety of experiences; the poem is an invitation. Here is the poem: Are you alive? I touch you You quiver like a sea-fish. I cover you with my net. What are you--banded one? (CP 56) The second person pronoun shifts in a way that allows a merging of author and image, reader and text. Richards, however, defines the you simply as the pool, which statically defines the speaker and the other of the poem. I contend that the poem is a rejection of exactly such a notion of a singular self as defined by the traditional lyric. And as we saw with a poem such as Sea rose, tradition and reception point to the cultural problematics the she faces in the context of her work; reception actually becomes a productive lens through which we can read her work. Louis Untermeyer, arguably one of Americas most influential mid-20 th century anthologists, offers a clear picture of this problematic reception of H.D. On one hand, Untermeyer does seem to think highly of her work. On the other hand, he limits her to a true imagist (355). In what seems to be admiration, Untermeyer clearly limits the scope of her work. In a typical reading, Untermeyer refers to the poem Heat as a poem where one feels the weight and solidity of a midsummer afternoon (355). This might be an accurate readingand fits well with any notions of her as Imagistbut it is the less important aspect of the poem. In a typical anthologizing move, the poem was shortenedits first section missingand entitled Heat instead of Garden as H.D.

PAGE 83

75 had written it. Here is the first section, which opens us to the psychic drama to which the second section responds: You are clear O rose, cut in rock, hard as the descent of hail. I could scrape the colour from the petals like spilt dye from a rock. If I could break you I could break a tree. If I could stir I could break a tree I could break you. (CP 24) Untermeyers comments ignore the violence of image and verbcut rock, hard as hail, spilt dyeand its engagement with the speakers psyche: scraping, spilling, breaking, stirring. Without this emotional backdrop, it is impossible to fully comprehend the implications of the second stanza, especially its continuing thread of violent verbs: rend, cut, presses, blunts, cut, plough. Here is the section as it was anthologized: O wind, rend open the heat, cut apart the heat, rend it to tatters. Fruit cannot drop through this thick air Fruit cannot fall into heat that presses up and blunts the points of pears and rounds the grapes. Cut the heat plough though it, turning it on either side of your path. (CP 25)

PAGE 84

76 What the poem represents is a tension between a violent agency and an inability to move; the reading of this poem as the weight of a midsummer afternoon clearly ignores the struggle for growth in an oppressive climate. The voice here is fighting against the very notions of culture/poetics that keep her at the margins (a climate that we can see Untermeyer himself helping to perpetuate); likewise, since the I can be read as a communal voice, we can read the end of the first section as the potential violence lurking beneath a culture that denies a group agency. That is, the poem is reshaping self, cultural, and national narratives through the image. But the very foundation of the poem as image has made it easy to take the poem out of any nationalist context, a safe reading in which this violence and oppression can be reduced to sensory detail. Even as writers (especially feminist critics) have offered productive new readings of H.D., the Imagist label continues to haunt her. For instance, consider Robert DiYanni's anthology in which the only comments about her actual work are stock responses: She is best known for her compelling Imagist poems, characterized by short lines, free rhythmic cadences, and vivid images (548). There is nothing to suggest the psychic power and complexity underlying the images; the image remains, rather, a static thing in itself. Unfortunately, even feminist theories that have helped open up new possibilities for reading H.D. can also lend themselves to misreadings. For instance, Ostriker suggests that When a woman poet today says I, she is most likely to mean herself(12). Such a statement denies the ways in which a poet such as H.D. constructs the I as both an individual and a choral voice. Certainly Ostriker points to the political importance of women being able to have their own voice in a society in which it is denied; her comment points to the particularly American version of feminism which hinges on notions of self

PAGE 85

77 representation and auto-biography. 9 This theoretical bent, however, is one of the aspects that lends the lyric its critical edge in the first place. That is, because of the expectation of, or insistence on, auto-biography, a poet can function subversively within the context of self-representation, to function as critique of the very foundations of American individualism. I would argue that H.D.s I represents an ever-shifting construction that investigates the stable ego at the center of an American identity and to engage in biographical connections distorts the work. Likewise, the I is a communal construction, giving voice to a group identity rather than a merely personal identity (or, more appropriately for H.D., investigating the tension between the communal and the personal). Sheltered Garden begins with an emotional claim: I have had enough / I grasp for breath (CP 19). This can easily be read as a personally enervated I, but can also be read as a repressed group, women in American society. Interestingly, in this poem the voice actually longs for a more troubled existence, to live in some terrible / wind-tortured place (CP 21). The I then takes on two different possibilities (at least): we might read the I as the artist who is stuck in the deadening romantic model of border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies (CP 20) or likewise we might read the I as a choral effect of women trapped inside a domestic role of womanhood, beauty without strength (CP 20). Certainly these poems argue against traditional models of woman, but they also resist any essentialization of identity, a resistance to unified meanings as much as to particular cultural circumstance. Gregory suggests, The voice of these poems, then, is 9 Both the importance of autobiography and its political implications for women writers have been effectively developed in a variety of works by Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, most notably Shakespeares Sister.

PAGE 86

78 hermaphroditic, collective and atemporal. The poem is, in a sense, a liminal state without ordinary determinations of gender, person, or tense (Signets 139). In other words, identity in general, and gender in particular, are elusive and performative; there is no graspable speaker and to read it, then, as biographical entity forces closure on a subjectivity meant to be left undefined. Imagism, at least as H.D. conceived of it, was a means to push at poetic conventions and open up new possibilities, to construct a poem that exists at the border between inner and outer. The voice is an open-ended structure in which individual/social and inner/outer lose their boundaries, opening then new possibilities for self and national identities. Modernism, Individualism, and the Freudian I H.D. is most often read as a lyric poet in terms of her privateness. Critics such as Janice Robinson and Susan Gubar, for instance, highlight the personal quality of the early poems. Gubar argues that she hides her private meaning behind public words, (Friedman and DuPlessis 299) suggesting that the poem is a puzzle that the reader must solve. Gubars suggestion that such hidden meaning is actually reflective of womens experience is important but it perpetuates the notion of lyric as personal, which maintains a distinct social-individual binary that H.D. is actually attempting to investigate. Rather than hiding her meaning, H.D. actually confronts and implicates an audience in the conventions of representation. One might actually argue that, if lyric is defined, as I do, by the presence of a speaking subject, H.D.s poetry is not lyric at all since there is at times an almost palpable absence of a speaker. On the other hand, though, the poems in large part emanate from the eye more than I. For instance, here is the opening to her poem Sea Poppies: Amber husk

PAGE 87

79 fluted with gold, fruit on the sand marked with a rich grain, treasure spilled near the shrub-pines to bleach on the boulders. (CP 21) It would seem that the speaker here is merely transparent, a window the reader sees through. If we consider, though, the rising popularity of Freudian thought at this point in time, though, we see a culture that is beginning to read the eye as I. With the popularization of Freudian thought, Lynn Dumenil notes, the subconscious became an important theme, the method to realize your true self (87 emphasis mine). In that way, the Freudian speaker at that point represents the true voice, the deepest revelation of self. Dumenil adds that early in the century, Freud became so familiar that free association became a parlor game; these new theories were liberatory in the battle against a repressive culture (87). In fact, Freudian thinking actually serves as a signifier for an entrance into the modern. Freudian innovation, then, reflects the modernist sensibilities of art as a way beyond the repressive nature of society (which also points toward the fact that H.D. is aligned with a modernist sensibility even as she is firmly rooted in classical and romantic models). I would contend that H.D. constructed a voice that fed into Americans sense of personality that would maintain the illusion of a tangible lyric speaker, and worked within a set of cultural expectations, seemingly embracing the modern while also returning to classical roots. For Freud, the first goal of therapy was for the patients consciousness to become conceptual. That is, Freudian psychoanalysis was basically imagistic, to let things stand in consciousness as they are. In Therapy and Technique, Freud says, So say whatever

PAGE 88

80 goes through your mind. Act as if you were sitting at the window of a railway train and describing to someone behind you the changing views you see outside (qtd. Friedman, 54). The external world becomes a window into the internal world. Friedman suggests that, once these associational images are within consciousness, the analyst and analysand could collaborate on a translation of their significance (54). She goes on to note that imagistic principles are even parallel to psychoanalytic principles: concision, condensation, displacement, and the melding of contradictory impulses (56-9). H.D. creates two poetic affects by reflecting these psychoanalytic experiences: First, she produces the illusion of a self-revealing speakerwhich we should remember is important if she attempts to speak to, or for, a culture mired in individualism. Second, Friedmans observation that the image is then collaboratively translated in the psychoanalytic situation reflects H.D.s poetics in which meaning becomes collaboratively constructed. That is, in a similar fashion to Whitmans poetics, the imagist principles are actually a way to draw a reader in and to involve them in the poetic process. H.D.s Freudian thinking actually reflects a lyric that, as Wheeler has suggested is about forging new possibilities in process rather than retrieving something from the archive of ones interiority (1-17). The speaker of many of these poems, already ambiguous, is always on the cusp of union with a similarly ambiguous you even as it seems to be losing that you. In Pursuit, we experience a speaker on the trail of desire itself, following not another but signs themselves: I can almost follow the note where it touched this slender tree and the next answered and the next. (CP 11)

PAGE 89

81 We can read this speaker as on both an erotic and a spiritual path where the signs themselves are both revealing and concealing. The pursuit then is for meaning itself, or understanding, in the same way that one digs into the unconscious for self-knowledge. What seems especially important, though, is the way that this pursuit on the path of signs does not lead to any understanding; the signs themselves are emptied: I can find no trace of you (CP 12). We might also consider this note as musical, reinforcing, of course, its sense of musical/lyrical performance. The note, however, reflects an almost opposite experience from what we saw with Whitman. Music here leads to an absence of self; to follow the note leads away from, not toward, any transcendence or self-discovery. This can actually reflect back to notions of the tradition: as lyric has been often defined by musicality, we find here that this tradition has left the speaker empty; she cannot find herself within this tradition. There is nothing in the pursuit of signs and events that will lead to a greater self-awareness. The poem suggests, then, the way in which she uses Freudian thought and imagery even as she counters and critiques it at the same time that she is productively able to critique notions of poetic tradition. The problem with such a use of Freudian thought, is that it has also led to ongoing misreadings of her project. To an unfortunate extent, the reader becomes not a collaborator but the analyst, analyzing the poets neuroses and illnesses. Biographer Janice Robinson sees H.D.s language as straightforwardly Freudian in that it holds a secret subtext that the reader is privileged to unveil: The very act of writing became a form of concealed speech. If we have the keys, we can read the poem as message to a friend as well as an objective statement (xiv). The notion of reading the poem as between H.D. and a friend returns us to a lyric that is not concerned with its rhetorical

PAGE 90

82 effects. More importantly, Robinson sees the keys to the poems as strictly biographical. For instance, both Priapus and Hermes of the Ways are strictly the sublimation of her love for Pound into poetry (57). Robinson, on one hand, suggests that the beauty of Imagism is that nothing stands in for anything elseeverything exists on its own termsat the same time that she claims H.D.s poetry is writing about one thing under the guise of another. Interestingly, most critics consider Pounds Personae poems, to be a productive use of a constructed mask while, as we see with Robinsons comments, H.D.s many persona poems are sublimations of unconscious and/or hidden desires, reflecting an ongoing double standard for women writers. More problematic, though, are the many critics who use a strict Freudian perspective to analyze H.D. For instance, Friedman notes that critics such as Norman Holland and Joseph Riddel dissect her with all the Freudian terminology they can musteras if she were a neurotic woman, a patient instead of the artist (Bloom H.D. 49). Hollands argument is that H.D.s poems are generated out of a traditionally Freudian penis envy (Bloom H.D. 11-26) while Riddel argues that she needs to develop a masculine identity in order to develop as a poet (H.D. and the Poetics 447-73). This is a case of, as Gregory notes, the poems servicing as evidence of her personal neurosis (14) Such readings ignore the fact that she is using Freudian concepts in order to construct a self, and to implicate us in the making of that self as well as her self. Taken in that light, Hollands and Riddels arguments say as much about themselves and their culture as it does about H.D.s actual psychological state.

PAGE 91

83 Toward an Open Voice Rather than reading these poems as a closed system as such Freudian readings do, we should see that the poems are generative and open-ended. For instance, consider the way she implicates the reader at the end of her poem Epitaph: So I may say I died of living, having lived one hour; so they may say, she died soliciting illicit fervour; so you may say, Greek flower; Greek ecstasy reclaims for ever one who died following intricate songs lost measure. (CP 299-300) The reader gets a seemingly personal statement, followed by a critical statement in which poetic excess is rendered as a sexual solicitation and, thus, an ultimate rejection of her work. Finally, the poem opens toward the reader who must either agree with or reject the statement being made. The speakers statement actually pushes the reader too far. On one hand, the Greekness is a way for the voice to reclaim its classical and democratic roots; on the other hand, it is a caricature of a Greekness being imposed on her by the imagist label. The reader, then, must position him or herself in relation to the critical condemnation of her excess. Gregory has argued, She has an amazing ability to name accurately the terms in which her work is criticized and dismissed (Camboni 27-8). H.D., that is, is not only implicating the reader but also pushing against the boundaries of poetic decorum and critical response. But note also that the poem points again to the fact that the speaker dies attempting to find the measure of song, or the musicality of the lyric

PAGE 92

84 tradition. Even as she challenges poetic decorum, she is able to interrogate the tradition by which she has been defined and limited. At other times, H.D.s voice revolves as much around a We as an I. As noted earlier, a poem like Helmsman, constructs a we as a collective invocation: We forgotwe worshipped, we parted green from green, we sought further thickets, we dipped our ankles through leaf-mould and earth, and wood and wood-bank enchanted us. (CP 6) The voice here is united in a communal ritual, speaking, worshipping and acting as one, so that, even as this we becomes comfortable and enchanted with the fields, the tufts of coarse grass (6), they are called as one into the more dangerous world of the sea: But now, our boat climbshesitatesdrops Climbshesitatescrawls back Climbshesitates O be swift We have always known you wanted us. (7) The we responds to a calling, to live a treacherous existence, but as her next poem in the collection The Shrine suggests that they are blessed by this very you that called to them, the spirit between the headlands and the further rocks: Though oak beams split, Though boats and sea-men flounder, And the strait grind sand with sand And cut boulders to sand and drift Your eyes have pardoned our faults, Your hands have touched us You have leaned forward a little And the waves can never thrust us back From the splendour of your ragged coast. (9-10)

PAGE 93

85 At other times, the poems become dramatic monologues as the voice merges with mythic figures such as Circe, Demeter, or Eurydice or, more importantly, the artist who serves as a foundation for H.D.s work: Sappho. As DuPlessis has noted, the conflation of her voice with Sapphos serves as a trope representing three ideas: the incomplete text (as Sapphos only exist as partial fragments 10 ), the absence of women in the tradition, and the cultural denial of lesbian experience (H.D. 23-26). H.D.s ties to Sappho show an ambivalent approach to sexuality in these poems. On one hand, the poems constricted form can lead some critics, like Wheeler, to suggest that the lyric functions as a type of closet for H.D.s bisexuality (69). On the other hand, the poems contain an extravagant sensuality that leads other critics, like Laity, to see the poems as a coming out, naming the lesbian aspect of her own sexuality (1-28). This sexual uncertainty is critically important at the time H.D. was writing, as Victorian moral codes and images of female sexualitya culture in which women did not admit to sexual appetites, let alone a transgressive identity of bisexuality or lesbianismwere being challenged. The voice aligns itself with the New Woman in questions of sexuality that is tied to feminism in its questions of agency and representation. We should not say, though, that the poems merely represent a new version of woman since they just as often complicate gender. Alternately considered as spare and extravagant, the poems lead understandably to mixed reactions. The sparseness led to an image of H.D. as icy or frigid, 11 while the extravagance constructed a sense of a 10 Sapphos lyrics now only exist as partial texts. Some publishers have attempted to fill in the texts, but most have opted to let the fragments stand on their own. 11 Though this perspective fortunately did not last, we can see ways in which it still affects the terminology of H.D. criticism. Even as ardent an admirer as Denise Levertov still can refer to her icy precision (Bloom H.D. 10).

PAGE 94

86 transgressive sexuality (and it is worth noting that extravagance etymologically stems from the notion of walking out of bounds). I mention these critical responses, though, not to suggest they are accurate but to show how the poems complicate such critical conventions and challenge the modes by which we read and/or identify. We might also note that the very traditions she uses in these poems have traditionally been gendered, a damp, soft, vague and female romanticism versus a dry, hard, virile and male classicism. By combining these two strands, then, the voice takes on a quality of what Laity calls the Androgyne (3). Even as she seems to speak for the New Woman, then, she counters that voice. The complexity of what is happening within these poems, and the voice in which the poems are spoken, is clearly undercut by a label like Imagismand, is implicitly countered by suggesting that the poems are personal meanings. We might productively think about these poems in terms of a dialogue rather than any singular I. There is always a multitude of voices, perspectives and discourses that clash within these seemingly direct and personal poems. Voices from the Margins The timing of H.D.s poetic project is important as print technology and economic changes were reshaping the publishing industryand the nature of the intellectual. Between roughly 1890 and 1920, the American economy moved from what Marin Sklar has termed the dominance of proprietary capitalism to corporate capitalism (Hutchinson 8). Because the economy now freed a great number of individuals from production-based labor, more and more individuals were able to function in society as intellectuals: teachers, professors, writers and publishers. These changes allowed the emergence of the little magazine, opening up new publishing avenues and alternatives.

PAGE 95

87 H.D. took advantage of these new publishing opportunities to construct new models of gender and sexuality that, as they intersected with changing notions of the intellectual, helped reconfigure paradigms of national culture and identity, an identity based on communal ideals and social openness. The polyvalent voices, the multiplicity of desire and concealment, suggest the ways in which H.D. is negotiating the possibilities of a new lyric subjectivity. The voice is multiple, fluid, and contradictory, challenging traditional romantic models of a unified, knowable/expressible self. In opposition to Wordsworths palpable, sincere poetic presence, H.D.s speaker defies the reader to define her. A constructed selfboth singular and plural, literal and figurativeis placed in problematic landscapes that refuse any ultimate self-definition. Her imagery, rather than representative or mimetic, actually invokes a paradox-ridden interior psychic drama, a landscape of borders and margins of an uncertain existence: cliffs, tides, and shifting edges, a landscape like that in Hermes of the Ways where sea grass tangles with shore grass(CP 39). The poems subjectivity and landscape become fused, inseparable; that is, the distinction between inner and outer becomes blurred, porous. The speakers melding into landscape actually counters what has become known as The Greater Romantic Lyric in which the speaker looks out on the landscape for lessons that will be absorbed into the self; in that way, the self/other distinction maintains its pre-eminence. H.D.s poems rather break down these barriers, revealing a multiple and complex self at the center, or vortex, 12 of the poem. Louis Martz notes that H.D. was destined to live at the juncture of such forces, inner and 12 In an effort to create a more complex poetics, Pound moved from Imagism to Vorticism. This move was also preceded by H.D.s complex usage of the image showing her to be a forerunner of this movement as well, not a follower as is more traditionally thought to be the case. See Cyrena Pondrom, H.D. and the Origins of Imagism (Friedman and DuPlessis, 85-105).

PAGE 96

88 outer, to inhabit constantly the borderline (CP xiv). What is important, though, is that these borderlines are impermanent, shifting. H.D.s poetics actually stand against the enlightenment model of the fixed, sovereign self by breaking down the clear divide between inner/outer, social/individual. I would argue that these borderlands also reflect national sensibilities. As the boundaries become more porous, so does any definition of what exists on the inside. As Judith Butler comments, Inner and outer only make sense in reference to a mediating boundary that strives for stabilitystabilizes and consolidates a coherent subject (170). H.D. herself is not clear about what constitutes an inner experience or outer perception, as she notes in a discussion about her visions at Corfu in Tribute to Freud: Whether that hand or person is myself, projecting the images as a sign, a warning or a guiding sign-post from my own subconscious mind or whether they are projected from outsidethey are at least clear enough (46). H.D.s transgression of boundaries, redefining the self as fluid practice and troubling any clear distinctions between self and other, then, is a radical approach to identity, a model of selfhood in which the certainty of an enlightenment sovereignty and an American individualism dissolve into transformative communal experience. In terms of this issue of sovereignty, it is also important to note that H.D. left America early in her life, going to EuropeEngland mostlyin search of a culture that would sustain her. To a large extent she rejects her Americanness. But her poetry actually becomes a re-envisioning of American democracy as she turns toward the very source of democracyGreecefor her inspiration; the borders she inhabits are both personal and nationalthe self and nation becoming conflated. Likewise, as Ong has

PAGE 97

89 noted, ancient Greece is the point in which an interiorized alphabetic writing first clashes with an oral consciousness and, thus, when the oral, communal mindset collides with a newly emergent individualist mentality (24). H.D.s poems push an ancient sensibility against the modern, an oral language against print, as a way to re-envision an American culture not based strictly on individualism. One of the most important ways in which she engages with a communal sensibility is to construct the voice in a complex, ambiguous psychological state. Landscape, image, and emotion are fused into an amorphous uncertainty. To see this, we might look at her poem Oread, the poem that destined her to be labeled Imagist forever: Whirl up, sea whirl your pointed pines, splash your great pines on our rocks, hurl your green over us, cover us with your pools of fir. (CP 55) Though certainly vivid in image and language, what is important in this poem is the way emotion is displaced onto this landscape of sea meeting shore. The poem breaks open the relation between signified and signifier, allowing the image to shift like a foreground/background illusion with either the waves/sea as the foregrounded image or the pines. With the focus placed on the signifier, though, the ultimate image is left unresolved, enacting the back and forth motion of what Martz calls her favorite image, the cresting wave (CP xxii). More importantly, the voice here is double as well, both an individual prayer for a group and an actual collective voice. The agency or desire of the poem is also double, an invocation to sexual ecstasy or rapture at the same time as a desire for suicidal annihilation, to be lost in the violence of the image. There is a strong

PAGE 98

90 tension, then, between the desire for agency and to be acted on. The notion of individual in this context becomes unsustainable and undesirable. This tension is similarly evident in Helmsman where the we is an active agentwandering, worshipping, seekingat the same time as surrendering to a vague otherness. A poem like Cliff Temple also suggests such doubled desires. The poem combines a sexual, erotic bliss with the sense that such desire is a dangerous surrender: Shall I hurl myself from here (CP 27). Evening similarly suggests that desire also equals a loss of selfhood, a dissolution and passivity: shadow seeks shadow, / then both leaf / and leaf-shadow are lost (CP 19). What we experience in these poems is a divided self that is consistently resistant to unified meanings, positing rather plastic and contradictory notions of selfhood and other; the lines between are blurred. Even as critics such as Robinson and Friedman suggest the poems are a kind of rosetta stone that the reader must decipher, 13 it is important to remember that any meaning is always marked by erasures and re-visions. One of H.D.s central images (as was true with Whitman as well) is the palimpsest. Every text is an endless series of re-visions on top of older texts. The notion of the poem as secret or a hidden personal meaning, though, suggests the notion of ones archival formation that can be rescued. H.D.s palimpsest is not to suggest an original text, though, but rather to suggest the plurality of reading and meaning. The reader cannot discover some truth at the core of the poems but must become a part of the poetic process itself. The self as traditionally conceived in the romantic and/or enlightentment model becomes self-referential and closed in the same way that the garden in its stasis of beauty 13 Robinson, Orion Dead: The Logic of Imagism (H.D.: The Life and Work 70-77).

PAGE 99

91 becomes a sensuous trap. The voice in these poems, then, is preoccupied with disrupting the stasis, the singular self, the static image, the psychic and sexual paralysis represented in the sheltered garden of traditional romanticism. Sea Garden for instance, shows the speaker seeking out an alternative tradition and an alternative site for identity: O to blot out this garden to forget, to find a new beauty in some terrible wind-tortured place. (CP 21) Rather than define the self in terms of binary oppositions that are juxtaposed in the poems, we should see these oppositions as existing on the fluid borders embodied in the poems. As DuPlessis notes, the poems in Sea Garden are defined by sets of repeating opposites: male/female; spiritual/erotic; wild/sheltered; land/sea; salt/sweet; stunted/lush; torn/whole; rose/rock--and even the title suggests vast containment or uncontained cultivation (H.D. 125). I would argue, though, that by placing the poems at the juncture of these opposites, H.D. actually suggests that neither side of these binaries is stable, but inherently shifting and changeable. This voice is contradictory as a form of resistance, but a resistance never satisfied with a confrontative or purely oppositional stance (DuPlessis H.D. 28). These poems can be classified as what Gregory refers to as heterodox, the body of opinion that is other than the orthodox (Camboni 21). The poems resist the conventions of representation but defy any oppositional representation. This sense of Otherness, of being at the margins, is what defines the voice, existing as it does in between two landscapes, the garden and the precarious mountainsides and cliffs. The garden, representative of the romantic lyric, is in its autumnal decay, cloyingly sweet and choking: I have had enough. / I gasp for breath . / no taste of bark, of course weeds, / aromatic, astringent / only border on border of scented pinks

PAGE 100

92 (CP 19). Likewise, the garden suggests the trap of traditional images of the feminine. The speaker longs, then, to venture into an alternative, stormy landscape, what I would suggest is a classical rigidity or impersonality. Gregory notes that T.S. Eliot claimed that There are at least two attitudes toward literature and toward everything . .and you cannot hold both. Gregory goes on to suggest that One attitude (classicism) is founded on an obedience to outer authority; another (romanticism) is founded on adherence to the Inner voice (18). Since, as has often been suggested, modernisms version of classicism was distinctly male, H.D.s working between these poles was actually a disruption of gender codes in general as well as the outer and inner that Eliot suggests are incompatible. In H.D.s poems, none of these terms or traditions are stable or definable; situated as a marginal figure, H.D. actually challenges emerging notions of modernity itself. As women early in the century struggled for political and economic change, H.D. was aware that such changes first demanded a change in representation. Hogue argues that certain poets de-scribed woman, or, in other words, changed the conventional images and modes of representation of the feminine (1-35). H.D. certainly de-scribes woman but also refuses to in-scribe new modes of definition; the writer, reader, culture must use her poetics as a way to define the self on their own terms. We cannot locate the subject within any traditional understanding of the lyric; we must, rather, see her as a highly constructed self that is as multiple and contradictory as the landscapes she inhabits. She constantly breaks and reforms the terms and traditions in which she is working to suggest not only new poetic possibilities, but new possibilities of self, and the right and the freedom to give voice to ones own version of self. While H.D. did leave

PAGE 101

93 American and moved to London in 1911, her poetics return repeatedly to questions of democracy and individualism. The right to define and represent ones self mirror, as Whitmans work did, a Jeffersonian sensibility. H.D.s poetry promotes both a new version of culture as well as an egalitarian view of meaning, knowledge and representation within that culture.

PAGE 102

LANGSTON HUGHES AND THE MASKS OF AUTHENTICITY It would be easy to see H.D.s and Langston Hughess approaches to the lyric as directly opposed to each others. In fact, Hughes fits more naturally in line with Whitman, a figure to whom he turned as inspiration. Both H.D. and Hughes were concerned, nonetheless, with conceptions of group and individual identity. The primary difference, though, was that while H.D. attempted to break through any reified images of gender Hughes seemingly attempted to construct an essentialized racial identity as a locus of political power. While H.D.s work problematized any notions of inner-outer, Hughes seems to create an identity out of solidified boundaries, individualI am a Negro (LH 24)and culturalI speak in the name of the black millions (LH 170). The two poets are bound together, though, by the fact that both were, of necessity, concerned with the intersection between the individual voice and the communal. More importantly, the clearly defined identity markers that Hughes constructs in his poetry serve a political purpose that is often undercut or countered by a more multiple project than he, or his critics, often acknowledge. As was true with H.D., mixed reception of Hughess work actually represents the struggle over cultural representation that Hughes was addressing in his work. Hughess construction of an essentialized identity and voice (without acknowledging a broader, more complex vision) stems in large part from his need to develop an audience and a community. Similarly to H.D., the timing of this poetic project also stemmed from the opportunities presented by new publishing venues. For Hughes, the ability to develop a poetic voice (and to find an audience for this voice) 94

PAGE 103

95 presented a way to give voice to the black community as a whole, to reshape an inclusive national identity that allowed a voice for all. Following in the footsteps of W.E.B. DuBois, Hughes was concerned with black nation building, developing the voice, or soul, 1 of a black folk as a source of communal identity and pride. In the first few decades of the 20 th centuryan era of increasingly fluid borders, of vast emigrations and immigrations, and shifting national identities and allegiancesthe project of developing a national identity/culture was paramount. Likewise, as the black population streamed from the rural south into the industrial centers of the north, gaining for the first time the promise of economic and cultural advancement, the need for a black national identity became central to the black community. This project unlike the late-1960's nationalism, however, was double-sided: this emerging national consciousness ran counter to an American identity, standing strongly as an independent black culture (as was the case with 1960s black nationalism 2 ) but this new identity was simultaneously staunchly American, a demand for equal access to democratic rights, and stressing their Americanism. In fact, many social critics (Franz Boas and John Dewey, for example 3 ) have argued that, because of the stripping of any pre-existing black culture through slavery and its dehumanizing, deculturalizing effects, black culture reflects the first truly American culture, an originary culture as opposed to a European culture that was simply transferred onto American soil. 1 W.E.B. DuBoiss work focused on developing a sense of the Soul of Black Americans as a way of developing a communal identity, a cultural form of nationalism based on racial identity and allegiance. 2 Gary Gerstle notes that there have been several opposed strands of Black nationalism, ranging from those who argue a metaphorical nation built on culture and ethnicity to those who see the need for a physical nation with its own government and laws (Civil Rights, White Resistance, and Black Nationalism American Crucible 268-310). 3 See Hutchinson (The Harlem Renaissance 1-28).

PAGE 104

96 Faced with this two-sided project, Hughes, like Whitman, worked within competing narratives. On one hand, he needed to claim a Negro exceptionalism/nationalism, marking a clear and essential black identitya precursor to what would become the concept of negritude in the 1960s. On the other hand, he attempted to dissolve such boundaries, constructing a black humanism, marking a universal democratic figure whose race had no bearing on the entitlement to the rights of democratic citizenship and an American identity. While much has been made of Hughess attempt to construct, and speak from/as, a black identity, less has been made of his equally prominent American identity. His first book of poems was structured such that the opening and closing lines conveyed these equally important facets of his identity: I am a Negro (LH 24) and I, too, am America (LH 46). With both phrases, though, it is important to see the emphasis placed on this poetic I and its embodiment of both individual and communal identity. Hughess lyric voice struggles to negotiate what DuBois referred to as the inherent double consciousness of the black American. 4 His poem America in which he says I am America. / Americathe dream. / Americathe vision. / Americathe star-seeking I. merges the I with a you that is defined as Little dark baby, / Little Jew baby, / Little outcast (LH 52). The I then works in multiple ways, as an individual, as a distinctly black voice (as it takes on the persona of Crispus Attucks, Jimmy Jones, and Sojourner Truth), and as a voice of all of Americas marginalized peoples. By the end, he has constructed a remarkably inclusive and diverse voice: 4 In an oft-quoted passage, DuBois points to the doubleness of the African-American experience: One ever feels his twoness,an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (207).

PAGE 105

97 Who am I? I am the ghetto child, I am the dark baby, I am you And the blond tomorrow And yet I am my one sole self, America seeking the stars. (LH 53) The penultimate line, of course, plays back into notions of American individualism, yet the syntax of the line also shows the individual to be the nation. What is often considered to be a straightforward poetics, or a poetics of statement or message, is actually highly complex. The subtle syntactical and pronominal ambiguities make the I and the you both uncertain and inclusive. This chapter will explore the ways in which Hughes constructed a deceptively simple voice that is able to shift from individual to various groups, often working on a variety of levels at once and to different rhetorical/political ends. He combines the three main lyric traditions I have been discussing: the poems represent a musical performance (the poems often of the poet on stage) reflecting a classical sensibility of the lyric, a romantic individualism based on the artifice of spontaneity, and a contradictory dialogism reflecting a modernist disposition. Hughes adds another tradition to this mix by using what might be called a folk tradition as he bases many of his poems on Blues rhythms and patterns. 5 As was true with H.D. and Whitman, however, the tendency to read his work through one of these traditions rather than seeing them in conjunction forces misreadings onto his work. Rather than the uncomplicated voice most critics point to, Hughes actually constructed a quite complex voice that allowed him to speak to different 5 In The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Hughes proclaims his affinity with Black theater, folk music and especially blues and jazz: Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America (David Levering Lewis 94).

PAGE 106

98 audience simultaneously, and allowed different readers to read the work individually. The poems can claim their Americanness at the same time that they confront and condemn American capitalist values; they can stand as staunchly black even as they construct an allegiance based as much on class as race. But even as Hughes constructs this black identity, his poetry moves toward versions of America that are far more hybrid, heterogeneous, and international than the ubiquitous claims of an essentialized Blackness will allow. By the time Hughes writes Montage of a Dream Deferred in 1951, this undercurrent of cultural hybridity has created a vision of America in which black and white culture mingle inseparablyand blackness can occupy positions within the center rather than at the margins. As much as it is correct to examine the ways in which Hughes redefines blackness and racial pride, it is more often neglected that his oeuvre ultimately redefines America. Art and Representation in the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902a year before W.E.B. DuBoiss The Souls of Black Folk, a seminal work in the definition of black American identity that is often used as a marker for the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance. At that point in history, 9 out of 10 blacks lived in the south, predominantly in rural settings. Economic opportunities, however, soon created an exodus to the urban centers of the north, most notably Chicago and New York. At this same time, the black community fought to declare its worth even as both the government and mainstream American arts denied it. Art, then, began to play an increasingly important function in the development of new black communitiescommunities that were arising throughout urban centers of the North but became referred to metonymically as Harlem and eventually The Harlem Renaissance. Art was a medium through which perceptions could be changed,

PAGE 107

99 white perceptions of blacks and blacks perceptions of themselves. With the advent of new publishing opportunitiesmost notably the growth of the little magazine revolution noted with H.D. as wellthe opportunity to change perceptions expanded exponentially. Toward this end, in the first two decades of the 20 th century new publications channeled this new drive toward community building. In 1920, W.E.B. DuBois founded Crisis as the magazine of the NAACP. In 1923, the National Urban League began Opportunity. 1922 (often noted as the height of modernism with its publication of Ulysses and The Wasteland among others) saw the publication of both Claude McKays Harlem Shadows and James Weldon Johnsons Book of American Negro Poetry. And in 1925, the year before Hughess first book The Weary Blues, Alain Locke published The New Negro. The bulk of the collection is grouped under the heading The Negro Youth Speaks, that, as Locke suggests in an essay by the same name, signifies a new mode in which the black artist was becoming freed of the burdens of group representation: Our poets have now stopped speaking for the Negrothey speak as Negroes (47). Locke goes on to suggest, The newer motive, then, in being racial is to be so purely for the sake of art (51). Interestingly, though, much of Hughess work functions in both ways, for the Negro and as the Negro. Hughess poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers, his earliest published poem, seems central to Lockes anthology: Ive known rivers . Ive known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow Of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young, I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep, I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

PAGE 108

100 I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, And Ive seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. Ive known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers, My soul has grown deep like rivers. (Locke 141) Even though the poem is centered in a speaking I, even the title points to the fact that this is not a particular individual but the Negro. Most importantly, the speaker associates the Negro with the sources of humanity, rivers from those areas where civilization are thought to have arisen, Mesopotamia and, more importantly, Egypt and Ethiopia. During the Renaissance, there was a push to reconceive of the earliest humans as arising from Africa and people increasingly turned to Egypt and Ethiopia as sources of ancient wisdom. The speaker, of course, also turns to the important American river and the city that served as the nexus for the slave trade, but doesnt point to that issue but to Lincoln, a central figure in terms of American democracy and a civic nationalism. While Lockes notion of writers speaking as Negroes is certainly important, it is likewise important to see how a poet like Hughes worked in multiple ways. In this poem he reconceives notions of the history of civilization so that the black is at the center not at the margins. Lockes anthology points to the complex aesthetic debates at the time Hughes was writing and the multiple uses to which art was to serve. As is most often noted, writers were driven to be accepted as equally intelligent and culturally literate by a white audience. While this is certainly true, what is less-often noted is the increasingly important use of art at the time to construct community. Art, that is, was often used as a call to solidarity within the black community. Critics often suggest that the period failed because it lacked aesthetic standards. As George Hutchinson correctly notes,

PAGE 109

101 though, the problem was not a lack of standards but a general disagreement over vehemently different standardsand the political implications of such standards (20-24). In the black community at this time the relationship between the political and the aesthetic was more accepted than in other communities. It is impossible, then, to read Hughess work without considering its place within the aesthetic debates of the time. On one side of the debate were writers such as Countee Cullen who wanted to write a universal poetry, one not marked by his blackness, not defined by his alterity to the American mainstream. Cullens poems, like Claude McKays, made great use of standard European forms, most notably the Shakespearean sonnet. On the other side were writers like Hughes who defined his work almost singularly as black expression. In a thinly-veiled commentary on Countee Cullen, Hughess The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain suggests that any desire to be a poet--not a negro poet is actually a veiled desire to be white, a poet that is ultimately afraid of being himself (David Levering Lewis 91). In the essay, Hughes clearly lays out his aesthetic principles: But then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element,and they are the majoritymay the Lord be praised! The people who have their hip of gin on Saturday nights and are not too important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round. They live on Seventh Street in Washington or State Street in Chicago and they do not particularly care whether they are like white folks or anybody else. Their joy runs, bang! into ecstasy. Their religion soars to a shout. Work maybe a little today, rest a little tomorrow [ . ] they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardizations. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself. (92, emphasis mine) Many critics of the time saw his views of blacks as playing, singing, dancing, with a pint of gin as merely perpetuating primitive, derogatory stereotypes of the black and feeding, therefore, notions of Negro inferiority. Hughes, however, claimed that any denial of this

PAGE 110

102 side of black culture was a denial of the culture itself. Hughes puts this argument forcefully into his poem Liar: It is we who are liars: The Pretenders-to-be who are not And the Pretenders-not-to-be who are. It is we who use words As screens for thoughts And weave dark garments To cover the naked body Of the too white Truth. It is we with the civilized souls Who are liars. (LH 44) The claim here seems to be that any individual in such denial is actually denying his or her true self and turning ones back on his or her own identity and the community. Certainly there were political reasons for such notions of self-affirmation but it also posits an extremely essentialized version of identity and race. The tension between Booker Washingtons best-foot-forward philosophy and W.E.B. DuBoiss black identity 6 are being played out in the aesthetic realm here. Onwuchekwa Jemie refers to it as the tension between the scylla of stereotyped portraits of blacks...and the charybdis of idealized and compensatory portraits...the polar extremes of resignation, or the impulse towards assimilation; and revolt, or the impulse towards nationalism. (11-12) Interestingly, even Jemie who notes these poles in terms of self-representation falls back into an essentialized version of identity when considering a poet like Cullen: He wanted to be a poet, not a Negro poet. Accordingly, he chose English Romantic poet John Keats as his prime model....weak and effeminate in the worst 6 Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois were arguably the two most important Black figures in early 20 th century America. The two stood on opposite sides of an ideological spectrum, though. Washington believed that cooperation with whites in would eventually lead to a solution in race relations, even at times placating white supremacists. DuBois, meanwhile, argued for a more militant approach to the problem of racism, supporting a new form of cultural nationalism that countered the scientific bases of racism and exposing the connection of economics, racism, and politics.

PAGE 111

103 Keatsian tradition. Not unlike Toomer, Cullen wrestled his racial identity all his life and, judging from his poetry, never quite came to terms with it. (158) Interestingly, the Romantic tradition here is defined in the same feminized way that the high modernists conceived it, so that we see masculinity and racial acceptance intersecting in problematic ways. What Jemie suggests, then, is any form of happy self-acceptance is equated with personal authenticity, while a struggle with race or identity is automatically a form of self-rejection. One might ask if there is ever a place for an authentic struggle with ones race. The argument is that Cullen offers the reader no stable sense of black identity or black pride, but the question is always whether or not race should offer a stable identity, and whether the self can be equated with a racial self as Hughes did. It is important to remember as well that this stable identity is as much an effect of artifice as of authenticity. In this context, we might productively ask if Hughess avoidance of sexuality is in any way a denial of self. As we saw with Whitman and H.D., sexuality is a central issue of both self and national identities, but even Hughess earlier blues-inflected poems stay away from some of the direct sexual innuendo and imagery of the original musical versions. Though his sexuality is in the end not clear there is certainly support of his bisexual experiences. As Arnold Rampersad has suggested, his sexuality remains ambiguous or androgynous(The Life 45). Carl Van Vechten who knew Hughes most of his life suggested that he never had any indication if he was homosexual or heterosexual(qtd Rampersad The Life 137). My point here is not to debate one way or another but to point out that the very uncertainty in even those close to him suggests the extent to which sexuality was submerged within his persona. Sexuality in no way figures into Hughess identity in the way that race doesalthough it is worth noting that Hughes

PAGE 112

104 clearly pushes against traditional gender constructions, most notably by taking on womens voices such as the Madam poems or the Negro Mother and showing them to be of central importance to the Black community. 7 But, in general, the honest expression of Hughes actually depends upon an elision of sexuality in favor of racial character. Likewise, we may note that the commentary about Hughes being straightforward and spontaneous ignores the fact that he actually censored himself, not placing many of his more politically radical works in his Selected Poems after being called before the Joseph McCarthy hearings. 8 None of this is meant to cast aspersions on Hughess aesthetic claims but rather to suggest that there are complex political questions at stake behind the claims, and forms, of self/community-representation. To know the true Hughes is more difficult than his work might suggest, and it would do the reader well to not merely accept anything as given, or any claims as purely authentic. The point is not to call into question Hughess sincerity when he claims in The Negro Artist I am as sincere as I know how to be in these poems (David Levering Lewis 94) but to suggest that the claims of sincerity themselves have a definite political goal in shaping the ways that we read and react to his poetry. 7 Joyce A. Joyce argues that Hughess artistic sensibility is more femininethough not necessarily gaythan masculine (Tracy 119-140). 8 Hughes was consistently harassed by right-wing forces about his ties to the Left. Though he had never joined the Communist party, in 1953 he was forced by Senator Joseph McCarthy to appear in Washington, D.C. and testify officially about his politics. Hughes denied that he had ever been a party member but conceded that some of his radical verse had been ill-advised. McCarthy was discredited soon afterward, but the episode had shaped his philosophy of publication nonetheless.

PAGE 113

105 The Lyric Label as Rhetorical There is a clear divide in the way critics approach his lyric poetry and his social work. This is undoubtedly due in large part to Hughes himself who made the distinction in his essay My Adventures as a Social Poet, casting the lyric side as mostly about love, roses, and moonlight, sunsets and snow (Good Morning Revolution 135). Hughes is actually perpetuating the same problematic divide that I have been discussing, and this dichotomy has become set in stone in critical responses to his work. For instance, Jemie refers to his lyric, apolitical poems as opposed to his social work(xvi). Jemie pushes this distinction even further suggesting that roughly half of The Weary Blues is lyric poetry with no immediate social or political content (131). But this notion of the lyric refers to the content of poems, beauty versus political struggle while lyric as I am defining it is about a mode of presentation, and Hughes, even in his most staunchly political work, stands out as a lyricist of the first order, a speaker speaking both to and for a contemporary audience. The simple acceptance of Hughess distinction ignores the rhetorical importance of Hughess claims: at the time, his comments actually served as a way to engage with, or more appropriately distance himself from, modernist, New Critical aesthetics. 9 I would suggest that, rather than clearly defining a lyric sensibility, he is using the term to equate with art, an art that is disengaged with political concerns in favor of a universalist position as the New Critics fashioned it. Hughes, then, argues against lyric (in this New Critical sense) while, nonetheless, almost single-handedly developing a new lyric tradition in which the poet 9 As many critics have noted, the post-World War I era represented an emotionally bleak time for many modernist writers while it actually represented a time of optimism for Harlem writers as they embraced the possibilities of change.

PAGE 114

106 actually becomes a musical performer on stage singing both a singular and collective song. In other words, Hughes most clearly returns lyric to its classical conceptions. His poem "Negro" (LH 24) begins with a strong sense of individual identity and Black affirmation: I am a Negro: Black as the night is black, Black like the depths of my Africa. The poems lens quickly zooms outward, though, toward a larger historical, communal sensibility: I've been a slave: Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean. I brushed the boots of Washington. Clearly, the I here is an historical amalgam in a way that the first stanzas is not (the first may be an amalgam but it is just as easy to read it as a personal statement of experience). The poem then moves through a rapid series of successive views of the black community while maintaining a speakerly/authorial presence. The opening lines of each following stanza can be read as a statement about Hughes himself or as the voice of the community: Ive been a worker, I've been a singer, I've been a victim, and I am a Negro. In Hughess terminology, this would most likely be considered social poetry, although its political content is about representation and identity rather than aimed at contemporary social circumstance. But the poem is clearly a constructed voice meant to speak as an individual and communal voice at the same time, a series of essentialized subjectivities. For criticism to simply follow the Hughes divide is to miss the point: his social poems are lyric and his need to define these terms is actually a crafty rhetorical move on his part that forces readers to read in certain ways, opening up gaps in

PAGE 115

107 which the reader must reconsider the self within the poems context. The poems actually construct an individual-social divide that the poem cannot sustain. The reader is forced to reconsider the nature of both individual and group identity. It also allows Hughes to step outside of traditional poetic expectations even while using them. To understand why genre is important to Hughes, it helps to consider the two poles between which a black artist was working at the time. On one hand, there were those who believed there was no such thing as Negro verse, only diverse black poets (expounded by poets like Cullen). Others believed in an essential and inherently Negro verse. DuPlessis notes that the social position of the new Negro creates an omnipresent tension between duty and political realism and pleasure or aesthetic realism; between... group identity and individualist separation; between allegiance and resistance to category(Genders, Races 5). For Hughes black art is a powerful space of emerging collective identity and individual power. Yet how does one write a community without homogenizing and stereotyping? I would argue that one needs to work within the framework of an individual voice. For instance, consider how Dream Variations creates the effect of an individual reveling in his dreams: To fling my arms wide In some place of the sun To whirl and to dance Till the white day is done. (LH 40) But as the poem accumulates and we see Night coming tenderly / Black like me, we can sense this is as much a communal dream as a personal faith or happiness. Similarly, when Hughes says I, too, sing America, (LH 46) certainly we can read that as Hughess personal claim to Americanness, but we can also hear the voice as a community staking its claim to a national identity as well.

PAGE 116

108 The Rhetoric of Authenticity Three concepts are nearly ubiquitous in criticism of Hughes: simplicity, spontaneity, and authenticity. Yet terms such as simplicity (as well as dramatic and lyric that are similarly used) remain largely undefined and vaguely used to support particular political uses of Hughess poetry. Likewise, a term like simplicity has been used to both valorize and revile his poetry. Here are a variety of critical comments to show this nearly unquestioned assumption of Hughess authenticity: Arthur P. Davis says that above all else, he had the gift of simplicity (ODaniel 20), while Jemie argues that what he wanted to do was to record and interpret the lives of the common black folk (1) [ . .] the characteristic quality of Hughess poetry is simplicity (24) Countee Cullen referred to the poems utter spontaneity and expression of a unique personality [ . ] peculiarly Mr. Hughess and no one elses [ . ] To him it is essential that he be himself (Mullen 37), and Lewis Alexander has said that his work has that fine sincerity which is the essence of all true poetry (55) A poem such as My People might point to what such critics are responding to: The night is beautiful, So the faces of my people. The stars are beautiful, So the eyes of my people. Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people. (LH 36) There is nothing obscure about the poem; the speaker is showing a love of his people and making comparisons that verge on the clich: stars as eyes, sun as soul. Most critics would suggest that this represents a sincere and authentic personal expression. In his

PAGE 117

109 book Langston Hughes, Black Genius, Therman B. ODaniel wraps all these critical elements together: Langston Hughes never wrote in any other way but as he sincerely and honestly wanted to write...Langston Hughes always spoke his mind... honest Langston Hughes, who made it a lifelong practice, not only in his poetry but in his prose as well, always to speak his mind and to tell things as they were. (16-17, emphasis mine) Again, I do not intend to necessarily disagree with these readings; the poems do seem to want to be read with such straightforwardness. Likewise, the apparent sincerity of Hughess work is politically important; part of his project is to develop pride and community, and a straightforward poetics can be effective to this end. It is also important to note that such criticism is really a rejection of certain artistic models (such as that of the New Critics and the High Modernists) that effectively removes such an art from the domain of high art. But it is also important to not merely accept that there is a black voice that can be accurately rendered in the first place, or that there is a particular things as they are. We might note that this straightforward poetics is, to a large extent, an embodiment of American democratic egalitarianism, a poetry that is accessible to all, but to simply accept such ideas as straightforwardness or simplicity is to ignore the very complicated political project that Langston Hughes is engaged in and the rhetorical tools used in that project. As many critics have argued, texts construct a readers subject position 10 a position from which they read. In Hughess case, the reader easily functions from a humanist subject position, a knowable individual who likewise is reading the work of an individual and can know without fail what that author means. The reader seemingly 10 For a particularly useful distillation of these arguments, see Belsey Addressing the Subject (Critical Practice 52-77).

PAGE 118

110 can enter into the text with no uncertainty, no split between signifier and signified as we saw with H.D. The poem becomes an unproblematical, sincere rendering of the authors mind and worldand, more importantly, supposedly of his races experience. The condition of supposed simplicity has caused readers to either see his poems as brilliant reflections of, and for, the people or as poetic doggerel. To be sure, we can find poems to make either case. To a large extent, we might attribute this to the fact that Hughes was so prolific and tended toward writing poems for and about specific events that tend not to hold up as well in the long run. (Some critics, such as George Kent, suggest that it is because of his social commitment that the poemsor the artdo not stand the pressures of time, but this merely returns us to the problematic equation that social commitment and art cannot live together (ODaniel 183-210)). But again, it is important to see that Hughes, himself, plays into such readings. I would contend that his construction of an authentic voice, of telling it like it is, actually allows the construction of far more complex, multi-valent masks that function in a variety of different reading communities. His poem I, Too is a case in point: I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I'll be at the table When company comes. Nobodyll dare Say to me, Eat in the kitchen, Then.

PAGE 119

111 Besides, Theyll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed I, too, am America. (LH 46) The poem begins with the Whitmanesque gesture of singing Americaand, like Whitmans work, the voice sounds in multiple registers. On one hand, the poem contains a basic diction and syntax, evocative of an uncomplicatedbut strongvoice that utters the words. On the other hand, as DuPlessis notes, the straightforward diction that seems to superficially concede childishness of the darker brother also seems to enact this brothers continued growth (Genders, Races 106). The poem itself becomes stronger, ending with a very pointed use and emphasis of the syllable am: They'll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed-/ I, too am America(46). As DuPlessis points out, the syllable am is repeated, proclaiming a newfound strength in identity and another that is embedded within ashamed, transforming the syllable into an aim, an explicit intention to be noticed and accepted (107). I would add that the syllable similarly is echoed in the opening syllable of America, reinforcing this sense of American identity. The speaker has moved from singing of America (or singing it into being if we consider how Whitman sang the self and the nation into being) to actually becoming the nation. Likewise, the poem offers a pointed metaphor of the darker brother. Certainly, we can see the metaphor of nationhood as family, wherein some members of that nation will be darker. On another level, though, we need to see the poem as pointing toward the troubled genealogical histories of America; the black (or the troubled mulatto that is at the center of much of Hughess verse) is quite literally the darker brother and must be seen on these terms. But it is also important to see how he has used the I here as a

PAGE 120

112 doubled figure. Clearly the I is meant to stand as a collective, but the fact of writing first person instead of as we works in two ways. First, this I allows this collective voice to escape the risk of an essentialized identity, allowing an individual character to stand out. More importantly, the poems unstated we can speak to a black community sharing in the voice while it becomes less threatening to a white community, less threatening than a sense of a we growing stronger and refusing to be denied. This last idea points toward sly maneuvering on Hughess part as he positions himself to make use of bothas Houston Baker calls themthe mastery of form and the deformation of mastery. 11 Mastery of form is the use of expected sounds of blackness, those stereotyped (most notably the minstrel stereotypes) sounds that a white audience will expect and accept, allowing a writer access to the means of publication and audience. The deformation of mastery is an in-your-face blackness that makes use of tribal discourse and African ritual sound. Deformation is a go(uer)illa action in the face of acknowledged adversaries (Baker 50). Baker concedes that these two positions are not simple binaries, however, and I would argue that Hughes actually constructs a poetic voice that can function as both. In I, Too, for instance, we can hear the mastery of form with lines like But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong, lines of affirmation that also sound fairly simplistic or naive and, thus, non-threatening. On the other hand, behind those same lines is the implicit knowledge that as the speaker grows strong he will no longer have to accept his social position. Notice the weight placed on the word then, as it is given its own line. By placing it by itself, Hughes allows it to work as a qualifier, suggesting a 11 These terms are at the center of Bakers argument that, because of the use of these strategies, Harlem Renaissance should be classified as distinctly Modernist in Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.

PAGE 121

113 future time in which change will occur, while it also takes on the threatening tone of an or else. By the end of the poem we can sense this speaker emerge: he has matured and become America and will not be denied. Either America will change or it will face repercussions; either America will realize the speakers worth and beauty (the goal of the best-foot-forward camp as they strove to make their intellectual and cultural worth known) or the speaker will have grown strong and can take matters into his own hands (the go(uer)illa tactics of deformation). At stake in these terms (and the debates from which they emerge) is the use and representation of the primitive. Patti Cappell Swartz suggests that the notion of deformation is defined by its use of the primitive. For the African-American a return to the primitive was a search for or a return to roots. For the white audience the primitive implied exoticism and the African-American artist embodied an exotic other, an escape from civilization (50). In the 1920s, questions of the primitive were at the center of American cultural life: white writers were trying to write as blacks and/or drawing black music into their work, the cubists were drawing from African art as an exotic influence, attempting to tap what were considered pre-modern energies as a way or responding to what many saw as the dangers of modernity. At the same time clubs such as the Cotton Club flourished as white society flocked to see black artists as the embodiment of the primitive or id-driven experience, re-energizing their own psyches even as they restricted Blacks from the same experience. In this way, primitivism and deformation relate to Henry Louis Gatess notion of the signifying monkey, the trickster figure who changes circumstances (and meanings) on an unknowing oppressor: Signifying implies speaking

PAGE 122

114 from behind a mask to those who will not understand, and implies a complicity understanding of the wearing of the mask from those who do understand (Swartz 51). We can see this duality through the lens of criticism concerning many of the Harlem Renaissance writers. For instance, a poem like Countee Cullens Heritage allowed for critical responses that split evenly along a racial border. The poem, published in Lockes The New Negro, represents a black Americans struggle with the pastespecially in the context of an African heritage. White critics responded to the poem as beyond racial questions. The poem ends Lord, forgive me if my need / Sometimes shapes a human creed (Locke 253), and critics such as Babette Deutsch saw this as promoting the human over the racial, claiming that the real virtue of his work lies in his personal response to an experience that however conditioned by his race, is not so much racial as profoundly human (qtd Lomax 240). Black critics, though, responded to him as the first real spokesman for sensitive and educated blacks. In the poem he desires to give his new Christian/European God features like himself: Lord, I fashion dark gods, too, Daring even to give to You Dark Despairing features where Crowned with dark rebellious hair, Patience wavers . . (Locke 252) Jessie Fauset writes, Here I am convinced is Mr. Cullens forte; he has the feelings and the gift to express colored-ness in a world of whiteness (qtd Lomax 240). As much as the poem is a revelation of self, then, we must see this poem as a carefully crafted performance that allows his audience multiple points of entry. At the same time, though, many Black critics argued that Cullens use of European formsthe poem is written in rhymed couplets of a truncated iambic tetrameter that echoes William Blakes The

PAGE 123

115 Tygerwas tantamount to selling out. What this suggests is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to read any Renaissance poem outside of the lens of the political/cultural uses to which the poetry was put. In relation to Hughess work, we can see that the primitive can be seen as a negative by the community it was meant to reach. Hughes was often criticized for his stereotypical portraits of the black community and his second book Fine Clothes to the Jew was generally disregarded by black critics (and most notably attacked by the black middle class) while highly praised by white critics. Hughes was often caught in the middle of debates over the nature and use of the primitive, as he unashamedly allowed the so-called baser elements of black life into his poetry, but did not see himself as a primitivist. In fact, his reluctance to include the highly-charged sexual innuendo and imagery of traditional blues into his work (he is, of course, highly sensual but you wont hear phrases in Hughes like Wynonie Harriss Keep on churnin til the butter come) 12 is possibly a way of countering some of the expectations of black exoticismor the common association of the times of blacks with the liberated id. But when he veered away from so-called primitive or exotic concerns and wrote in an outrightly political waysuch as his poem Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria (LH 143-46) written as a response to the building of a luxury hotel in the face of massive hunger and evictionshis white patron Charlotte Mason dropped her support. The poem is a sarcastic advertisement/invitation for displaced citizens: Say, you colored folks, hungry a long time in 135 th Street they got swell music at the Waldorf-Astoria. It sure is a mighty nice place to shake hips in, too. Theres dancing 12 For a thorough discussion of this issue, see Tracy, Langston Hughes and Afro-American Vernacular Music (A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes 3-22).

PAGE 124

116 after supper in a big warm room. Its cold as hell on Lenox Avenue. All youve had all day is a cup of coffee. Your pawnshop overcoats a ragged banner on your hungry frame. (145) We can also see here that, even as it addresses colored folks, the poem clearly shows Hughess alliance with Americas lower class. Although he never officially joined the Communist party, the poetic voice certainly embodies a Communist perspective in which race and class intersect in the name of a true civic nationalism. Mason would have continued her support for Hughes, but only if he stopped writing political work. R. Baxter Miller notes that Mason believed that the expression of political opinions should be left to white people like herself, and that black artists should be a cultural exoticism in the United Statesin other words, link whites to the primitive life (24). It is interesting, then, to see that Mason did not see his earlier work as social commentary, a fact that shows his double-natured voice was actually quite effective. A poem like Lament for Dark Peoples offers a good example of his dual approach, effectively fusing a mastery and deformation together. The speaker allies himself with different groups I was a red man one time and I was a black man, too (LH 39) as the white man drives both groups from the forests and jungles: They drove me out of the forest. They took me from the jungles. I lost my trees. I lost my silver moons. (LH 39) The stereotypical primitive is driven toward civilization that in itself can be read two ways: for the white man this is the task of bringing the primitives into the modern, the white-mans burden of the early 20 th century; for the black, though, this can be read as being stripped of ones ancestral past. They lose their trees and their silver moonsa

PAGE 125

117 phrase that, in itself, points toward an accepted image or sound of the primitive. A reader can react to the last stanza in two distinct ways: Now they've caged me In the circus of civilization. Now I herd with the many Caged in the circus of civilization. (LH 39) On one hand, the stanza suggests defeat, the black man now herding scared and powerless behind the bars of civilization. On the other hand, the passage also contains a stronger message about a caged condition that cannot last. The poem is signifying to an audience that will hear what it wants to/needs to hear. Dialect and Identity Perhaps the most important aspect of Hughess work is the way in which he attempts to construct a community through a shared sense of language. Hughess early poem Mother to Son is a prime example of his use of dialect in order to function on multiple levels. The poem is most often cited as a classic rendering of the authentic black voice and/or experience: Well, son, Ill tell you: Life for me aint been no crystal stair. Its had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor Bare. But all the time Ise been a-climbin on, And reachin landins, And turnin corners, And sometimes goin in the dark Where there aint been no light. So boy, dont you turn back. Dont you set down on the steps Cause you finds its kinder hard. Dont you fall now For Ise still goin hone,

PAGE 126

118 Ise still climbin, And life for me aint been no crystal stair. (LH 30) As is so often remarked of Hughes in general, this poem, too, might seem to fit what critics call Hughess simplicity. So much so, that most critics dont seem to even give a second thought to the obvious readings they give to the poem: the poem authentically renders black speech, the poem shows the oppressive nature of a white society, the poem shows the black ability to persevere. I certainly do not want to disagree with these readings; the poem does seem to capture all of these elements, and Hughes as was always true was first and foremost concerned with the black experience. But if we simply accept these readingsmost notably that the speech is authentically blackwe miss other ideas he is working with, most notably a critique of American capitalism and its assumption of the individuals ability to get ahead, or climb toward success. If a poem such as Mother to Son can authentically capture a black voice, as critics seem to believe, certainly we would expect a poem such as The Negro Mother to carry the same inflections, yet we find that The Negro Mother is far closer to standard English and makes use of more traditional European prosody most notably end-rhymed couplets: I am the dark girl who crossed the wide sea Carrying in my body the seed of the free. I am the woman who worked in the field Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield. I am the one who labored as a slaved, Beaten and mistreated for the work I gave (LH 155) While the poem is not in a traditional meter, it does often reveal a tendency toward alternating iambs and anapests: But Gd put a sng and a pryer in my muth. Gd put a dram like stel in my soul. (155)

PAGE 127

119 The poem also often utilizes a more formalized, or archaic, syntax: Look ever upward at the sun and the stars (156). Which of these voices then suggests the authentic black voice? Is there anything we can really call an authentic voice? Part of this question is the nature of acceptable discourse at the time. Baker notes that the minstrel dialect (a performance rather than an authentic dialect)or the minstrel mask (22) was what an African-American had to use if they were going to be articulate (or heard) in a white-dominated society. As Paul Laurence Dunbar said, Ive got to write dialect poetry; its the only way I can get them to listen to me (Baker 38). Listening, of course, is important, but it is how they needed to write if they were going to be published in the first placeand, thus, heard even within their own community. In an 1848 letter to Walter Hines, Charles Chesnutt had also examined the nature of dialect: The fact is, of course, that there is no such thing as a negro dialect; that what we call by that name is the attempt to express, without such a degree of phonetic correctness as to suggest the sound, English pronounced as an ignorant old Southern Negro would be supposed to speak it. (Baker 42) Of course the question is irrelevantboth voices can be authenticyet criticism tends to refer to authenticity as if there were an authentic voice rather than voices (Henry Louis Gates, for instance, often discusses Black writing as a counter to Western writing as if there is such a clear binary rather than an endless interplay between languages 13 ) and Hughes makes great use of this fact. Returning to Mother to Son, we find that nowhere in the poem does the speaker mention blackness or identify herself at all except as a mother. As I have suggested, 13 Gatess system of black literary criticism is based on an essentialized version of a black aesthetic. For a discussion of how this aesthetic operates as a binary opposition to western literature see Introduction (The Signifying Monkey ix-xxvii).

PAGE 128

120 though, most critics accept it as a given that the voice represents black speech. Only R. Baxter Miller attempts to show how the poem achieves this, arguing the meter of the poem depends more on the noted simulation of black rhetoric, the actual cadences of folk speech, than a metric form (The Art and Imagination 36). Miller goes on to note, however, that rather than any objective way to determine such cadences he reads the cadences per my ear (36). The question this honest notion raises is if one hears a Black cadence because one expects (or wants) it, or if the cadences first suggest the speech of a group to which it is then attributed. I would suggest that the former is the more likely and that it would be hard not to read the poem as black speech given the context of Hughess comments about his own work; 14 without this context, however, we might well hear the poem as a rural or Southern voice. That is, the voice of Mother to Son could be just as easily the voice of a poor Southern farmer in a Faulkner story. But, because Hughes has told his audience elsewhere that the voice should be read as black, 15 we immediately read it as a black speaker and the poem, then, has effectively conflated race and class which causes the poem to engage with the debate of his time of whether solutions to racial inequality are first and foremost economic solutions or not. 16 Critics such as Miller and Jemie argue that the poem suggests a spiritual climbing, the 14 Hughess The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, for example, specifies the ways in which his work is strictly about black experience. Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know he says, considering it the duty of the Negro artist [ . ] to change through the force of his art that old whispering I want to be white, hidden in the aspirations of his people, to Why should I want to be white? I am Negroand beautiful? (David Levering Lewis 91-95). 15 The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain suggests that Hughes was unconcerned with the reception of his work except as it represents a Black identity (David Levering Lewis 95). 16 The debates between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were to a large extent economic as Wahsington believed that the Black community needed to develop economic self-sufficiency (and, thus, needed to play into White expectations in order to enter into the economic system and develop a financial base) while DuBois argued for a Black identity as path toward a cultural self-sufficiency.

PAGE 129

121 crystal stair serving as a transcendental ascent. Such a reading, while certainly plausible, ignores the fact that the mother remains in the same oppressive life circumstances and is, nonetheless, pushing these same values and circumstances on the son. The speaker is functioning under the capitalist illusions of the crystal stair and ascent afforded to hard work, the ubiquitous American ladder of success rather than a spiritual ladder of transcendence. In this way, the poem can function dually: it obviously affords its contemporaneous black audience to identify itself through the use of dialect. The poem, as most of Hughess, does serve as sustenance to an emerging African-American identity, or, as Huston Baker refers to it, A mode of sounding reality that is identifiably and self-consciously black and empowering (71). At the same time, it serves as a condemnation of American capitalist ideology. The use of dialect also served a quite practical end for Hughes: his work fed a white fascination with black experience in the 1920s (as Hughes himself referred to it in The Big Sea, the Negro was in vogue) and served publishers and editors desires to publish authentic black literature. So the poem was accepted in the way a more direct attack on capitalism might not have; the poem found an audience who willingly accepted its claims to blackness while, at the same time, critiquing issues of capitalism and class. Personae and the Multiple Voice The blurring of mastery and deformation is frequently manifest as a multiple voice (and multiple reading). This is quite evident in a poem like Mulatto (LH 100-01). The poemas I, Too, did alsoexplores questions of nationhood and genealogy as the figure is both black and white. But more importantly, the poem is constructed as a multi-voiced, multi-layered dialogism defined by both radical self-affirmation: I am your son,

PAGE 130

122 white man! and of a tentative ambiguity: A nigger night, / A nigger joy, / A little yellow / Bastard boy. The speaker of these last lines is unclear at best and, thus, we can either read the white father as rejecting/condemning the mulatto son or we can read it as a self-condemnation by the mulatto. Since the number of voices that exist within this poem remains undetermined (clearly the son, the father, and a sibling all speak, but there are questions and lyrical interjections that can be read in multiple voicings: The moon over the turpentine woods. / The Southern night / Full of stars juxtaposed against lines such as Niggers ain't my brother. / Not ever.), much of the statement of the poem remains ambiguous. The poem, then, is experimental at the same time as it is radically social, both a mastery of form and a deformation of mastery. On one hand, the poem clearly indicates an effort of the son to confront the oppressive society in which he finds himself, to stand up and be counted as the son with his birthright (which by implication is the birthright of the democratic citizen). On the other hand, these mediating voices and their concomitant uncertainty put doubts into the poem. The son is clearly also investigating an identity he is unsure of, how to relate to a culture to which he does not belongdoes he want to belong or not? We might read these seemingly lyric interjections (The bright stars scatter everywhere. / Pine wood scent in the evening air.) as Hughess own probing of the poetic tradition. Does he belong to the American culture and its New Critical sensibilities? Or is he the aesthetic bastard boy? The poem ultimately remains unsure. In this way, the poem confronts the aesthetic culture of his time in the same way that his comments on lyric versus social poetry challenged the modernist aesthetic. Criticism, of course, has focused on the first reading, a narrative of a self-affirming black identity and culture while Hughess questioning of identity and

PAGE 131

123 culture remains submerged if not completely ignored. But it is a sign that Hughes was much more involved in the cultural debates and implications marked by writers such as Countee Cullen than is normally accepted. One of the difficulties this multiple voice poses, is determining the speaker of his poems. We might see the work as dramatic, as Hughes works through a variety of voicesthe black mother, Alberta K. the Colored Soldier, etc.; conversely, we have the clear sense that Hughes himself is speaking. As Countee Cullen said of the voice, it was peculiarly Mr. Hughess and no one elses (Mullen 37). I would contend that Hughess poems serve as a poetic sequence functioning much as the variety of voices in Whitmans Song of Myself. Where Whitmans voices all accumulated into one larger voice of Whitman himself, Hughes works through a variety of personae but the voice itself shows remarkably little stylistic variety. The poems present a consistent persona working throughout, a persona that seemingly agrees with Hughess own voice. In this way, he simultaneously speaks as self and other. Hughes creates the effect of himself as a singer on stage improvising other voices but always lurking behind them so that the reader always maintains some sense of Hughes the individual. His poem The Weary Blues, while set as a poem about a musician playing before the speaker, also stands as a sort of Ars Poetica for Hughes himself: the speaker describes the musician as a lens to describing the black aesthetic and experience of the blues and the weariness accompanying a lifetime of oppression: He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool (LH 50). The poem embodies the melancholiness of a blues tune on the piano: Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, / Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, / I heard a Negro play. (50). As Steven C. Tracy has noted, the syntax

PAGE 132

124 is such that the droning and rocking can refer either to the I or to the Negro, immediately suggesting that the music invites, even requires, the participation of the speaker (Nelson, Cary, ed. Modern American Poetry. 04 April 2005. http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/weary.htm ). The speaker here becomes the musician; the Weary Blues are, in fact, Hughess poems. The syncopation and blues-inflected line become the hallmarks of his poetry as opposed to any European standard. Here, Hughes announces a new poetics, emerging from black speech, black music and a black mans soul. 17 What he offers is a new musical/poetic idiom, unrelated to European/American standards; here is the cultural significance of the black community. More importantly, though, this is likewise Hughess poetic idiom. Again and again, the reader will witness Hughes as the musician on stage, improvising and riffing on standard black musical idioms. This effect of spontaneity, of improvisation, lends itself likewise to the effect of Hughes presenting the real self, the individual personality as opposed to the self confined, and conforming, to standard poetic idioms. This persona, though, also becomes equated with a choral voice, so it is Hughes and it is the black community as a whole. The I, as we have already seen with both Whitman and H.D., shifts like a background/foreground illusionindividual or communal depending upon the readers perspective. So, for instance, the voice of Alberta K. Johnson in his Madam poems sounds on one hand remarkably like Langston Hughes. On the other hand, she sounds also like a figure that speaks as all blacks. In Madams Calling Cards we see Alberta struggling to maintain her Americanness. When the printer asks her Shall I use Old English / Or a Roman letter? she responds 17 The phrase, of course, echoes DuBoiss Souls of Black Folk, constructing then a voice that is both individual and communal.

PAGE 133

125 quickly Use American. / Americans better. Alberta understands the centrality of American identity in the way the printer does not; in the same way, the black community can hold an American identity more dear than the white community. This blurring of personae and voices becomes more complicated in Hughess later work, pointing toward a version of America as a hybrid culture. His work continued to be central to the black community as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, but interestingly his work serves in many ways as a counterpoint to the essentialist claims of many black nationalists. For example, Theme for English B (LH 409-10) (often considered one of his most autobiographical works 18 ) counters his earlier sense of a writer telling it like it is. When his teacher suggests that all one needs to do is let that page come out of you / Then, it will be true, he responds: I wonder if its that simple? The poem goes on to say Its not easy to know what is true for you or me. He likewise counters his own sense of an essential racial character: I guess being colored doesnt make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races. So will my page be colored that I write? Being me, it will not be white. But it will be a part of you, instructor. You are white-yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. Thats American. (LH 410) He maintains here that whatever he writes cannot be white, but the poem works toward a more hybrid notion of identity and culture a part of me, as I am a part of you. The poem is part of his Montage of a Dream Deferred. The term montage is generally read as a comment on the technique as Hughes attempts to incorporate Bop Jazz into literary 18 See, for example, Jemie (Langston Hughes: An Introduction 73).

PAGE 134

126 structurethe book jumps back and forth between themes and riffsbut we might read montage as a new vision for American culture, made up of quite distinct entities that also are inseparable. The dream deferred is certainly the black dreamas is often notedbut is also the American dream. Hughes is beginning to reimagine America itself. Language, as Michael North has noted, is the cornerstone of national identity and an index of cultural health (11). By reconfiguring and poetic language as he has, Hughes has redefined the cultural center of America in terms of both race and class, and the African-American has been firmly located in the center of American narratives rather than on its margins. When sociologist Melville Herskovits visited Harlem in the 1920s, he came away thinking what I was seeing was a community just like any other community. The same pattern, only a different shade [ . ] In Harlem we have to-day, essentially, a typical American community (Locke 354). This, it seems, what Hughes had been attempting to show all along: America should be able to function as a whole community while also maintaining its pluralist bent. He believed he could be, that is, both black and American.

PAGE 135

JOHN BERRYMAN: AMERICA IN FRAGMENTS Langston Hughess sense of an increasingly hybrid American culture points toward what would eventually be considered a postmodern poetics. 1 This connection is especially relevant when we consider the work of John Berryman whose work was increasingly fragmented and multivalent even as he shared many of Hughess concerns in terms of racial, cultural, and national authenticity. But Berryman, as a middle-class, white male in mid-century America, wrote from the privileged position of the very center of national identity at that time. It would be difficult to see his poetry as harkening back to an oral poetry form as we saw in previous chaptershis work is highly literary and almost refuses to sound an identity in the ways we have discussed. Nor is it easy to claim that Berryman attempts to speak as any collective identity to which he is aligned. His seeming refusal to sound an identity could be argued to be a denial of any common identityhis poetry seems to staunchly stand as the voice of an individual above all else. In fact, the work of John Berryman would be the easiest to categorize as autobiographical. His lyric poetry, then, seems to run the risk of lapsing into a mere romantic self-expressionism against which I have been arguing. So it would be disingenuous at best to simply proclaim Berryman in the same lyric line with poets already discussed. 1 Though the problem of distinguishing between modern and postmodern is beyond the scope of this dissertation, it does seem important to note that Berryman straddles this line and points forward in the same way that Whitman pointed forward toward the modern. I would argue that this shows how poetry can be visionary, prefiguring social constructs instead of merely reacting or expressing contemporaneous social models. 127

PAGE 136

128 Earlier chapters have noted ways in which writers use the appearance of auto-biography or self-revelation toward differing rhetorical ends, but it is very difficult to claim that Berrymans poemslike many of his peers in the 1950s and 1960sare not filled with actual autobiography. It would be easy, then, to read Berryman through the lens of autobiographyas it would for so many post-World War II poets. 2 But while I do not want to suggest that Berryman works in the same way I have already discussed, I do want to argue that it is perhaps all the more important to examine to what rhetorical end he is possibly using autobiography, to question how this personal poetry might also be some kind of cultural performance. Part of the challenge is that Berryman can be seen as creating the critical problem his own poetry faces: because he uses and highlights autobiographical detail, he is prone to being read through such a lens. The so-called middle generation of post-war poets, in a gesture against modernist impersonality, harkens back to certain romantic tendencies and, in so doing, return the romantic fallacy to the limelight: the difference between life and art became seemingly indistinguishable. And thus was born the troubling critical term confessional poetry. 3 But I would argue that, in a culture that is increasingly invested in a sense of individualism and disclosure, Berrymans commentary becomes part of the cultural performance of his poetry. He attempts to construct a context and an audience to work against within the poems. 2 This group of poetsmost often consisting of Berryman, Lowell, Sexton, Plath, and Snodgrassis especially read through an autobiographical lens. 3 The original label was developed and used by M.L. Rosenthal and Robert Phillips. See Phillips The Confessional Poets and Rosenthal New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II. For a useful reconsideration of the term see Travisano The Confessional Paradigm Revisited (Midcentury Quartet 32-70).

PAGE 137

129 It is this sense of the poem as performance that puts Berryman squarely in line with the classical tradition we have seen in the other poets. He likewise constructs the poem in a racialized minstrel tradition, which also creates the effect of the poem enacted on stage, poems that he refers to as songs to reinforce this sensibility. At the same time, though, he also makes use of the romantic tradition by the very nature of confession, the effect of a particular, individual consciousness behind the poem. Finally, he also works within a modernist framework (the term postmodern might equally apply as he certainly writes on the cusp, looking equally back and pointing forwardbut for the sake of this discussion it is more important to consider the tradition out of which he emerges 4 ) as his work, even as it attempts to construct an individual sensibility, is a multi-voiced dialogue. In this way, even as his poetry arises from a distinctly white, male (or racial in Gerstles sense) version of American nationalism, the voice at the center of The Dream Songs is much more ambiguous. At the very center of the complex structure that is The Dream Songs, there is a struggle for representation that we have seen played out in each of the poets discussed so far. Even as he seems to stand outside of the tradition that I have been exploring, we can see that he creates a lyric out of the same dynamics of tradition and voice, individual and choral. But Berryman clearly plays into emerging cultural sensibilities about confession and disclosure, a post-McCarthy fascination with what lurks beneath or behind the surface of the individual. Even as he staunchly denies being a confessional poet, he plays into the debates (and inviting such a reading) by gestures such as titling a poem 4 Mariani notes especially the influence of New Critics Allen Tate and R.P. Blackmur: Blackmur and the New Criticism had done its work on him. He struggled to draw a mask over his poems and render them as opaque as he could (54).

PAGE 138

130 Henrys Confession (Dream Song 76) Interestingly, if we examine Henrys Confession we will see that it is difficult at best to determine what is being confessed: Nothin very bad happen to me lately. How you explain that? I explain that, Mr Bones, terms o your bafflin odd sobriety. Sober as man can get, no girls, no telephones, what could happen bad to Mr Bones? If life is a handkerchief sandwich, in a modesty of death I join my father who dared so long agone leave me. A bullet on a concrete stoop close by a smothering southern sea spreadeagled on an island, by my knee. You is from hunger, Mr Bones, I offers you this handkerchief, now set your left foot by my right foot, shoulder to shoulder, all that jazz, arm in arm, by the beautiful sea, hum a little, Mr Bones. I saw nobody coming, so I went instead. (DS 83) It is an odd gesture to start a confession with the observation that nothing bad has been happening (which, in itself, raises the question of convention: do we naturally think confession must involve spectacle or trauma?). There is a tension in the first two stanzas between a minstrel/Negro dialect of the first stanza and the much more poetic language of the second, as well as a tension between the comedic tone of the first and the tragic, somber tone of the second. Is the confession actually in the second stanza, as Henry contemplates joining his father who has committed suicide? 5 This is certainly a possibility, but the poem seems much more about this tension of language and tone. And, as the poem considers questions of mortality and isolation, I would suggest that these 5 Berrymans family moved often, finally settling in Tampa, Florida. In 1926, while living in Tampa, Berrymans father committed suicide, shooting himself in front of the family house.

PAGE 139

131 tensions actually represent the characters drive for life in the face of sorrow, his composition of hunger in the midst of sorrow. To read this as confessional poetry forces this emotional complexity to the background in favor of reading the events as those in Berrymans life. Nonetheless, it is disingenuous to think that Berryman is not forcing the issue to the forefront by a) referring to it as a confession and b) using the issue of a fathers suicide. But much of what seems dramatic in this poem and others is what is absent, the heart of the confession in any sense that we have defined the word. More important, then, than any confession of self is this tension between the blackface dialect and the poetic, and the way that they engage in a struggle of poetic/cultural representation. Especially in terms of the blackface character, we will find that these poems question notions of authentic identity in a similar way to that which Hughess later work did. Who has the right/ability to represent whom? Most often (because of the confessional slant), these poems are read through a Freudian lens, the Dream in the title being read as Freudian landscape to be investigated in order to understand the individual unconscious. I would suggest, though, that the Dream is actually the American dream. These poems play out the tensions inherent in 1950s and 1960s America and parody middle-class American values. In Berrymans sense, the so-called confessional poem is actually a response to a growing sense of American individualism, personal celebrity and sensationalism, racial conflict and cold war isolationism. As critics have noted, in an increasing age of group therapy, total explicitness becomes the expectation; privacy and reticence begin to lose their artistic value. 6 As culture demands that everything is paraded in the public square, 6 For a useful discussion of privacy and disclosure in relation to shifting poetics in America see Nelson, Reinventing Privacy (Pursuing Privacy 1-41).

PAGE 140

132 the shape of democracy and aesthetics take extreme new shapes. At the same time, Cold War mentality and racial struggles demanded new forms of privacy, new notions of authenticity, and new models of nationalism. This chapter will examine the way that Berrymans Dream Songs embodied the complex issues of an increasingly confessional and individualist culture that clashed with these new social demands. Berryman uses the sense of self as a way to explore the nature of the individual in mid-century America, not as mere self-expression. In doing so, he confronts a variety of issues such as the increasing loss of privacy, the growing civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and, most importantly, a general decline in what Berryman sees as American culture. Berrymans lyric voice harkens back to Whitman in which the self becomes a model of the nation, and as was true with Whitman, this self struggles with both a racial and a civic nationalism. The Problem of Confession John Berryman was born in 1914, as the world was thrown into its first world war and the climate of Modernism was emerging from a Victorian sensibility. Berrymans sense of the world was marked early by war and loss and his aesthetic developed in dialogue with modernism and the New Criticism. 7 He is often noted as the harbinger of a postmodern culture, but it would be more accurate to see Berrymans work resulting from an equally centrifugal and centripetal response to high modernism, spinning away from it at the same time as being pulled into it. Though he struggled with both influences, it is important to remember that he never completely abandoned them. Even as he did depart 7 Mariani notes how influential Berrymans struggle with the New Criticism was to his work: Something had to be done to get away from the academic New Criticism [ . ] the sort of things Ransom and Tate and Warren and Winters and Blackmur did so well but that was stifling talent. It was time for new standards of life or form or power, though he had to admit he did not yet know where to turn for such standards (183).

PAGE 141

133 from such influences, he held true to certain cultural models that emanated from modernists such as Eliot and Poundmost notably the idea that a high art is the distinction of a vital culture. Nonetheless, in the face of a changing, mid-century worldmarked as Berryman saw it, by rampant consumerism, militarism/imperialism, and racismBerryman attempted to push beyond modernism. As he says in one of his essays, he was Waiting for the End, Boys, 8 waiting for the impersonal poetics of Eliot, Tate, and Blackmur to be replaced. By the time he began writing his masterpiece, The Dream Songs, this tension between modernism and the new was not only a formal question but a question of the nature of American culture. The poems that emerged from these tensions were complex, highly wrought, highly artificial works. Nonetheless, they construct an intimacy that pushes against the modernist aesthetic, reflecting much more of a romantic sensibility. This fact has led the poems to be read as highly confessional, a term that Berryman never failed to dismiss. Yet the dialogue with this emerging school of poetry actually creates much of the torque within his poems and points toward his ultimate aims. The first Dream Song offers both a thematic opening to the collection and a methodological primer. Here is the poem in its entirety: Huffy Henry hid the day, unappeasable Henry sulked. I see his point,a trying to put things over. It was the thought they thought they could do it made Henry wicked & away. But he should have come out and talked. All the world like a woolen lover 8 This was originally published as a review of ten books of poems in The Partisan Review, vol. 25, February 1948 and then posthumously as part of his collection of essays The Freedom of the Poet (297-309).

PAGE 142

134 once did seem on Henrys side. Then came a departure. Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought. I dont see how Henry, pried open for all the world to see, survived. What he has now to say is a long wonder the world can bear & be. Once in a sycamore I was glad all at the top, and I sang. Hard on the land wears the strong sea and empty grows every bed. (DS 3) Much critical attention has been paid to the fact of loss to which the poem points, the departure that Henry suffers is considered to be (solely?) Berrymans fathers suicide. Much less attention, though, is paid to that undefined they and to what, exactly, they thought they could do. Certainly the loss represents the moment when things change for Henry, but there is this superior group that the poem suggests somehow makes Henry wicked. Even more important is his response: the first stanza suggests that Henry should have talked, that the peoples need to know (and this is a multi-faceted proposition as we will see) should be responded to. The second stanza suggests, though, that whatever form this talking or disclosure takes, revelation is dangerous. How can Henry even survive? This tension, then, between revelation and concealment will inform The Dream Songs as a whole; this is not the unabashed naked confession of a writer like Walt Whitmanor Berrymans contemporary Allen Ginsbergrather this is a persona that questions the risk to the psyche to reveal ones inner selfas well as questioning the ever-increasing need of a society to know, from the political confessions of the Joseph McCarthy hearings to the increasingly memoir-driven publishing industry (and thus the cultural risk as well as personal risk). If (and this is a large if, since the poem leaves it undefined) we can equate the departure to that of Berrymans father, might the poem

PAGE 143

135 pose the very question of how much we can expect to know of an author? Rather than seeing this as self-display, that is, might we consider it a commentary on a society that is asking for self-display, whose individualism is leading further and further toward a sensationalistic culture? This tension, though, leads us to the final stanza that sets up the method and tone of the sequence as a whole. I would read the stanza as embodying three distinct voices, a couplet each. The first is seemingly an objective, third-person commentary on the figure of Henry. Although we have to consider that the syntax makes this objective statement ambiguous at best. Does it mean that it is a wonder that the world even exists? Or is it a question that the world can bear what he has to say? The second voice is a personal experience, a first person recounting of happiness before, we are left to think, the tragic departure. And finally we have a mythic, or apocalyptic, voice making a statement not about Henry but about a universal condition, the loss inherent in every bed. These last two voices, then, pit the particular against the universal, the fate of one man against the fate of the world, happiness against loss. But it is also important to note that the last lines echo a standard blues line such as Bessie Smiths Empty Bed Blues. The second couplets ending with Henry singing followed by the blues can be read in several ways. Does the singing of the last lines suggest Henrys song? Or is the blues cast against Henrys song? Thematically, the stanza suggests that the poem will cast the universal and particular against each other; as well as casting different cultural experiences against each other, the Shakespearean and the Blues, for example. Technically, the stanza also shows us that the poems do not represent a singular lyric I but a fragmented consciousness.

PAGE 144

136 As has been true with each of the writers examined so far, Henry as a subject must be completed by the reader. Throughout the sequence, convoluted and broken syntax, rapid shifts in point-of-view, dialogue within and between characters, diction and tense shifts, and fragmented narratives all create a surreal dreamscape in which there is no privileged center, no graspable identity. To consider the poems confessions is to ignore their radically deconstructive tendencies. But certainly a problem arises in terms of even defining confession. For instance, Robert Phillipsone of the first critics to examine the confessional mode 9 claims That these poems are confessional is undeniable (92). To support this claim he suggests Henry is a professor and so is Berryman; when Henry went to Ireland, Berryman was on the boat (92). Thus, for Phillips, autobiography is confession. What is missing is any sort of intent to distinguish the form as a separate entity. My intention is not to argue that Berryman is not present in the character of Henry; of course, he is. The question missing from the equation, though, is why? To what end does Berryman make a character out of himself? Perhaps we can take Berrymans own words as a starting point for viewing Henry as character (noting especially that the context that he sets up for the poems become part of the poems performance): The poem, then, whatever its wide cast of characters, is essentially about an imaginary character (not the poet, not me) named Henry, a white American in early middle age sometimes in blackface, who has suffered an irreversible loss and talks about himself sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third, sometimes even in the second; he has a friend, never named, who addresses him as Mr. Bones and variants thereof. Requiescant in pace. (DS vi) 9 The term was coined by M.L. Rosenthal as a way to describe the poems in Robert Lowells Life Studies but Phillipss book The Confessional Poets was the first extended study of the genre.

PAGE 145

137 Critics tend to focus on the parenthetical not the poet, not me as the important claim and thus focus on showing the claim to be a lieor as Joel Conarroe suggests: I say Henry and mean Berryman. I think that anyone who reads the songs carefully will reject the assertion that they are about an imaginary charactersome details, of course, are invented, but the sequence adheres closely to the facts of the poets life and mind. (94) But the larger question seems to be what is at stake for the writer to make such a claim even as he is clearly naming names, as it were, within the poem. The easy answer would be that he does so to avoid culpability. For instance, Luke Spencer suggests that He has surrendered his moral will to a reified image of his own inexorable biography: the poem-as-life is also the life-as poem writing itself with no intervening hand (76). Certainly a poet may well distance him or her self from the guilt associated with his or her life by saying that the poem is about an imaginary character (the I have a friend syndrome) but these poems present anything but a reified image of biography. The poems clearly point to the ways in which any textual character necessarily exceeds the autobiographical. Even an autobiographical character will move beyond the bounds of the life supposedly being translated. 10 Ignoring this fact leads to reductive readings of the author-text-reader relationships and to a view of meaning as a static object rather than a dynamic process. Even if we do accept the term, what precisely does it signify? Is it a religious confession? A confession of guilt? Is it the increasingly popular cultural sense of sharing ones darkest secrets? Or, can we think of it in its more archaic usage of a profession of ones beliefs? Likewise, we might ask what the goal of confession is: forgiveness? cleansing? catharsis? shock? We might consider the term confessional to be a distillation 10 This notion of autobiography is central to the works of Paul de Man who consistently shows the inescapable contradictions between autobiography and life. See especially Autobiography as De-Facement (The Rhetoric of Romanticism 67-82).

PAGE 146

138 of the problematic notion of lyric that I have been confronting all along: the very idea of confession seems to reinforce the romantic version of lyric as self-representation or self-expression. As is true with lyric in general, the confessional model suggests that the poem can serve as an accurate representation not only of the real story but also of the whole story. 11 Since the term has stood as one of the critical paradigms of poetry in the second half of the 20 th century, it is worth asking what purpose the paradigm serves. In his book Midcentury Quartet, Thomas Travisano has suggested 5 important ways in which the confessional model alters the process of reading a text: 1) it prejudices the process of evaluation, standing most often as a pejorative term that carries its connotations to the text, 2) it slights the complexity of human morality, 3) it slights a poems complexity, 4) it fosters an arrogance in the reader, putting the reader in the position of priest and/or judge and 5) it assumes that the author is a passive conduit of experience, lending itself to the notion of art as therapy (32-70). Travisano suggests, then, Even those, such as Lowell and Berryman, most commonly labeled confessional poets, are not primarily engaged in a process of revealing the self. Rather they are engaged in a process of exploring the self (12). Certainly this is a more productive way of thinking about the confessional project (although, even such a term is misleading in that the group most commonly associated with such a project staunchly denied any such guiding principle), but it still lends itself to reading first and foremost through the lens of autobiography. For instance, the main point of Travisanos book, seems to be to reconsider the work of 11 It is possible to view the problems of confession as similar to the contemporary debates over the genre of Creative non-fiction and the uncertainty as to what a reader can/should expect in terms of factual writing.

PAGE 147

139 Elizabeth Bishop and Randall Jarrell in dialogue with their contemporaries, Lowell and Berrymanthe way to achieve this is by showing certain similar biographical events such as childhood loss or trauma and similar approaches to exploring those events. I would contend that what is needed is a way to read this self-exploration as part of a larger cultural exploration. As helpful as Travisanos claims are, it is actually helpful to consider that perhaps Berryman is revealing the self, even as he engages in a larger performative context of claiming that he is not to be read through Henry. Such a conflict between text and context puts the reader in the position of a) having to consider what the reader-audience contract is, or should be, and b) coming to terms with if, and why, we might expect self-revelation within a poem. As we have seen with each poet so far, Berryman is challenging the conventions of author-audience or text-audience relationships in crucial ways. That is, Berryman puts the reader in the position of confronting the very romantic tradition that has dominated poetic concerns for over two hundred years, and thus obliquely confronts the very foundations of American individualism. In his acceptance speech for the National Book Award in 1969, Berryman said I set up The Dream Songs as hostile to every visible tendency in both American and English poetry (Haffenden 6). The poems challenge the very foundation of aesthetic and cultural practices in the mid-20 th century. Going back to the five problematics, we might consider that the 2 nd 3 rd and 4 th actually play into Berrymans confrontational stance: he puts the reader in the position of having to judge Henry; in so doing, the reader must face the nature of American moral arrogance.

PAGE 148

140 Dream Song 29 is an excellent example of a poem that forces the reader to judge the speaker: There sat down, once, a thing on Henrys heart s heavy, if he had a hundred years & more, & weeping, sleepless in all them time Henry could not make good. Starts again always in Henrys ears the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime. (DS 33) The poem inverts a traditional narrative or, perhaps, confession. That is, we begin with the assumption of Henrys guilt, so heavy that any sound or odor will reawaken that guilt within him. But the poem dramatically undercuts this guilt as we move forward: Henry, we learn, has not killed anyone. In fact, he has done nothing (as was also true in Henrys Confession): But never did Henry, as he thought he did, end anyone and hacks her body up and hide the pieces, where they may be found. He knows: he went over everyone, & nobodys missing. Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up. Nobody is ever missing. (DS 33) Or we might say that he has done nothing that he can remember. The poem can be reasonably read as a post-blackout episode in which he desperately tries to imagine what has happened but in the end can confirm nothing. The twisted syntax and changes of point-of-view construct the effect of a mind lost in its own processes but getting nowhere. Berryman has said that it is up to the reader to read that last line as tragic or humorous. Of course, we might add another option which is that the last line is sad, a horrific, misogynistic self-realization by a character who will not be able to act upon that revelation. But the point in however we read that line is that the poem represents a psychic drama that is unfinished without the readerin much the same way that

PAGE 149

141 Whitman implicated the reader in the act of making meaning, an act that reveals as much about how the reader views human nature as it does about Berryman. The Freudian Voice Many critics have suggested that the structure of the poems enacts the process of Freudian psychoanalysis with Henry the analysand and his unnamed interlocutor the analyst. 12 Others have suggested they represent the Freudian dream to be interpreted in much the same way. And it has also been suggested that we read Henry and his interlocutor as the voices of the id and the superego respectively. 13 In this way, the unnamed friend becomes Henrys conscience or, as Joel Conarroe refers to him, a Jobs Comforter (93). The problem of reading in such terms (especially when the influences of Freudian thinking are combined with a confessional paradigm) is that we are stuck with reading Berrymans life. His alcoholism and his tragic suicide in 1972 at the age of 67 add other difficulties to the texts as we read through the lens of celebrity and spectacle, a macabre irony to the very question Berryman had been raising: how do we read a life through the text without reducing one to the other? Even if we do allow a Freudian or subconscious reading to the Songs, we need to also maintain the possibility that he is commenting onand parodyingan increasingly Freudian, individualist culture as the poems search almost endlessly for the source of Henrys behavior, an archivable past that is always eluding him (and, as was true when H.D. was writing her supposedly Freudian poems, the influence of Freud on American culture at the point Berryman is writing is vast). 12 Gray, American Poetry of the 20 th Century; Travisano, The Midcentury Quartet; Vendler, The Given and the Made. 13 Conarroe, John Berryman: An Introduction to the Poetry; Vendler, The Given and the Made.

PAGE 150

142 Certainly it is difficult to draw the line between a poem that represents a failed self-examination and one that comments on the process of self-examination. The latter assumes an authorial intention that we cannot fully attribute, but it is just as dangerous to say that, because Berryman may well have failed at his own recovery, 14 clearly the poem merely enacts his failure within the text. The risk is the same that we saw with H.D.the poems become merely evidence of a personal neurosis(Gregory 14). The reading of the poems as id and superego or as therapy sessions still reduces the poems to readings of Berrymans psyche. But I would argue that the multiple voices actually register the many voices of social conflict. This is not to suggest that we reduce the voices to specific social figures but to see how the voices raise social tensions rather than merely individual. As I have said elsewhere, the notion of confession (as well as American notions of individualism) relies on notions of a confessable archive, an uncoverable moment. In this context, The Dream Songs echo Jacques Derridas notions of the Freudian archive: It accumulates so many sedimented archives, some of which are written right on the epidermis of a body proper, others on the substrate of an exterior body. Each layer [. .] seems to gape slightly, as the lips of a wound, permitting glimpses of the abyssal possibility of another depth. (Archive Fever 20) Derrida goes on to suggest, The question of the archive is always what comes first (39). Rather than some Freudian notion of root causalities (even as they play on Freudian themes), Berrymans poems suggest that there is always one more layer beneath, the 14 Criticism often, shockingly, views his poems as failures by reading through the lens of his suicide.

PAGE 151

143 possibilities of closure ever elusive. Berryman highlights what Derrida and De Man 15 both point to as the ultimate impossibility of autobiography. In 1957, Berryman visited the gardens of Ryoan-Ji in Japan. The garden was so constructed that from no viewpoint would the observer see the entire pattern of the fifteen stones at once (Mariani 316), an image that offered him an apt metaphor for this lack of closure. Dream Song 73 uses the gardens image as an aesthetic cornerstone: from nowhere can one see all the stones but helicopters or a Brooklyn reproduction will fix that and the fifteen changeless stones in their five worlds with a shelving of moving moss stand me the thought of the ancient maker priest. (DS 80) We might well read the book itself as a sequence of fragments, all of which are meant to add up to a greater whole but which must be viewed from a variety of perspectives; or, as Paul Mariani suggests, the poems can only be held together, if at all, in the one place that could contain them: the imagination (316). The fragments, connected stylistically through the convoluted, elliptical syntax and torques of diction and shifting tense, suggest that Henry blurs and dissolves in the same breath as declaring himself distinct. In Dream Song 327, Henry comments directly on Freud: Freud was some wrong about dreams, or almost all; besides his insights grand, he thought that dreams were a transcript of childhood & the day before, censored of course: a transcript: even his lesser insight were misunderstood & became a bore except for the knowing & troubled by the Fall. (DS 349). 15 This issue of autobiography runs throughout both Derridas and de Mans work. See especially Bennington and Derrida, Jacques Derrida, and de Man, Autobiography as De-Facement (The Rhetoric of Romanticism 67-82).

PAGE 152

144 The italicized a seems directly relevant to the Songs: they are a possible version, not the version. In fact, the version can never be uncovered here. The end of the poem offers another way of reading: you have misled us: a dream is a panorama of the whole mental life, I took one once to forty-three structures, that accounted in each for each word: I did not yell mama nor did I take it out on my wife. (DS 349) The Songs are a panorama rather than a transcript; no matter how deep into the structure of dream or song the speaker or reader goes, it will not come out in the direct causality that Freudian thought implies. Yet especially at the point he is writing, Freudian thinking is becoming increasingly popular in America. Likewise, public, forced confession is becoming a model in the Joseph McCarthy hearings. We might attribute the very drive (or need?) to label poetry as confessional as the same drive of a Freudian culture that is looking for the root cause of aberrant behavior. Yet the behavior that Berryman investigates is not necessarily of Henry but of the American ethos of individualism: Where does the individual begin? How does the individual interact with his or her surrounding culture? Is a culture of individualism productive or ultimately self-destructive? How much privacy can the individual in a democracy expect? All are questions that the reader is forced to confront. As was true with Whitman, self and nation are conflated so that ultimately what we confront in The Dream Songs is a nation in fragments. Berrymans multiple voices and tortured syntax allowed him to construct an increasingly fragmented American sensibility; the psyche that is at stake within the dream songs is not Berryman but America itself; the Dream of The Dream Songs is the

PAGE 153

145 American Dream as it runs headlong into the age of rampant consumerism, advertising and materialism, civil rights struggles, and global cold war tensions. As Robert Pinsky has correctly noted, the range of dialects allow Berryman a range of emotion, allowing access to different emotional registers that one language would not allow (The Situation of Poetry 26-9), but this range also expands his national sensibility; especially as Henry leaves America and looks back at it from multiple perspectives around the globe, the scope of The Dream Songs allows a portrait of the dysfunction of the American ethos of individualism. What, after all, in postmodern America, is an individual? Voice, Vernacular, and Blackface What The Dream Songs most notably construct is a voice, a voice large enough to contain the multiple and contradictory impulses of 20 th century American individualism. While Berryman was developing this voice in the mid 1950s, America was in the midst of the Eisenhower yearswhat Robert Lowell referred to as the tranquilized fifties (Life Studies 85). Media images of the era suggest a whitewashed world of an increasingly suburban and peaceful society. These images, though, were counteracted by racial intolerance and violence and an increasingly aggressive military. Notions of American, then, were demarcated by distinct boundaries between a conformist us and them. The voice of The Dream Songs exists on this border of self and other, the individual self that is threatened with collapse and loss into the other is metonymic of a national figure. Adrienne Rich has said, Blackface is the supreme dialect and posture of this country, going straight to the roots of our madness (Cary Nelson, ed. On Negro Minstrelsy in The Dream Songs. Modern American Poetry. 13 April 2005 http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/berryman/minstrel.htm ). What Berryman is looking for is a voice that is expansive enough to sound the American madness and that

PAGE 154

146 will allow him the shifts and turns of voice that will embody the split, divisive nature of American culture. As already mentioned, we might productively view the poems as a dialogue in which different voices within the text come to represent conflicting social groups. These voices in Berryman, though, are never stable or reified, but shifting and reconstructed through distorted perceptions and representations. It is toward this end of investigating these relationships of inner/outer, self/other, that Berryman employs a minstrel dialect. Berryman noted his early interest in the Blues (especially Bessie Smith) and Negro dialect; later he became interested in minstrelsy and was influenced by reading Carl Wittkes thorough account of minstrel history, Tambo and Bones (from which his epigraph for the Dream Songs came: GO IN, BRACK MAN, DE DAYs YO OWN.). As Berryman says in his preface, his unnamed figure is sometimes in blackface (vi), and the two figures, Henry and his interlocutor often take on the roles of Tambo and Bonesminstrel figures named for the tambourine and castanets they played. Whats left uncertain, though, is whether we are to read this as black (meaning, thus, a white preconception of black authenticity) or as a white in blackface (meaning, as Gubar points out, a much more hybrid conception of race and racial mimicry (134-168)). In either instance, what is important is to realize that the voice is not meant to represent an authentic voiceit is concerned with perception and stereotype, of white misreadings as much as a real dialect. And certainly Berryman was aware that the word vernacular comes from Vernaa slave born in the masters house; the use of dialect and minstrelsy, rather than simply an appropriation, highlights the use of language as a form of control and colonization. His highlighting of the fact

PAGE 155

147 that the voice is a minstrel voice directs the reader toward its own artifice and inauthenticity. Derrida again offers a helpful view of the borders of self and other that exist in The Dream Songs: The other is in me before me: the ego (even the collective ego) implies alterity as its own condition. There is no I that ethically makes room for the other, but rather an I that is structured by the alterity within it, an I that is itself in a state of self-deconstruction or of dislocation. (A Taste for the Secret 84) In other words, what we think of as the Other is already a part of the self. In The Dream Songs, what often gets pitted as a dual of ego and id, or as end men on a vaudeville stage 16 misses the scope of how Berryman is attempting to create this ever-enlarging web of self as other (echoes of Whitmans self as well), self as inseparable from multitude. Joel Conarroe attempts to deal with the paradox of the minstrel voice. His ideas distill much of the duality of critical readings of Berrymans blackface so it is worth reading an extended passage: There is a certain naivet in Berrymans assumption that he could casually employ language that is inflammatory . without provoking criticism simply because as a man of troubles and griefs he identifies with the black race, glibly taking on its history as his own. Berryman wrote his songs in Minneapolis, where blacks are nearly invisible. His sense of the black experience is clearly derivative, based not on first-hand exposure but on literature. He had, thus, little real understanding of black life, and never, so far as I can determine, encountered black rage [ . ] Yet as one reads the songs as objectively as possible it becomes clear that Berrymans feelings of kinship actually are sincere, touchingly so, expressing the self-mockery of a victim, and that if his diction is at times exploitative his motives were nevertheless sound. Convinced that his identification with an oppressed people justified both the disguise and the use of stage dialect, he was, I think, operating in the dark, but his views were clearly well-intended. (104) 16 This idea of the two figures serving as end men does come directly from the characters of Tambo and Bones to which Berryman explicitly refers. Therefore, the notion of end men are prevalent throughout commentary of The Dream Songs. For thorough discussion of this idea, see especially Conarroe, John Berryman: An Introduction to the Poetry, and Vendler, The Given and the Made.

PAGE 156

148 While Conarroe struggles here to be fair about Berrymans intentions, his reading of these intentions as an attempt to identify with the black experience misses the point in a way that many critics have. Berryman is not attempting to show his kinship, or suggest that he has felt the pain and outrage of the black race. Rather he is pointing toward what Conarroe notes: all such cultural authenticity is derivative, based on literature or media or preconceptions, not on understanding. The poems, to a large extent, become parodies of the racial binaries through which Americans define the Other, challenging any notions of cultural authenticity. As Gubar suggests, Burnt cork draws attention to its own artifice (79), suggesting that rather than any form of authentic expression, blackface is a way of Berrymans highlighting precisely his inability to forge an authentic expressionor as Gubar notes elsewhere, Throughout The Dream Songs, racial impersonation flaunts itself as an ersatz, campy form of drag (165). We might also remember that, if we accept Vendlers claim that the unnamed friend represents the conscience, then the stereotype of the black primitive has been reversed. I would suggest this is an important possibility, but not that it is definitive. In the end, any racial categories are blurred with distorted perception until no authenticity, and no clear understanding of identity is present. The question of the minstrel voice is not, as some critics have claimed, a desire to empathize with the African-American; Henry is not equating himself with blackness (although mimicry and hybridity are certainly important considerations) but examining questions of authenticity and cultural expectations. That is, he does not mean to sound like an authentic African-American, but to explore the perceptions of Blackness by a white audience or a white culture:

PAGE 157

149 Arrive a time when all coons lose dere grip But is he come? Les do a hoedown, gal, one blue, one shuffle, if them is all you seem to require. Strip, ol banger, skip us we, sugar; so hang on one chaste evening. Sir Bones, or Galahad: astonishin yo legal & yo good. Is you feel well? Honey dusk do sprawl. Hits hard. Kinged or thinged, though, fling & wing. Poll-cats are coming, hurrah, hurray. I votes in my hole. (Big Buttons, Cornets: the Advance DS 4) Notice the rapid change of voice here between yo legal & yo good. Is you feel well? juxtaposed against Honey dusk do sprawl, the first being a street voice while the latter is nearly Shakespearean in its syntax and tone. The poem becomes almost meaningless, merely voices struggling for some form of discourse but failing. The tension between such voices raises the question of where Henry fits between these cultural experiences. For instance, in Song 68, Henry imagines himself going on stage with Bessie Smith: I heard, could be, a Hey there from the wing, / and I went on: Miss Bessie soundin good (DS 75). At the end of the poem, though, Bessie collapses on stage and Henry realizes that she cannot go to the whites hospital: sick-houses white birds, / black to the birds instead. He has seemingly aligned himself with a black community but, in the end, the social distinction still keeps them separate. Song 60 is Berrymans most direct commentary on race relations as he explores the failure of America to live up to 1954s Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ruling school segregation unconstitutional: After eight years, be less dan eight percent, / distinguishin friend, of coloured wif de whites / in de School, in de Souf (DS 67). As his friend argues, pointing to advances in the military, Henry calls him an Uncle Tom

PAGE 158

150 (raising the question, of course, who or what the authentic black is in this dialogue, or as Marlon T. Riggs has asked, What is the marker of blackness in our pop culture (qtd Gubar xxi)). The poem ends, though, with both men lamenting that mos peoples gonna lose then joining in a blues-based riff: I never saw no pinkie wifout no hand. / O my, without no hand. Notice in those last lines how the same word is pronounced two ways, wifout and without, suggesting that the voices are blurring into one. The almost slapstick, or cartoonish, presentation of the voices artifice is a constant reminder to the reader to not read anything as real but always a construction. Song 143 opens with the rejoinder to Honour the burnt cork, be a vaudeville man (DS 160). The poem then moves toward a recounting of love for the lost father and the question of mortality. The poem then is an invitation to welcome the mask, to honour the fact that we live behind endless masks and illusions, but such masks may well serve as the avenue to some real human emotion beneath. Certainly Berryman uses autobiography, but it is a tool in a much more ambitious project. Laurence Lerner has correctly noted that the poems would not be better if the speaker were a simple I, they would be less challenging, less exploratory(56). Berryman is, as William Wasserstrom argues, diving into public sources of primitive American imagination in search of a tradition which represents long immersion in and mastery of disjunction and disorder (12). The songs unfold on multiple levels: the disintegration of the self, the mask as a source of identity (which minstrelsy also allows him to trope on), and the problematics of American identity and culture. Berryman is painting a portrait of both a contemporary chaos and the self-destructiveness of our imperialist cultural history.

PAGE 159

151 In Search of an American Culture To some extent we can also view the use of minstrel dialect and the blues as a technique to reinvigorate American poetic language. In the same way we might consider Berrymans use of form. The poems seem to enact a sonnet, but rely on a tripartite construction rather than a binary, and counter the resolution that is part of the logic of traditional sonnets; be they Petrarchan or Shakespearean, traditionally a situation or a question that is responded to or resolved in the final sextet or couplet respectively; The Dream Songs, however, virulently deny any resolution. The poems are highly literary at the same time as they parody the literary. All of this ultimately goes to question the role of art and aesthetics in relation to larger cultural issues. As we have seen with the other writers discussed, Berryman is attempting to counter or redefine American culture through the aesthetic. This project is especially important at this point in history as America is playing that role toward the rest of the world. As America emerged from the darkness of World War II as a military and economic superpower, there was an equal sense that America was, or should be, a cultural power. As has been more than adequately shown in recent critical theory, any form of military or political colonialism is ineffective without a form of cultural colonialism; any power must be supported, that is, with a sense of cultural superiority. 17 As Richard Gray notes, in the mid-20 th century, The business of America was also, perhaps, to dictate the terms of modern culture, at least to its Western allies, and to other parts of the globe where it claimed a right of intervention and control (215). The Dream Songs are not so much investigating a personal madness, but a cultural madness, 17 Though this idea is now prevalent in postcolonial theories, Edward Saids Culture and Imperialism remains the foundational study to which I am most indebted.

PAGE 160

152 defined by an increasing consumerism, militarism, and racism. Dream Song 280 lambastes America for its perpetual self-laud / as if everything in America had wings, / the world else a crawling scene, (DS 302) as if America sees itself as the cultural center or standard-bearer for the rest of the world (which also reinforces its ability to dictate terms to other countries). Interestingly, Henry does not escape this fate; he too is indelibly American: the large work largely done, / over the years, the prizes mostly won he knows that he can work in ways not to be denied. We can see in Henry a metonymy of American self-importance. In Dream Song 216, we see this Land of Plenty, maybe about to sigh. / Why should they terrify / with hegemony and questions why others dont simply join us as Texas did(DS 235). As was true in Whitmans vision, it was only a matter of time before America became global, a return of Jeffersons empire of liberty. One of the manifestations of this mentality was the Viet Nam war, with which Berryman was becoming increasingly frustrated. In Dream Song 66, the government seems unmoved by the actions of Buddhists who burned themselves in the streets in protest of the war. In response, Berrymans fictional character the Secretary of State for War winks and screws a whore while Monsignor Capovilla mourns. Henry, meantime, hardly knew his selving [ . ] / Henry grew hot, got laid, felt bad, survived. (DS 73) His actions, for which he should reproach himself at the end, are somehow interlinked with the haughtiness of American military culture. In Dream Song 162 Vietnam, the possibility of ending the war has taken on the character of Alice and Wonderlands adventures: a war which was no war, / the enemy was not our enemy [ . ] and the treaty-end that might conclude it more / unimaginable than Alices third volume-eee.

PAGE 161

153 (DS 181). But the war is clearly linked to capitalist consumerism: an end to aggression will open up new markets / and other quarter-lies. Dream Song 22, Of 1826, is a particularly bitter and vicious harangue against American anti-intellectualismI am the enemy of the mindand an increasingly television-oriented cultureI am two eyes screwed to my set. (DS 24). But the I here that stands as a denigrated American culture is, in fact, Henry as he says at the end, I am Henry Pussy-cat! My whiskers fly. We need to see Henry as a figure in relation to, and as figure for, American history and culture. As a penultimate gesture, the poem recounts the Fourth of July in 1826: Collect: while the dying man, forgone by you creator, who forgives, is gasping Thomas Jefferson still lives in vain, in vain, in vain. In 1967, Berryman shows his disdain for Americans lack of historical knowledge when he said, no national memory but ours could forget the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day [July the 4th, 1826] (qtd Linebarger 88). Berryman, through Henry, is commenting on a cultural arrogance and ignorance, a society that can barely remember the Korean War or the battle of Cold Harbor (DS 217). A society run by Eisenhowers military-industrial complex (Eisenhower in particular takes on much of the blame of the countrys direction in The Dream Songs) and the fear tactics of Joseph McCarthy. Like Pounds Cantos, we may read these poems as a cultural primer, a web of references that will point a reader to important facts and cultural high points that he or she should be aware of to be culturally literate. Here is just a short list of references: political figures such as Eisenhower, McCarthy, Jefferson, Adams, Johnson, Kennedy,

PAGE 162

154 Kruschev; artistic figures such as Mozart, Bach, Schubert; literary figures such as Hart Crane, William Faulkner, Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, Dante, Keats, Rilke, Eliot, Roethke; and finally figures as diverse as Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Davy Crockett, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas. The Dream Songs are enacting a search for an American Culture that can (or should?) endure. Mariani has noted that Berrymans response to Geoffrey Gorers essay, The American Character focused on the economic insecurity of artists and intellectuals in America: What did America do to her writers that made somelike Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, and Hart Cranetake their lives, and otherslike Poundgo crazy? And why did Americans profess a passion for education, yet disdain those with educations? It was a strange sort of egalitarianism Americans practiced, insisting that they were as good as the next person, yet servile before the rich. (223) Berryman was fiercely invested in the construction of an American literature, and the promotion of such literature in a global context. Yet, he always faced the conundrum that America was increasingly less interested in its own artistic potential as the 20 th century went on. We may well view some of his artistic beliefs as elitist. He believed, for instance, that a society needed to support its poets and artists who represented the epitome of any given culture. He endlessly lamented a culture in which history and aesthetics were forgotten or misunderstood. But this is not to suggest, as a confessional reading of his poems would imply, that his response was a solipsistic descent into his own mind. Rather, he searched tirelessly for an art that would challenge his society out of its self-destructive, chaotic state. As Berryman said at a University of Minnesota convocation, The truth was that poetry was too primitive & too realistic for most Americans, who actually felt nervous before its nakedness. The best poetry made use of

PAGE 163

155 basic rhythms of human life, so that it was a counterforce, a rebuke to those forces that threatened to dehumanize people (339). In the face of a society defined by its increasingly mass-market, corporate consumerism, the effort against societys dehumanizing effects was a nearly Herculean taskone that, indeed, drove Berryman over the edge.

PAGE 164

CONCLUSION: WHITMAN ON THE RESERVATION Introduction: Lyric Nationalism In all the poets discussed in this dissertation, the most obvious tension being played out in the lyric voice is the tension between the promise of American democracy and the failure of that democracy to live up to its promise, the hope of an egalitarian, inclusive society and the reality of a gendered and racist exclusivity. The poets, each in his or her own way, attempted to re-envision an American identity based on its promise, to re-draw the boundaries around such an identity. They strove to construct a voice large enough to contain the American multitudes, or at least segments that have not been granted voice. Certainly we can point to progress in American society throughout the 20 th century: womens suffrage and increasing social mobility, civil rights legislation and affirmative action, more liberal immigration policies, etc. At the turn of the new Millennium with its concomitant sense of promise, though, we find that the national identity is still circumscribed in much the same way that it always has been. Whether it chooses to admit it to itself or not, America still defines itself in terms of its white, male, European heritage. Likewise, it is dictated by a class system in which the rich are the powerful and upward mobility is far too often restricted to those who already have access to begin with. As the country headed into its post-9/11 War on Terror and the Iraq War, those boundaries have become even more definitive. As George W. Bush put it in the wake of 9/11: You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists(Speech to the Joint Session of Congress. White House News Archives. 04 April 2002. 01 Feb. 2005. 156

PAGE 165

157 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/ ). 93 This statement was geared toward other nations, but it captures the sense of Americas feelings about its citizenry as well; such a statement captures the increasing tenor of an American identity founded on exclusive terms. Not only is the notion of being with or for the country defined in increasingly black-and-white terms, so is this sense of us. Either one accepts a certain American identity or one is cast out. Especially since the turn of the century, we can see increasing activity that attempts to define the country in quite exclusive and dangerous ways: the Patriot Act, the continued re-emergence of legislation geared toward English as a national language, the predominance of a Neo-Conservative agenda for a Defense of Marriage amendment to the constitution, the push for the privatization of Social Security that will effectively put the have-nots at greater risk, just to name a few. Even as much of American civic nationalist discourse strives to prove America to be an inclusive nation in which opportunities are equally afforded to all, I would argue we are witnessing a re-strengthening of an American racial or exclusive nationalism. To a large extent, the premise of this dissertation has been that lyric poetry can, and should, serve as a vital counterpoint to such social trends. In 1992, the publication of Dana Gioias Can Poetry Matter? opened a heated debate about the role of poetry within American culture. Though Gioia is frequently misguided, (arguing, for instance, that it is a return to formalism that will save American poetry), I have here taken his main premise 93 While this speech was admittedly given in the emotional heat following the events of 9/11, this notion of an either-or binary, against or for, is increasingly representative of an Americanness that is defined in a hegemonic manner. In an April 4, 2002 speech, Bush expanded this mentality to suggest that one is either on the side of civilization or on the side of the terrorists (White House News Archive. 04 April 2002. 01 Feb. 2005. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/04/# ) leaving little room for debate about the meaning of civilization or America which become conflated in this equation in much the same way that Whitman conflated American and democracy.

PAGE 166

158 as one of my central tenets: poetry can, and should, occupy a central position within the intellectual and cultural field of any society. While Gioia, perhaps, had a valid point that poetry had become strictly the domain of the University, a subculture of poets writing solely for other poets, it can be argued that much of his desire for poetry to break out of the stranglehold of academia has, in fact, taken place: slam poetry, poetry performances, poetry in newspapers and other non-scholarly publications, poetry on buses and subways, and, most recently, poetry as a response to the events of 9/11 and the Iraqi war. Poetry, as we turn toward the new millennium is, indeed, showing itself to be of value to American, and global, cultures at large. It is interesting to note, however, that in the midst of Gioias argument, he suggests that versewhich had previously been a popular medium for narrative, satire, drama, even history and scientific speculationretreated into lyric, prose usurped much of its cultural territory (4). While the comment points to an accurate assessment of the shift of poetrys cultural importance (or lack thereof), his use of the term lyric is directly to the point of this dissertation. As he notes elsewhere, most contemporary poets, knowing that they are virtually invisible in the larger culture, focus on the more intimate forms of lyric and meditative verse (10). Lyric, seen as a mode of verse, apparently is intimate and is not the domain of narrative, drama or history. My interest, like Gioias, has been to return lyric poetry to its place of cultural importance, to suggest the ways in which poetry engages with, rather than denies, political and social concerns and tries to re-envision the possibilities of American culture. But as I have shown, part of this project involves distinguishing a particular poetic medium that we can productively designate as lyric beyond the simplistic notions of private or intimate.

PAGE 167

159 Perloff, who would agree with Gioia on many counts, also designates the interior, meditative poetry as the problem with contemporary lyric, labeling it Laureate poetry. In her push for a more experimental poetry, she claims: Those who denigrate Language poetry and related avant-garde practices invariably claim that these are aberrations from the true lyric impulse as it has come down from the Romantics to such figures as the most recent Poety LaureatesRita Dove, Robert Pinsky, and Stanley Kunitz. But laureate poetryintimate, anecdotal, and broadly accessible as it must be in order to attract what is posited by its proponents as a potential reading audiencehas evidently failed to kindle any real excitement on the part of the public and so decline-and-fall stories have set in with a vengeance. Great poets, we read again and again, are a thing of the past: a post-humanist era has no room for their elitist and difficult practices. (21 st Century Modernisms 4) Interestingly, the decline-and-fall stories are most associated with work like Gioias in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As we head into the 21 st century, I would argue that there is much more agreement that poetry is entering a new, vital period. But part of the problem seems to be a too-easy distinction between experimental and traditional verse that Perloff and others rely upon, which maintains poetrys marginal position in American culture. The two need not be seen as a binary. It does, however, if we define poetry as Gioia does (its formal properties) or as Perloff does (sound over sense). What Gioia and Perloff have done, in effect, is returned us to a New Critical model in which we can examine certain properties of language as if they were universally poetic. As Perloff would have it, any use of the tradition is merely a recapitulation of that tradition/culture; but the poets we have read have clearly shown that within a poetic tradition there is room for quite radical reinventions of that tradition. Perloff returns to the New Critical stance that poetry is something that can be viewed independently of content. Whatever political motivation or message is within a poem can be said just as well in another form unless one defines poetry and what distinguishes it that would make

PAGE 168

160 it worth studying in the first place. 94 The problem here is that whatever definition we use for poetry becomes an elitist form of cultural capital. Reinventions of tradition or culture hinge in America on notions of the individual. I would argue that notions of experimental poetry actually reflect a very conservative notion of culture that one either is part of or notthat is, we either have the cultural capital to understand the term poetry or we do not. Perloffs supposedly radical conception of poetry is in fact quite conservative; to teach poetry that is not based on the notion of poetry as she sees it would supposedly deprive students of the heritage of western aesthetics and would take poetry out of the curriculum. Thus, we return to the problems of the New Criticism: what we mean by culture is at stake, and by extension what we mean by American. Lyric and Ways of Sounding The lyrics revolutionary attitude is in its relation to the materiality of the tradition, or to culture. Rather than merely accepting tradition, the poets I have examined all push against the boundaries of the poetic tradition and, thus, push at the boundaries of the larger culture, the artistic capital that defines that culture. Not the mere statement or manifesto of ones identity as many critics would claim about todays identity politics, these poets have tested, pushed, confronted and examined their identityas individual and community. In other words, what the writers in this discussion do, in different ways and to different degrees, is to focus the lyric on the voice as an oral performance. 94 Since I am drawing these ideas from her debate about Oxfords Anthology of American Poetry, her comments seem to have serious implications for how one defines American culture. See Janus-Faced Blockbuster and Response to Marsha Bryant.

PAGE 169

161 Ong notes that print as technology made the act of reading into a solitary act, creating the sense of an individual reader. For oral cultures, though, language was a way of embodying a shared, communal voice (115-135). Certainly none of these poets ignore the fact that their poetry is a print medium, a material art, but by focusing poetry on voice, they seek ways to sound their identity. As mentioned earlier, I take this term from the work of Houston Baker, but it is used here in quite different ways. Baker developed this term as a way of specifically describing the work of African-American poets and their way of sounding a specifically black identity. I am using the term here, rather, to suggest the ways that poets sound identity in all its complexity, to capture the problems and porousness of whatever we think of as an American identityand to sound this identity in both individual and collective terms. My intention has not been to suggest that American lyric is merely an expression of a multicultural sensibility, yet as America continues to struggle with its multicultural identity lyric forms likewise grapple with such issues. In this way, Native American poets productively distill these problematic tensions in an American identity. For instance, Sherman Alexie has developed an amazing lyric voice that questions both his native-ness and his American-ness. Just as Alexie turns to native traditions, he turns to Whitman, a figure that becomes metaphoric of his contradictory relationship with America. For example, his poem Defending Walt Whitman (14-15)a comedic portrait of basketball on the reservationcan be read as both standing in defense of Whitman and defending against him. The young men shooting hoops are caught in the eddies of the 20 th century, beautiful and lost: Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown!

PAGE 170

162 These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill, although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait, waiting for orders to do something, do something. (14) Among the veterans, and military haircuts, and boys that braid their hair into wild patterns that do not measure anything, those with too much time on their hands, the speaker observes the beauty of perfect jump shot, so beautiful even that it makes Whitman weep because it is so perfect. Whitman, on one hand, knows the beauty of the Indian bodies, and the energetic game, but he is not of this world. He is a small man and his beard / is ludicrous on the reservation, absolutely insane. The players all laugh at Whitman and his beard, yet he is in the midst of the game, shaking because he believes in God. The final parodic stanza captures the doubleness to Whitman: God, there is beauty in every body. Walt Whitman stands at center court while the Indian boys run from basket to basket. Walt Whitman cannot tell the difference between offense and defense. He does not care if he touches the ball. Half of the Indian boys wear T-shirts damp with sweat and the other half are bareback, skin slick and shiny. There is no place like this. Walt Whitman smiles. Walt Whitman shakes. This game belongs to him. (15) Whitman is portrayed as the center of this experience even as he is not of it, not caring if he touches the ball, not knowing the difference between offense and defense. This last point especially comments on a Whitmanesque democracy that can easily become colonial and/or imperial. What is the difference between defending ones country and expanding its reach? Finally, the speaker acknowledges Whitmans sheer pleasure at the game, smiling and shaking at the beauty of it, while also acknowledging that the game belongs to this outsider. It is his for the appropriation and exploitation. The poem functions not because of a formal sensibility in which the language is foregrounded but

PAGE 171

163 because of this individual sensibility that grounds the language in the paradox of contemporary experience. His poem The Native American Broadcast System seems to reinforce a more specifically native identity: I am the essence of powwow, I am toilets without paper, I am frybread in sawdust, I am bull dung on rodeo grounds at the All-Indian Rodeo and Horse Show, I am the essence of powwow, I am video games with braids, I am spit from toothless mouths, I am turquoise and bootleg whiskey, both selling for twenty bucks a swallow, I am the essence of powwow, I am fancydancers in flannel, I am host drum amplified, I am Fuck you don't come back and Leave me the last hard drink. I am the essence of powwow, I am the dream you lace your shoes with, I am the lust between your toes, I am the memory you feel across the bottom of your feet whenever you walk too close. (Nelson, Oxford Anthology 1218) The most obvious strategy here is the insistence on its individualist claims, the repeated I am. He adds weight to the phrase by placing it at the end of lines, which works in two ways: it carries the syntax toward the next lines creating a rhythm that continues past the break even as it creates a pause and makes the words stand on their own, outside of the syntactical movement. The repetitions also embody the sense of a native chanting as it is understood or perceived by a mainstream, white audience. As the voice insists on the I, it clearly functions in much more of a choral way than individual: the I is the native

PAGE 172

164 community. But this is not an all-is-good definition of the native. I am spit from toothless mouths, paints a less-than-glamorous, or less-than-Hollywood-ready, version of the native. But notice, too, that the very tone of this I is complex and contradictory. If we read the lines as units, we learn in line 13 that amplified, this I becomes a voice of rage, a Fuck you. But the I also is the dream and the lust of our lives. More importantly, this portrait is even larger: I am bull dung, or I am video games hint that the portrait is as much American as it is Native, something both elemental and pop-culture transience. So, by the last lineswhich echo Whitmans own claims, in Song of Myself, of being the ground upon which we walkthe I has become the foundation of America, not an outsiderthe I here haunts the readers very walking. One of Alexies native inspirations, Adrian Louis, likewise constructs a hybrid voice that struggles to belong in any version of national identity, a remarkable lyric poetry that negotiates the boundaries between native and Americanan angry, hard-bitten poetry that seeks some form of culture that will support him, a tension between a gritty realism and a visionary lyricism. His poem Petroglyphs of Serena from Ceremonies of the Damned questions the very notion of the poetic as a means of a larger questioning of culture. While the poem is in free verse, it does make use of traditional Euro/Anglo poetic devices. For instance, here is the opening of the poem: In Yellowbirds Store, the tart tinge of something sour boggles my nose. Overpriced cans of Spaghetti-Os and Spam on the sad shelves are powdered with Great Plains dust. In Yellowbirds Store, winter people are hooked up to video poker machines for brief transfusions. (3)

PAGE 173

165 These lines make use of heavy alliterationtart tinge, and an almost parodic alliteration of S soundsa strong internal rhyming, cans, Spam, sad, as well as an end-rhyme with nose, Os, and the long O of poker. In other words, the poem displays the web of internal effects that signify the writing as poetic even as the subject seems to counter it, especially if we consider the emphasis this structure places on words such as cans, spam, sad. In fact, we might think especially of those three words as being emphasized to stand as a statement of their own, a cartoonish statement of life on the reservation. The second section begins with an extended simile: These Dakota stars / are as blanched as dead minnows floating / on a garish pink and blue sea of daybreak. This passage, too, challenges our sense of the poetic. Stars being as blanched as dead minnows might seem to be an inventive or surprising juxtaposition in the vein of Eliots The sky is spread out / like a patient etherized on the table. And, in terms of the lifelessness of the image, it is, but rather than pointing toward something like Prufrocks individual paralysis, the image leads to a deadened sense of landscape; this character lives in a deadened world where even the sky cannot hold beauty. Yet this is in the traditional genre of beauty, so that the speaker is examining the very nature of poetic conventions. There is a relation between this characters search for a poetry that will speak for him and a denial of it: an American culture in which he does not see himself. The speaker also turns at times to more traditional native forms of expression. For instance, notice the way the phrase In Yellowbirds Store anchored the first passage in a rhythmic repetition. Similarly, the speaker later repeats full lines: Must never offend the spirits, Thalia said. / Must never offend the spirits, Thalia said that echoes the ritualistic prayer of many Native-American poems. (As a parallel, in his

PAGE 174

166 lengthy meditation on his wifes crippling disease, Earth Bone Connected to the Spirit Bone, the speaker mingles a free verse speech with the repetition of Native prayer chants: Grandfather, who is the Great Spirit-. . Grandmother Earth . Oh Spirits of the West Wind. . (29-30) in a search for something that will sustain him. (And note that the poem here echoes Shelleys Ode to the West Wind, a turn to the romantic tradition in the same way that we saw H.D. use Shelley). The poem mixes languages and forms. In a poem that struggles with the realities of reservation life, he can blame American culture: Here, the white traders made a fortune / taking savage souls in payment / for pints of whisky and wine. At the same time he can accuse his own culture: Were reaping the wombs reward of mutant generations who stumbled toward dismembering / the long and sometimes senile span between you, / Great Spirit, and your artwork, man. So the fact that the form of the poem sometimes rings hollow actually seems quite appropriate here; this is the description of a man in the midst of a hollowed-out culture. The poem is about ghosts, personal ghosts, ghosts within his community, and his community as ghosts within the larger American culture. Louis is caught between an American tradition and a Native tradition and his poems enact this double consciousness. His poem Pabst Blue Ribbon at Wounded Knee struggles with the same question: Between the sensual and the visionary how can our spirits extinguished by spirits discern the dancing of ghosts? (Fire Water World 3) Between the worldly and the spiritual, the Native and the American, the speaker is lost. And while he situates himself firmly at Wounded Knee (and often in other poems in White Clay), the center of Native solidarity, he also reflects on why we sit in our cars

PAGE 175

167 drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (3). Louis is driving at the heart of an American dystopia, (and his commentary on the seeming lack of disregard for the history of Wounded Knee echoes Berrymans commentary on a society that barely remembers the Korean War only years after it occurred). Just as he challenges the lyric tradition to include him, he searches for an America that can include him as American and native. Can America be envisioned in a fluid enough manner to include him as both? It is important to note, then, the way he is often excluded from notions of American poetry (and, therefore, culture). For instance, Perloff adamantly denies the Louis even writes poetry. She examines Petroglyphs of Serena, writes it out without line breaks, then goes on to ask What makes the first version poetry? (Janus-Faced 207). The question seems once again to reduce our sense of poetry to a strictly formalist question (and even formal concerns seem to be reduced to a question of lineation in this case), but I would reverse the question and ask why the non-lineated version is not poetry? The question becomes a strictly formal question as opposed to ways of sounding. Perloffs suggestion as to why such poems would be included in a canon of American poetry 95 is that the above poems (including Louiss) are included, not as poems but as exemplars of specific racial, ethnic, and political groupings and generally function as proponents of a radical politics (27). I would not disagree with her except to say that a radical politics may well be poetry, and that these poems are exemplars of a radical poetics, a poetics that engages its revolutionary possibilities. The issue, as Marsha Bryant has noted, seems to be how to shift the emphasis from how we classify or 95 This argument stems from Perloffs review of Cary Nelsons Oxford Anthology of American Poetry. The stakes for inclusion or exclusionand the model such decisions are based onto this work seem particularly important.

PAGE 176

168 define poems toward thinking about what a poem can do (178). Alexie notes that he turns to the poems of Louis and remembers them in the way that many academics memorize the work of Keatsor, in other words, it serves as the same important marker of culture that has been traditionally relegated to European writers such as Keats. Do we deny the right of Alexieand his peers who have likewise responded to Louisto consider this important poetry, based on a formalist modeland, thus, refuse a form of cultural capital? As Native-Americans struggle to have a political voice in America, the same struggle is enacted in the doubled voices of their poetry. The problem is that any attempt at a definitive determination of what constitutes poetry will be an exclusive, or elitist, proposition. This stubborn New Critical perspective reflects the ways that print medium has altered consciousness; not to deny that we live inextricably in a print culture, it is important to remember that the origins of lyric are oral and suggest other options for how and why we read. As Ong has noted, an understanding of oral cultures is essential to our understanding of written text: The orality-to-literacy shift throws clear light on the meaning of New Criticism as a prime example of text-bound thinking. The New Criticism insisted on the autonomy of the individual work of textual art. Writing, it will be remembered, has been called autonomous discourse by contrast with oral utterance, which is never autonomous but always embedded in non-verbal existence (157). Poets like Louis return us to an oral poetry even as he engages with the consciousness of print culture; that is, the poetry of the communal I, a performative poetry that voices a culture to, and for, itself. Because the Native-American community still retains conscious ties to its oral storytelling roots, and because of its vexed relationship to an American identity, I would contend that the community actually provides a productive lens through which we might view the possibilities present in the 21 st century American lyric. Poets like Louis

PAGE 177

169 and Alexie, are showing the poetic means to voice their identity in all its complexity, and to reimagine that identity in process. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the difference between lyric and Language or experimental poetry (although I do no want to reinscribe the false binary between traditional and experimental poetry) as the difference between an oral, or speech-based, poetry versus a poetry that is dominated by its textual concerns. What Perloff and others want is to reduce our sense of poetry to one, the textual; what I am suggesting is that we need to maintain a sense of poetry as changing conventions, as large enough to contain both. Any poet inherits, and must speak within, a poetic discourse; but the poet is then free to push at the constraints of that convention, to reimagine what it isand, thus, begin to reimagine what a culture is. Lyric poetry, then, embodies the search for common identity even in the midst of differencefor a universality and a plurality. Multiculturalism, Lyric, and the Academy One of the main issues at stake here is the relationship between aesthetics and a liberal arts education. The problem is that a specifically designated poetics denies an increasingly diverse American population that would hardly agree on any definition of poetics. The very idea of poetryespecially if it is defined in any universal waybecomes a form of cultural capital. And it is this, not the fact that much poetry does not show the formal qualities that critics such as Perloff would point to, which has precipitated the death-of-poetry arguments. Such notions set up a resistance to poetry rather than a curiosity. Fortunately, as Ive said, poetry is larger than such institutional constraints. But as Perloff has said, Whyfinallystudy poetry at all, why produce great big poetry anthologies, unless poetry is the primary discourse to be studied?

PAGE 178

170 (Response 187). Perhaps we can simply take the question at face value and say that we shouldnt, that we should go ahead and name our project something else, cultural studies, or linguistics or drama, or American studies. On one hand, this solution would be acceptable. The label poetry can, in fact, be oppositional to the nature of the art that I am describing. On the other hand, just as a text does, the institution constructs subject positions for its readers/students. If we are going to have any literary category at all that designates formal, poetic language, then it needs to remain as open as possible to a multitude of cultural versions of formotherwise, the form that a culture takes remains hegemonic and exclusive. What are cast as representative objects of knowledge (the poem as an extra-cultural object that can be studied universally) become representative objects of culture. Thus, we risk enforcing a monolithic view of cultural expression. The fear, of course, to critics such as Perloff is that opening the study of poetic texts will, in the long run, deprive students of what is considered to be the heritage of western culture. What we mean by culture and more specifically America is at stake in such debates. As a signifier of cultural heritage, the conservative view of genre aims to prevent the loss of a common cultural identity. As Alice Kessler-Harris has correctly noted, the debate is between culture as a tradition to be preserved and as an ongoing process. The question, then, becomes how do we preserve cultural unity and still do justice to the multiplicity of American cultures? To accomplish this, we must redefine what we mean by identity (339). To this end, lyric as I am defining it is particularly well suited to be at the center of such a program. This is not to say that we should read

PAGE 179

171 and write poetry with that intention in mind but that it inherently serves such a goal within the institutional paradigm. As has been noted throughout this text, such ideas as individualism, pragmatism, and ambition have served as markers for Americanness. Such principles, however, as Cathy Davidson notes, are too readily turned into a weapon of discrimination. It creates bad history by minimizing or even erasing that which does not conform to the line drawing of the nation (Maddox 349). As such labels have been interrogated and disavowed in favor of a more pluralistic view of America in the latter-half of the 20 th century, though, the void of such common markers of identity has been lamented. But the very notions of national identity and multiculturalism need not be opposed; the issue is rather one of changing our sense of national identity, moving from one of individualism to one of inclusion and difference. Such a change does not necessitate losing our long tradition of individualism, but seeing this individualism in its larger context of dynamics with otherness. We become individuals by seeking what is different, but in the process we risk losing whatever common character we may share. If distinctiveness is seen, though, as a marker that designates us all as other, then a new narrative might develop out of relationships between the universal and the plural. As Charles Bernstein has noted, A people invents itself and sustains itself through its shared language (116). In this way, the lyric can serve as the very heart of a new national narrative, a narrative in which, as we have seen with the lyric poets discussed, the individual is the communal.

PAGE 180

WORK CITED Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. Brooklyn, NY: Hanging Loose Press, 1996. Allen, Gay Wilson. The New Walt Whitman Handbook. New York: New York University Press, 1975. ___. Studies in Leaves of Grass. New York: New York University Press, 1972. Bahti, Timothy. Ends of the Lyric: Direction and Consequence in Western Poetry. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Baker, Houston Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987. Belsey, Catherine. Critical Practice New York: Methuen, 1980. Bennington, Geoffrey and Jacques Derrida. Jacques Derrida. Geoffrey Bennington, trans. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993. Bernstein, Charles. Poetics of the Americas. Reading Race in American Poetry: An Area of Act. Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Berryman, John. The Dream Songs. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1969. ___. The Freedom of the Poet. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1976. Bloom, Harold. John Berryman. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, ___. H.D. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1975. Bryant, Marsha. Response to Marjorie Perloffs Review of Cary Nelsons Anthology, Modern American Poetry. symploke, 9:1-2 (2001). 176-78. Buell, Lawrence. Postcolonial Anxiety in Classic U.S. Literature. Postcolonial Theory and the United States. Oxford, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2000. 196-201. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999. 172

PAGE 181

173 Camboni, Marina ed. H.D.'s Poetry: "The Meanings that Words Hide." New York: AMS Press, 2003. Conarroe, Joel. John Berryman: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Brian Massumi, Trans. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. De Man, Paul. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1984. Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever. Eric Prenowitz, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Derrida, Jacques and Maurizio Ferraris. A Taste for the Secret. Giacomo Donis, trans. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001. Dickie, Margaret. Women Poets and the Emergence of Modernism. The Columbia History of American Poetry. Jay Parini, Ed. New York: Columbia UniversityPress, 1993. 233-59. Diehl, Joanne Feit. Women Poets and the American Sublime. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990. Dimock, Wai-Chee, Empire for Liberty: Melville and the Poetics of Individualism. Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1989. DiYanni, Robert. Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions. New York: Random House, 1987. Doolittle, Hilda. Collected Poems 1912-1944. Louis Martz, Ed. New York: New Directions Books, 1983. ___. The Gift. New York: New Directions, 1982. ___. Tribute to Freud. New York: New Directions, 1974. DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Reprinted in Three Negro Classics. New York: Avon Books, 1965. Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the1920's. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995. DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry 1910-1934 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ___. H.D.: The Career of that Struggle. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986.

PAGE 182

174 Easthope, Antony. Poetry as Discourse. New York: Methuen, 1983. Eliot, T.S. The Three Voices of Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1954. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Portable Emerson. Ed. Carl Bode. New York: Penguin Books, 1981. Erkkila, Betsy. Whitman the Political Poet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Erkkila, Betsy and Jay Grossman, eds. Breaking Bounds: Whitman & American Cultural Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Felski, Rita. Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. ___. The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Folsom, Ed. Introduction: Recircuiting the American Past. A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Jack Myers and David Wojahn Eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991. 1-25. ___. Whitman East & West; New Contexts for Reading Walt Whitman. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002. Foner, Eric. Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Friedman, Susan Stanford. Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D. Bloominton, IN: Indiana University Press, 1981. Friedman, Susan Stanford and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, eds. Signets: Reading H.D. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture. Saint Paul:Graywolf Press, 1992. Gray, Richard. American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. London: Longman, 1990. Gregory, Eileen. H.D. and Hellenism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

PAGE 183

175 Grierson, H.J.C. Lyrical Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. New York: AMS Press, 1970. Gubar, Susan. RaceChanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Gubar, Susan and Sandra Gilbert, eds. Shakespeares Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1981. Haffenden, John. John Berryman: A Critical Commentary. New York: New York University Press, 1980. Henriques, Julian et al, eds. Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social regulation and Subjectivity. New York: Routledge, 1998. Holden, Jonathan. The Rhetoric of the Contemporary Lyric. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980. ____. Style and Authenticity in Postmodern Poetry. Columbia, Missouri: Missouri University Press, 1986. Hogue, Cynthia. Scheming Women: Poetry, Privilege, and the Politics of Subjectivity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Hosek, Chaviva and Patricia Parker, eds. Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Arnold Rampersad, Ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. ___. Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writings of Social Protest. Faith Berry, Ed. Westport: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1973. Hutchinson, George. The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995. Jemie, Onwuchekwa. Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. Johnson, W.R. The Idea of Lyric: Lyric Modes in Ancient and Modern Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Kaplan, Charles, ed. Criticism: The Major Statements. Second Edition. New York: St. Martins Press, 1986. Kessler-Harris, Alice. Cultural Locations: Positioning American Studies. Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline. Lucy Maddox, Ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1999, 335-52.

PAGE 184

176 Klammer, Martin. Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of Leaves of Grass. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Margaret Waller, Trans. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Lewis, C. Day. The Lyric Impulse. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965. Lewis, David Levering, ed. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Viking, 1994. Lomax, Michael. "Countee Cullen: A Key to the Puzzle." Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined. Eds. Victor A. Kramer and Robert A Russ. Troy, NY: The Whitstone Publishing Co., 1997. 239-48. Louis, Adrian. Ceremonies of the Damned. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1997. ___. Fire Water World. Albuquerque, NM: West End Press, 1989. Mack, Stephen John. The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2002. Mariani, Paul. Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. New York: William Morrow & CO: 1990. Matthiessen, F.O. The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941. Miller, Edwin Haviland. Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself:" A Mosaic of Interpretations. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989. Miller, James E. Jr. A Critical Guide to Walt Whitman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957. ___. Leaves of Grass: America's Lyric-Epic of Self and Democracy. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. Miller, R. Baxter. The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes. Lexington, KY, The University Press of Kentucky, 1989. Morris, Adalaide. How to Live/What to Do: H.D.'s Cultural Poetics. Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Murray, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition in Poetry. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927. Myers, Jack and David Wojahn, eds. A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

PAGE 185

177 Nelson, Cary, ed. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Nelson, Deborah. Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. North, Michael. The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language, and Twentieth-Century Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. ODaniel, Therman B., ed. Langston Hughes Black Genius: A Critical Evaluation. New York: William Morrow & Company Inc., 1971. Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Routledge, 1982. Ostriker, Alicia Suskin. Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Womens Poetry in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Pease, Donald. Walt Whitman. The Columbia History of American Poetry. Jay Parini, Ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 148-171. Perlman, Jim, Ed Folsom, and Dan Campion, eds. Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song. Duluth, MN: Holy Cow! Press, 1998. Perloff, Marjorie. Janus-Faced Blockbuster. symploke. Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 2000. 205-13. ___. Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990. ___. Response to Marsha Bryant, Edward Brunner, Carter Revard, Robert Dale Parker, and Michael Thurston. symploke. Vol. 9 No. 1, 2002. 187-92. ___. Twenty-First Century Modernisms. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Phillips, Robert. The Confessional Poets. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. Pinsky, Robert. Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. ___. The Situation of Poetry. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976. Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes, Volume 1: 1902-1942, I, Too, Sing America. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. ___. The Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. The Columbia History of American Poetry. Jay Parini, Ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 233-59.

PAGE 186

178 Reynolds, David, ed. A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Riddel, Joseph. H.D. and the Poetics of Spiritual Realism. Contemporary Literature. 10:4 (1969 Fall). 447-73. Robinson, Janice. S. H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982. Rosenthal, M.L. New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II. London: Oxford University Press, 1960. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993. Schueller, Malini. U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature 1790-1890. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Thomas Hutchinson, Ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1947. Sontag, Kate and David Graham eds. After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography. SaintPaul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2001. Tracy, Steven C., ed. A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Untermeyer, Louis, ed. Modern American PoetryMid-Century Edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950. Vendler, Helen. The Given and the Made: Poetic Strategies of Poetic Redefinition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. Wheeler, Lesley. The Poetics of Enclosure: American Women Poets from Dickinson to Dove. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings: A Norton Critical Edition. Michael Moon, Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002. Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society: 1780-1950. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. _____. Keywords. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Wolfreys, Julian. The Rhetoric of Affirmative Resistance: Dissonant Identities from Carroll to Derrida. New York: St. Martins Press, 1997.

PAGE 187

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Glenn Freeman was born and raised in Frederick, Maryland. After years of trying out several different colleges around the country, he ended up at Goddard College, a wonderfully quirky alternative school in Northern Vermont. His plans at that point were to become certified to teach High School English. While at Goddard, however, he discovered his love of writing. Rather than continue in an education program, he shifted to study Poetry and Creative Writing. After completing his degree at Goddard, he attended Vermont College where he received an MFA in Poetry. With MFA in hand, Glenn spent years away from academia, working as a chef in a variety of restaurants in Minnesota and writing poetry. He won several awards with his writing, including two Minnesota State Arts Board fellowships and a Loft-McKnight award. Friends urged him to teach writing at The Loft, a thriving literary center in Minneapolis. After following their advice and teaching several workshops, he realized that he truly loved teaching; he decided, then, to go back to school and entered the PhD program in English at the University of Florida. He is now assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA. He lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife Mary Beth and their two cats, Dizzy and Otis. After completing his dissertation, he will be happy to return to a life of creative writing. 179


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0010002/00001

Material Information

Title: Lyric Voice and American Democracy
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0010002:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0010002/00001

Material Information

Title: Lyric Voice and American Democracy
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0010002:00001


This item has the following downloads:


Full Text












LYRIC VOICE AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY


By

GLENN J. FREEMAN













A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2005





























Copyright 2005

by

Glenn J. Freeman















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This dissertation would never have been completed without the help of many

people along the way. Foremost, I would like to thank Marsha Bryant for her

encouragement and scholarly advice. She challenged me and helped my thinking about

this subject evolve every step of the way. The rest of my committee-Stephanie Smith,

Brian Ward and Lamonda Horton Stallings-have likewise been instrumental in this

project. Julian Wolfreys, Sidney Dobrin, Malini Schueller, Mark Reid, and Tace Hedrick

have also offered invaluable support. I would also like to thank my new colleagues at

Cornell College for their support and encouragement.

I also could not have accomplished this without the support of many friends along

the way. I would especially like to acknowledge Chris Jones, Bradley Dilger, and

Suzanne Zweizig at the University. John Toren in Minneapolis was instrumental in this

project as my conversations with him have always energized me to keep going and

challenged me to rethink and/or clarify my positions. Similarly, my good friend Walter

Butts has always reminded me of the importance of poetry in our lives.

My family has also offered unfailing support. My parents, Jim and Lois Freeman,

have always helped out in any way they could; I could not have done it without them.

My brother Craig and his family provided many much-needed breaks for fun and laughter

along the way. Finally, I owe this all to my beautiful, loving, and supportive wife Mary

Beth. She has been beside me every step of the way, and I could not imagine taking this

journey without her.















PREFACE

The following abbreviations will be used throughout this dissertation for in-text

citations of frequently used texts:

BB Breaking Bounds, Betsy Erkkila and Jay Grossman, eds.

CP The CollectedPoems: 1912-1944, Hilda Doolittle; Louis Martz, ed.

DS The Dream Songs, John Berryman.

EW Whitman East & West, Ed Folsom, ed.

LG -Leaves of Grass, Norton Critical Edition, Walt Whitman.

LH The Collected Poems, Langston Hughes.

MS- The Measure of His Song, Perlman, Folsom and Campion, eds.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii

P R E F A C E ..................................................................... iv

ABSTRACT .............. ..................... .......... .............. vii

INTRODUCTION .................................. .. ... .... .......................

TOW ARD A TH EORY OF LYRIC ......................................................................... .... 7

T h e L y ric as V oice............. ................................................ .............. ......... . ....
The Problem of Genre .................. .................... .. .... ........ .......... .. .9
Who Speaks? The Problem of Voice and Agency .................................................17
L yric and the O ral T radiation .......................................................................... ... ... 2 1
A Poetry of D em ocracy ...........................................................................24

WALT WHITMAN: THE INDIVIDUAL AS NATION....................... ..................29

A Lyric for the N ew D em ocracy ........................................ .......................... 34
Constructing a N ew Reader ........................................................ ............... 39
Tow ard the "M odern"........................................................... .. ............... 43
W hitm an and the "Other" .............................. ... ........................................ 51

H.D. AND THE DIVIDED SUBJECT .................................................................... 61

H.D. and the Poetic "Tradition" ................ .................................... 67
Modernism, Individualism, and the Freudian "I"....................................................78
Tow ard an O pen V oice .......................................................................... ............... 83
V oices from the M argins .................................................. .............................. 86

LANGSTON HUGHES AND THE MASKS OF AUTHENTICITY...............................94

Art and Representation in the Harlem Renaissance ................................................98
The "Lyric" L abel as R hetorical................................................................... .....105
The R rhetoric of "A authenticity" ................. ... ................................... .................108
D ialect and Identity ......................................... ..... .... .................... .. 117
Personae and the M multiple Voice..................... ...... ......................... ... .......... 121




v









JOHN BERRYMAN: AMERICA IN FRAGMENTS....................................................127

T he P problem of "C onfession".............................. ...................................................132
T he F reudian V oice ............................ .. ........................ .. .. ...... ...............14 1
V oice, V ernacular, and Blackface ........................................ ........................ 145
In Search of an American Culture ................................ 151

CONCLUSION: WHITMAN ON THE RESERVATION .............................................156

Introduction: Lyric N ationalism ........................................ .......................... 156
Lyric and W ays of "Sounding"....................................................... ..................160
Multiculturalism, Lyric, and the Academy.................. ............ ............... 169

W O R K C IT E D ............. ... .................................................................................. ....... 172

BIOGRA PH ICAL SKETCH .............. ........................ .................... ............... 179















Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

LYRIC VOICE AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY


By

Glenn J. Freeman

May 2005

Chair: Marsha Bryant
Major Department: English

Lyric poetry is most often considered to be an asocial or apolitical art form,

"timeless" or "universal" rather than socially engaged. This dissertation attempts to

counter that perspective and show the ways in which American lyric poets have

profoundly engaged with political issues of their times. It explores specifically the

relationship between lyric voice and emerging, or changing, models of American

nationalism.

I look at the way that the lyric "voice" can function simultaneously as "individual"

and "choral," personal and social. Criticism of lyric tends to focus on the romantic

model in which a private form of speech is "overheard" by the reader. I contend that we

need to see the way a romantic model intersects with the classical model in which poetry

is performed before an audience that also participates in the poetic voice. This

dissertation argues that the lyric should not be read through only a classical or romantic









lens, but to see how they function together, how the individual and the communal voices

are conflated within the lyric.

This dual nature of the lyric voice is particularly productive for American poets as

they work within a culture that is fiercely individualist at the same time that it demands

national allegiance. The lyric poem, then, can embody the tensions inherent in

American society; the lyric voice is metonymic of the national voice in which individuals

and groups compete for representation.

Each chapter explores a particular era during which an American identity has been

reevaluated and groups within the nation have struggled for representation: the Civil War

and Reconstruction, the Suffrage Movement and the rise of Feminism, the Harlem

Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement, and the era of Cold War containment. For

each of these eras, I examine a poet that engages with these issues: Walt Whitman, H.D.,

Langston Hughes, and John Berryman, respectively. I conclude this dissertation by

examining how lyric poetry can engage effectively with the struggles of a pluralist

American identity in the 21st century.
















INTRODUCTION

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration began a campaign of cultural

diplomacy by publishing an anthology of 15 essays that engage the question of what it

means to be an American writer. The anthology-designed to be distributed

internationally with translations in Arabic, French, Spanish, and Russian among others-

was designed to "illuminate in an interesting way certain American values-freedom,

diversity, democracy-that may not be well understood in all parts of the world" (Clack,

George, ed. "Writers on America." U.S. Dept of State International Information

Programs. 09 Dec. 2002. 15 April 2005 http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/writers ).1

Appropriately, the anthology uses a passage from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn

Ferry" as its epigraph:

It avails not, time and place-distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many
generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and the sky, so I feel,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow,
I was refresh'd,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current,
I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of the ships and
the thick-stemm'd pipes of steamboats, I looked. (n.pag.)




1 An interesting side note to this anthology is that technology has allowed a reading that American law does
not. The Smith-Mundt act of 1948 does not allow the domestic circulation of any official information
meant for a foreign circulation, including this anthology. Technology has made the act irrelevant as
internet sources are not tied to international borders, and thus allow an interesting look at American culture
as it is specifically crafted for an external audience.






2


Certainly this poem captures the promise that such an anthology attempts to fulfill: the

opening of one person to the many, one culture to another, the blurring of past and

present, self and other, in some timeless sense of shared humanity. Yet certain ironies

and contradictions also present themselves in the use of this poem as a form of cultural

diplomacy. For instance, in Whitman's claims of human unity, the individual is washed

away as each individual becomes part of a larger scheme, a scheme that for Whitman is

synonymous with "America."2 Whitman's democratic claims, then, intersect with a

global version of Manifest Destiny, mirroring the odd paradox inherent in this anthology

that attempts to show how we are all similar ("just as you feel ... so I feel") at the same

time as exclaiming an American exceptionalism. Where this anthology sets out to

counter ideas of American hegemony, the opening poetic lines unwittingly reinforce

notions of American cultural dominance.

This problematic use of Whitman's poetry shows the way that the American lyric is

integrally tied to social and political concerns, a fact often overlooked as poetry is usually

relegated to an ahistorical or cultural position, the most private art. More importantly,

Whitman's poetry shows how the voice of the poem engages these contradictory

American impulses: his poem can be seen as promoting an egalitarian, inclusive view of

world democracy but it can also be seen as a form of cultural imperialism. I would argue

that such contradiction stems from Whitman's effort to simultaneously construct an

"individual" voice-one that speaks from an American culture of individualism-and a

"choral" voice-one that speaks as a national identity. In other words, Whitman's voice

strives to be both the one and the many.

2 As an example, in "Democratic Vistas," Whitman says, "I shall use the words America and democracy as
convertible terms" (LG 758).









This dissertation will argue that the dual nature of the lyric voice allows it to serve

as a productive genre in which individual-social dynamics can be investigated and re-

envisioned with radical possibilities. This tension of voice has been especially

productive for American poets whose culture simultaneously promotes a fierce

individualism and demands a group/national allegiance. The struggle to construct a lyric

voice reflects the struggle to construct a political voice; poetic and political representation

become conflated within the lyric voice. At the same time, because the voice functions in

multiple ways, the lyric can often reveal the contradictory impulses at the heart of the

democracy as we see in the Whitman quote and the uses to which it is put.

The editorial comment about American values-"freedom, diversity, and

Democracy"-offers a valuable lens through which to consider these contradictions.

"Freedom," in American terms follows a Jeffersonian model in which individual freedom

reigns supreme. This, of course, runs counter to the implications of the collective in

which the needs of diverse communities clash against such individual liberties. While E

Pluribus Unum serves as an idealistic motto for the possibilities inherent in American

democracy, it is also the source of endless struggles for representation and "voice" within

the government and culture. Central to my discussion is Gary Gerstle's useful distinction

between "civic nationalism" and "racial nationalism" that reflect fundamentally

conflicting notions of the nature of American society, the former an inclusive, egalitarian

society while the second reserves rights and national identity for particular groups.3 As

we have already noted with Whitman, it is possible for these two ideas to challenge each

other even within the same lyric. I argue, then, that the lyric is uniquely situated to


3 Gerstle's American Crucible explores the dynamic between these two versions of nationalism as they play
out across the 20th century, arguing that America is essentially a "nation divided against itself' (80).









negotiate these national struggles and to construct alternative narratives of self and

national identity.

The American lyric tradition as I define it rests on three innovative strategies: the

use of musicality as a means to embody multiple voices; challenges to the author-reader

or text-reader relationships and conventions that construct new reading subjects; and

most importantly the construction of a simultaneously individual and communal voice.

This lyric voice likewise is constructed out of three often competing strains: the classical

lyric in which the voice is a performed choral voice, the romantic based on the

"individual" voice, and the modem with its emphasis on "making it new,"4 an

experimental model that pushes at the very conventions of lyric. These three traditions

offer the American poet a means to negotiate a culture of fierce individualism, the

struggles over group/national allegiance, and the demands of an increasingly complex

modernity.

While I argue that American poets have effectively negotiated these traditions to

craft a unique tradition responding to the dynamics of American culture, criticism most

often reads through the lens of individualism. I contend that more often than not

American lyric is misread due to the inability to see these traditions in dialogue; my goal

in this dissertation is to offer a new paradigm to offer effective means to read the lyric

poet's engagement with American culture. I do not intend, though, to construct a rubric

that can simply be placed over each poet equally. What is important is to offer a

framework that points to the ways in which poets have engaged with the evolving

demands of American democracy.


4 This phrase was Ezra Pound's rallying cry for a "modem" art.









This project specifically explores the ways in which the lyric has been configured

at points in history when the narratives of American national identity have been

destabilized. Each chapter investigates a particular poet's struggle to redefine an

American nationalism through the construction of a lyric voice. First, I examine Walt

Whitman's engagement with a divided America that was struggling to define itself in the

face of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. I argue that Whitman is one of the

first poets to experiment with the lyric form as a medium to develop a new national

narrative and offers a useful model against which we may consider other poets-and a

model to which, as Ed Folsom has pointed out, poets have continually attempted to "talk

back."5 Following my discussion of Whitman, I examine the ways in which H.D.'s lyric

voice embodied the struggles of women in America in the first half of the 20th Century.

Her poetry engages with the emergence of feminism and the suffrage movement,

attempting to redefine American national identity as inclusive in terms of gender and

sexuality without essentializing such identities. Langston Hughes, writing during the

Harlem Renaissance, similarly attempts to redefine American identity in ways that will

afford racial inclusivity. Hughes uses the individual/choral lyric voice to affirm an

essential black identity worthy of American rights at the same time as constructing a

hybrid, "modern" American identity. John Berryman's voice also confronts an

increasingly consumer-oriented American society in an increasingly isolationist, cold-war

era of containment and growing racial unrest the growing at the same time as engaging

with the Civil Rights movement as it heads into the 1960s. Berryman's voice circles

back to Whitman in which the multiple voices reflect American diversity, even as he

5 Folsom argues that much of 20th century American poetry is ultimately a dialogue with Whitman.
("Introduction," MS, 21-74)









reflects a White, middle-class, male perspective. His voice, then, again puts us squarely

in the middle of the conflict between a civic and a racial nationalism, between the one

and the many. Each of these epochs-Reconstruction, Suffrage, Civil Rights, Cold War

containment-represents a point in which the lyric underwent major changes not in

artistic isolation but as a response to changing social conditions; the struggle for

political/cultural representation necessitated new forms of artistic representation. In each

instance, the attempt to redefine the lyric voice was an attempt to redefine America.

Because criticism has often distorted these poets' work in counterproductive ways,

each chapter will attempt to accomplish three things: first, I will show the ways in which

the work has been misrepresented through particular "lyric" lenses. Second, I will

examine the artistic/cultural conventions of the time to understand the environment in

which each poet was writing. Third, I will attempt to offer new ways to read each poet.

Such a project, however, demands some working definition of lyric and an understanding

of how poets have historically engaged with this evolving form. To begin, then, I will

attempt to construct a brief history of lyric criticism and to pose a new model for the

American lyric.
















TOWARD A THEORY OF LYRIC

The Lyric as Voice

From Plato onward, the nature of lyric poetry has been tied integrally to questions

of voice-whether voice is synonymous with authorial self-presence, a synecdoche for an

autonomous identity, or viewed as a figure or trope for lyric itself. Because of the

insistence on voice, though, the genre has always had a vexed relationship to social

discourse and critique, read most often as individualist rather than social. Even as many

poststructural critics have argued the "death of the author," the lyric is, more often than

not-especially in contemporary America-read as self-expression, a romantic

"Wordsworthian" overflow of emotions.6 It is the last genre in which the notion of

coherent, sovereign authorship and mimetic self-representation maintain a persistent

hold.

While critics from different schools have argued the nature and intention of the

lyric voice, the genre predominantly has been seen as outside the domain of social or

historical discourse. On one hand, Marxist and cultural critics, following the lead of

Althusser, tend to argue that such self-representation is merely a form of bourgeois

individualism, an art form marked by false consciousness. For instance, Antony

Easthope claims that the Romantic lyric is "individualist, elitist and privatized" as


6 The notion of lyric as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" was developed in Wordsworth's
"Preface to Lyrical Ballads" (Kaplan 260). What is less-often remembered is the second part of
Wordsworth's poetic equation-"recollected in tranquility"-which suggests a very different perspective
of the romantic project than has been historically constructed.









compared to earlier forms of the ballad that were "collective, popular, and

intersubjective"(75). On the other hand, the New Critics-who seemingly take personal

or historical considerations out of the poem, considering voice a construct distinct from

authorial identity-argue the poem as a linguistic object, similarly separating the poem

from the social sphere. For the New Critics, though, its separation from the social and

historical is what gives the form its power; the lyric becomes universal experience, a non-

relative aesthetic. From quite different critical perspectives and to quite different ends,

then, the effect is the same: the poetic voice is removed from social engagement, defined

as personal not social, timeless not historically situated, universal not culturally

contingent.

At the same time, a plethora of contemporary poet-critics tout authorial "voice"-

or more specifically "personality"-as the epitome of poetic achievement, that

presumably coherent, pre-existing entity that a young poet must struggle to find. This

image of the poet most closely reflects what might be considered poetry's "mass

audience," the popular narrative of the solitary poet struggling to express his or her inner,

tormented self. Ted Kooser sums up this narrative: "I grew up believing a lyric poet was

a person who wrote down his or her observations, taken from life [. .] When 'I' says

something happened, I believe it happened, and if something awful has happened to 'I,' I

feel for the poet" (Sontag 158-9). There is, then, a marked divide between a variety of

critical approaches to the lyric and its popular lived experience.

Both approaches to the form, however, set unfortunate limits on the way that an

audience reads. On one hand, the "self-expressive" model easily allows voice to slip into

a closed or totalizing ontology, limiting the lyric possibilities of embodying a divided or









fragmented experience and/or engaging in rhetorical self-critique. On the other hand, any

critical approach that removes the lyric from social discourse ultimately denies the voice

its potential as a position of both personal and social agency. To bridge this gulf, it is

necessary to see how the lyric still retains a connection to its Classical Greek roots in

which the lyric was foremost a public performance. Such a performance was often

accompanied by a chorus so that many voices merged to speak as one. By seeing the

lyric as performance, I argue that 1) the lyric voice is not self-presence but rather a figure

for presence-a prosopopoeia-that is embedded in historical formations and 2) any

supposed "self-expression" or "self'-presence is not merely a capitulation to capitalist

ideology but a potential site of individual and group resistance. In fact, the lyric is useful

as a tool to deconstruct any strict boundaries between the "individual" and the "social" on

which American capitalist individualism relies. The lyric voice cannot, and should not,

be read as merely autobiographical nor as a naive or false consciousness but rather as a

form of social engagement and cultural critique; the lyric "I" functions as a locus for

resistance and imaginative reconstructions of individual and communal/national

identities.

The Problem of Genre

In contemporary usage "lyric" is often considered synonymous with "poetry."7 To

some extent, this is a valid perspective: any poetic utterance carries at least the vestige of

voice. As Chaviva Hosek argues, unless signs directly point to the contrary, we infer a

voice whenever we read a poem (16). Yet certainly important distinctions exist, for

instance among traditional forms such as lyric, epic, and drama or, more recently, the


7 See, for example, Holden, "The Prose Lyric" (The Rhetoric of Contemporary Lyric 57-68).









divide between "Language" poetry and lyric. If lyric and poetry become synonymous,

these distinctions get lost and the canon of "acceptable" or "important" poetry can be

shaped in ways that ultimately affect cultural narratives negatively.

The problem, though, is that even as I claim the importance and viability of

maintaining generic distinctions it is true that no transhistorical or transcultural form can

delineate the lyric poem, no generically pure "lyric." It becomes necessary, then, to ask

how the term has functioned in different historical eras. The lyric has evolved, for

instance, from its Classical Greek origins in which the poem was performed before an

audience (with choral support and/or audience involvement) to what is now considered

the most private genre, that intimate form of speech that we "overhear."8 The Western

lyric's source is communal but has developed into an extreme form of individualism.

Historically, the primary models of lyric have revolved around two poles: the Classical

Greek and the "Greater Romantic" lyric. From Wordsworth on, the romantic has served

as the predominant model; critics have varied widely, however, about the nature of the

form. There are two main challenges with the romantic bias.

First, as Raymond Williams has clearly shown,9 the "romantic" designation ignores

and/or misreads the actual work of the original romantic poets. Within the lyric models

that have predominated from the late 19t century through the 20th, the romantic notion of

the artist is of one "indifferent to the crude worldliness and materialism of politics and

social affairs" (Culture 30). But as Williams notes this is not the original sense; what



8 The notion of lyric as "overheard utterance" was first suggested by John Stuart Mill and was later
developed into a nearly ubiquitous concept by Northrop Frye in The Anatomy of Criticism."

9 These ideas of the romantic run throughout Williams's work but are discussed in detail in "The Romantic
Artist" (Culture, 30-49) and "Romantic" (Keywords, 274-76)









became competing interests-"personal" feeling vs. "social;" aesthetic vs. political-

were originally one and the same. Any understanding of the "personal" was also an

understanding of the social. What complicated the evolution of this term was the fact that

notions of the "individual" imagination or artist were originally responses to the

increasing mechanization and industrialization of the late 18th and early 19th centuries,

and thus socially motivated developments. This has been distorted or ignored, though, as

the individualism of the artist has been transformed into merely "personal" interests, or in

Williams's terms "indifference." This is the paradigm into which "lyric" has generally

been forced: an asocial, romantic art pitted against other social forms.

Second, even in the seemingly coherent romantic model, the genre is defined along

different axes. The form is often defined, for instance, as musical language as opposed to

speech or prose; personal language versus dramatic characterization; the individual voice

as opposed to collective speech; a poetry of sincerity rather than artifice; emotion not

intellect. But each defining set of terms is a gradient rather than an absolute binary.

Where do we mark the line between any of these opposites? For instance, where exactly

does music differentiate from speech? Can any writing be truly considered "sincere" and

not an artifice? Likewise, while each of these factors is important, none of them can

serve to define the form on its own. The lyric, then, should be defined not on a single axis

but as the intersection of forces: the individual and the choral, music and speech, the

contemporary and the historical, the formal and the organic, artificiality and sincerity,

poet and audience. Most importantly, a returned focus on the classical model of the lyric

as performance can help show how the lyric changes according to mutable historical

circumstance at the same time as allowing the genre a historical continuity. For instance,









what defines "sincerity" to one age will certainly not represent "sincerity" to another.

The lyric, then, may be based on an idea of sincerity but that will not create a similar

poetic expectation to different audiences. Poetic decorum, to say another way, functions

as any other rules of discourse, delimiting the sayable but not defining the possibilities-

and like any other discourse, poetic decorum changes.

These different elements may be grouped into two major lyric models within the

romantic tradition. The first model defines the lyric as "musical" language. A wide

range of critics see musicality as central to the definition of lyric, agreeing with C. Day

Lewis who, early in the 20th century, proclaimed simply that "lyric is written for music"

(3); likewise, they suggest that straying from its musical roots signals the demise of lyric

(as many critics-Easthope as a prime example-claim is the result of the rise of the

"voice-driven" poem (60-65)). What exactly critics mean by "musicality," however, is

contradictory at best or undefined at worst. For instance, music to Pound represented

poetry's connection back to its physical roots, its relationship to breath and dance. To

Northrop Frye, it is the way poetry foregrounds the signifier over the signified (or as he

terms it, "babble" versus "doodle"10). They both argue for lyric as musical language but

are defining music on quite different terms. Music, rather than suggesting a clearly

delineated poetic element, has functioned instead as a trope for lyric itself. Music is a

way for the voice to maintain distance from mere communication and to focus rather on

artistic creation-that is, it foregrounds the lyric as art rather than statement. The other

important aspect that most critics seem to agree on is that the relationship to music



10 In The Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye refers to what he calls "Babble," or the musical/sonic quality
of poetry and "Doodle" or the structure and rhetoric of poetry.









returns the lyric to its classical origins as poetry that was literally sung, which I argue

allows the voice to serve a communal function.

The most important aspect of the classical model as I have said, though, is its

nature as public performance. Music, I contend, originally served as a particular way of

engaging a physically present audience. Lyric poetry, by being sung, was able to allow

choral participation andthe individual voice to speak as a dramatic construction. On one

hand, the audience could actively take part in the enunciation, imaginatively identifying

with the speaking voice; on the other hand, the voice could still speak/sing as an

individual without, because of its nature as song, collapsing into mere individual

expression. Even the individual voice maintained its effect as poetic artifice rather than

mimetic representation: the sung lyric was still foregrounded as artistic construction,

rather than transparent "self'-expression. The classical model, that is, was always

concerned with its rhetoric. Where romantic theory tends to ignore the nature of the

audience in favor of the speaker (although it is important to remember, as Williams

pointed out, this is a misreading of the original romantic intent), the classical model is

always concerned with how the lyric engages an audience and its expectations-always

functioning as a rhetorical/cultural practice. The lyric, likewise, allows the poet to push

at the boundaries of those cultural expectations and/or assumptions.

The second ongoing, influential model of the lyric is what T.S. Eliot referred to as

"meditative verse,""11 the most individual, private form of poetry. This notion of the lyric

as the "self speaking to the self or to no one at all" (6) has been central to the thinking of


" In The Three Voices ofPoetry, Eliot distinguishes the meditative voice from the voice addressing an
audience and from the voice of the poet speaking through a dramatic character. This same model has also
been used by others to make the distinction from epic poetry (Pound, for instance) or from "Epos" or
recited poetry (Frye).









critics from Pound to Frye to Easthope to Vendler. Generally, this model distinguishes

the genre from both the epic and the dramatic monologue, divisions to which I have

already pointed: in the first, lyric is timeless as distinguished from the historical epic, and

in the second, the "personal" lyric voice is distinguished from the dramatic, that of a

historical character outside the self. It is also important to see that this individual model

is exactly opposite the classical model-the only audience of the romantic lyric is one

that is privileged to overhear the poet's inner thoughts, not engaged directly as the lyric

singer would on a stage, or to ever sing as a choral entity. Helen Vendler suggests that

"Lyric, unlike the social genres, does not incorporate interaction with a 'collective'; it

privileges the mind in its solitary and private moments. The poet does not have to make

any special effort to place himself in solidarity with the 'collective'" (qtd Bahti 6,

emphasis mine). In this model, genre distinctions actually feed the divide between the

social and the individual. As Williams has noted, the decision that one is forced to make

between being a poet and a sociologist is a rather recent development. During the early

18th Century when the romantic tradition was being developed, there was no such

distinction. Any understanding of individual experience, Williams notes, was a reflection

of social experience (Culture 42-48). The distinction has been fed by American

individualism and has thus effectively pushed the genre out of the realm of social or

political discourse.

The main challenge of the meditative, interior model is that it assumes, or

perpetuates, a belief in a coherent subjectivity. For instance, the argument suggests that

the dramatic monologue is clearly a construction of a voice when the poem spoken from

the presumed "self' is not. The textual subject is always already radically split from the









author and, thus, even the meditative verse represents a dramatic construction of an

historical figure. Likewise, as Barbara Hermstein Smith has pointed out, even the poem

supposedly grounded in an author's own sense of voice can still, at best, only represent a

possible utterance, not an actual one (Holden, Style andAuthenticity 114). The divide,

then, between the lyric and the monologue is arbitrary. In the same way, Pound's notion

of the epic as the poem containing history12 is also arbitrary. To suggest this division is

to suggest that the lyric voice can simply transmit its transcendental existence

unproblematically through language rather than similarly being constructed by language

(and, thus, history and culture) in the first place.

Recent paradigms of the lyric have emerged, however, as poststructural thinking

has helped to break down the clear divide between the individual and the social or

historical, but certain lyric definitions persist. For instance, the essays in Lyric Poetry:

Beyond the New Criticism (1985) offer productive reevaluations of the genre-most

notably making lyric studies more interdisciplinary, defining the lyric as more

intertextual, and focusing on voice as a self-reflexive figure13-all of which are central to

my conception of the form. More traditional lyric models, however, are reinscripted in

counterproductive ways. For instance, Tilottama Rajan and Herbert Tucker still both

conceive of a transhistorically delimited lyric form. Rajan refers to "the deconstruction of

the lyric moment through its insertion into a narrative or dramatic context" (206), clearly

marking lyric as distinct from narrative or drama, and Tucker considers the dramatic


12 For Pound, the distinction is between his early "lyric" work and his later "epic," The Cantos. The Cantos
attempt to poetically embody large portions of the history of civilization, most importantly European
culture.

13 Jonathan Culler "Changes in the Study of Lyric" (Hosek and Parker 38-54). Culler also notes the
deconstruction of the symbol-allegory opposition as a central change in lyric studies.









monologue as "a response to lyric isolationism" (243), perpetuating the notion of lyric as

"personal."

I contend that the lyric bridges the individual-social divide and, thus, cannot be

distinguished from "narrative" or "drama." These terms, rather, are culturally specific,

reflecting poetic conventions of a given historical era. For instance, W.R. Johnson has

suggested that by the 3rd century BC, the conventions of lyric had changed so

dramatically-from a sung genre to a spoken one, from an inclusive audience to more

specifically an educated one-that many Latin poets struggled to re-envision their role

within the community: where earlier Greek poets such as Sappho and Pindar could sing

of communal emotional and religious experiences, Latin poets such as Catullus and

Horace sang of alienation and distance from an audience. These Latin poets still

attempted to function within the theatrical model of Greek lyric but in the context of

radically different cultural expectations.14 The history of lyric has been a perpetual

reinvention of poetic (and social) engagement, not a static genre but a constant dynamic

between poet and culture.

The text and poetic convention are always in dialogue as a process of evolution, the

poet making use of conventions while simultaneously distorting them. Static notions of

genre do not allow for an understanding of the ways in which a reader is always forced to

position him or herself in the midst of such change and allow, rather, for a view of the

reader as passive recipient. A more flexible model of lyric, however, forces the reader to

adopt a new stance to read, to construct the author-reader contract in the very process of

reading. As Jonathan Arac has suggested, lyric refers as much to ways of reading as it


14 See Johnson's The Idea ofLyric, especially 110-122, for a more in-depth discussion of these changes.









does to defining characteristics of the text (Hosek and Parker 345-356). Bahti, in The

Ends ofLyric, agrees: "Lyric, it seems, shapes and reshapes itself between the limit

cases" (254). Most importantly, since the lyric is still grounded in the illusion of a

speaking individual, the assumptions that an audience brings to the lyric are based on

assumptions about the subject; by constantly rethinking or reimagining the lyric an

audience reshapes its assumptions of reading itself-and thus the larger implications

about the nature of human subjectivity. The construction of a lyric self is a performative

means of claiming agency; lyric criticism has reduced the lyric to mere "self"-expression

perpetuating a bourgeois, capitalist ideology, not the lyric itself. As Judith Butler argues,

it is a false assumption that "to be constituted by discourse is to be determined by

discourse, where determination forecloses possibilities of agency" (182). Within the

lyric, the subject is paradoxically engaged in both its own construction and

deconstruction; the lyric drive itself, I contend, is the drive to locate the agents of

personal and social change.

Who Speaks? The Problem of Voice and Agency

Obviously, any claim that a discursively constructed subject can also speak with

agency is problematic at best, yet any agenda of personal or social change rests precisely

on this notion. Claiming such agency is double-edged: it can create the site of possible

change but risks reducing the subject to a humanist and/or essentialist figure.

Constructed by historical and discursive forces, the individual does, nonetheless, accrue

meaning and material effect, and thus agency as well. As Butler says, "Construction is

not opposed to agency; it is the necessary site of agency" (187). I build on Butler's ideas

to argue that the lyric "I" is always a performative utterance (as both linguistic









performativity and as theatrical performance) that, rather than expressing any a priori

'self,' constructs an identity as a perpetual process.

Any notions of individualism, romantic "self'-expression, or humanism rest on

notions of a subject that is originary, knowable, and expressible. As Julian Henriques has

noted, at the core of American individualism is a humanist belief in the unitary and

rational subject (ix-xi). Such a subject, Henriques goes on to argue, is also necessarily

founded on notions of a recoverable archive-that individual's origins that are revealable

or confessable (11-25). In fact, I would argue that the notion of the archive-and its

necessary disclosure-has become part and parcel of the American ethos and its

emphasis on personal confession and "self'-revelation. Freud and Lacan, however, both

offer profound ways to see the subject as fundamentally unknowable and inexpressible,

two characteristics that are essential to understanding the lyric "I." Rather than seeing

the subject-as the humanist heritage of Descartes has dictated-as rational and unitary,

Freud and Lacan posit a subject that is contradictory, decentered, and multiple. Both,

however, retain their sense of the recoverable archive, those originary events that create

the decentered consciousness. More importantly, both posit a universal subject, one that

is not historically or culturally situated. Cathy Urwin effectively argues, however, that

we do not need to lose the foundations of either theory in order to create a culturally

specific subject. For instance, the subject's entrance into the field of language can be

seen as derived from historical relationships (which are necessarily linguistically

founded) rather than a pre-given symbolic order (Henriques 264-322).

The split subject is still created by its entrance into language but a culturally

specific language; the subject, then, is still composed of the social, but the theory need









not be constrained by a single Oedipal Law of the Father. Rather than a pre-given or

universal subject, subjectivity is always a contingent linguistic (and, thus, cultural)

construction. Likewise, the subject does not consist of a singular archival history but of a

multiple nexus of formative subject positions-that is, in relation to any particular

formative experience, the subject exists in multiple, contradictory positions, of which no

single position can be recovered.

In the same way that the rules of any discourse delimit the sayable but do not close

the possibilities, a discursive construction delimits subject positions but does not

represent closure. In American, capitalist culture, however, the belief in a unitary,

rational, non-contradictory self-the illusion of a coherent subjectivity-is afforded a

great investment; this illusory coherent subjectivity, then, accrues meaning and power.

As Henriques argues, the subject is fragmentary and illusory, but not powerless-it is

rather "repositioned moment to moment" (288). In other words, the subject, functioning

from a position within a culture of individualism with the knowledge that the individual

is not a closed system, serves as a radical presence, what Julian Wolfreys calls an

"affirmative resistance."15

The Althusserian position that individual agency is merely bourgeois ideology is an

essentialization of both power and possible resistance and an essentialization of the

individual and the social. Henriques has effectively argued the necessity of breaking

down the individual-social binary that is the foundation of the Western, and especially

American, imaginary (11-25). Any resistance to social structures is limited if the

"individual" is a distinct construct separate from the social field. Notions of coherent


15 See Wolfreys, The Rhetoric ofAffirmative Resistance.









subjectivity necessitate a firm border between inner and outer, self and other. Theorizing

the self as part of an ongoing, non-originary discursive fabric, however, allows the

subject to function as the nexus of possible subjectivities, and to see the self as

intersubjective as well as interpenetrating the "outer" culture. The subject itself is a

defensive posture against destabilization, an imaginary container of an inner self opposed

to an external "other." The subject, that is, is always in process, never occupying a

coherent or stable position but becomes invested in its own identity. If seen as an

imaginary container, though, the subject then is also capable of being re-imagined or re-

constructed.16 Functioning as an individual, then, is a cultural performance rather than the

expression of a sovereign self. Again, this does not mean it is powerless: being aware of

the multiple ways in which one has been constructed allows the subject an active role in

its ongoingness-what Annie Finch refers to as "coherent decentering," functioning from

an intelligible position that does not collapse into a mere humanist version of the

sovereign self (Sontag 137-157).

Coherent decentering is the very foundation of the lyric voice that I am exploring.

The lyric as I see it need not be radically fragmentary or disjointed as many critics, such

as Marjorie Perloff,17 would claim in order to speak of the fragmentary or illusory

subject. The divide between coherent and fragmentary is itself illusory, a re-

essentialization of the self-other, individual-social binaries. As Judith Butler has shown,



16 I am indebted here to the work of Julia Kristeva. Though these ideas run throughout her work, I am
particularly drawing from "The Semiotic and the Symbolic" and "Negativity: Rejection" inRevolution and
Poetic Language.

17 Perloff's ideas of the avant-garde traditions are developed particularly in "Can(n)on to the Right of Us,
Can(n)on to the Left of Us: A Plea for Difference" and Traduit de l'americain: French Representations of
the 'New American Poetry' in Poetic License.









even if the stable self is an illusion, it becomes invested with potential power."1 In fact,

speaking from a coherent position allows it a cultural intelligibility and position of power

in ways that the completely fractured subject and/or text well may not.

Lyric and the Oral Tradition

In Poetic License, Marjorie Perloff makes a case for an avant-garde poetics that

does not center itself in voice or self-presence. Perloff clearly believes that experimental

"Language" poetry-poetry that, rather than speaking from a coherent voice or center,

pushes the signified/signifier gap to its extreme-represents the future of American

poetry. Her argument, though, conflates "poetry" and "lyric," reducing the very canon of

American poetics to an experimental work in which innovation is most often valued for

innovation's sake. What Perloff s argument essentially accomplishes is to take American

individualism out of American poetry. If for no other reason, this points to the necessity

of maintaining distinctions under the broader label of "poetry." Lyric and the individual

voice serve an essential role in a culture so fiercely individualistic as America. Even in

an era of poststructural criticism, American poetry and theory remain invested in a

culture of individualism. For example, Rita Felski has noted an important and relevant

difference between French feminist theory and American; the first, she claims, is based

on psychoanalysis and issues of repression while the second is grounded in issues of

autobiographys/confession and individual expressionl9-even if acknowledging a

radically decentered subject, American theory tends to search for, and retain faith in, the

18 Butler's Gender Trouble is invested in the deconstruction of any stable notions of subjectivity. At the
same time, she does not posit this as a lack of political power or voice, but rather sees the discourse in
which identity is articulated as the very locus of the political. See especially "Conclusion: From Parody to
Politics" (181-190).

19 Felski's section of Beyond Feminist Aesthetics of the same name, especially pp 19-30, highlights these
distinctions.









individual agent that is at the center of American individualism. Despite cultural

criticism, such as that of Raymond Williams, which shows the idea of "culture" to be

more productive when considered as the whole of a society's experience as opposed to

the cultivated sensibility of an elite, (Culture 295-338; Keywords 87-93) arguments such

as Perloff s keep the "poetic" as a cultivated, avant-garde domain without any bearing to

a larger public audience.

On the other side of the spectrum, Robert Pinsky has been the most prominent critic

to explore the relationship between lyric, democracy and a popular audience. His book

Democracy, Culture, and the Voice of Poetry shows how the lyric voice is central (or

should be) to the workings of a democratic society. A strong proponent of a voice-based

lyric in contemporary American society, Pinsky makes an impassioned case for the lyric

voice as the embodiment of democratic individualism-the counterforce to a mass

culture. While he does an excellent job of promoting this lyric potential-and promoting,

in general, a somewhat populist version of poetry to American society-he falls into two

problematic modes of reading. First, Pinsky sees the voice as absolutely mimetic and not

performative, a definitive binary between lyric and theatricality. The voice for Pinsky

represents a palpable presence that is transferred unproblematically to a reader. Second,

while Pinsky suggests that the lyric's individualism is simultaneously a "social" act, this

social nature is merely because of the fact that it is read. "To some extent," he suggests,

"poetry always includes the social realm because poetry's voice evokes the attentive

presence of some other, or its lack: an auditor, significantly absent or

present"(Democracy 30). While this is certainly important, it maintains the notion that

the "social" is an "individual" effect, that is individuals speaking to individuals-never









for or as. The voice itself cannot become a communal entity which is the tension

between individual and social that represents the lyric's larger possibility-especially in

terms of democratic representation.

Walter J. Ong's work in Orality and Literacy becomes important here as he

effectively argues that, rather than a "social" effect, the technology of print has

constructed an ever-more individualist consciousness: "When a speaker is addressing an

audience, the members of the audience normally become a unity, with themselves and

with the speaker [while] writing and print isolate" (73). Ong shows how print played a

dominant role in the growth of personal privacy. "The old communal oral world," he

notes, "had split up into privately claimed freeholdings. The drift in human

consciousness toward greater individualism had been served well by print" (129).

The implication for this discussion is that the lyric voice represents a drive to

maintain the effects of oral cultures-even within a culture of individualism. In fact, we

might consider the divide between "Language" poetry and "lyric" poetry as the divide

between a rhetorically, self-consciously print medium and a medium that strives to retain

its sense as an oral practice respectively. This is in no way to suggest that contemporary

poets can simply ignore, or attempt to ignore, the materiality of their medium-there is

no way to escape the fact that poetry exists as a print culture-but that poets can

foreground the effects of orality in a way that allows a more communal experience than

poetry that foregrounds the arbitrariness of language as "Language" poetry does. Oral

utterance, as Ong has noted, also retains the sense that language is never autonomous (as

New Critics would suggest) but always based on a non-verbal context.









A Poetry of Democracy

Since lyric can be seen to engage with changing audience expectations, lyric

change intersects inevitably with cultural change. The form becomes especially

important at those points in time when an audience is actively reimagining itself. The

American lyric has been especially productive as the country has reconstructed the shape

of its democracy, the mid-19th century, for instance, as the struggles over slavery and

economic disparity led to war and eventually to reconstruction. Likewise, we can point

to important moments in the struggle for women's suffrage and economic equality, the

Civil Rights movement, and Cold War-era struggles over "privacy." In each of these

instances, the shape of lyric representation embodied the struggle for political

representation; lyric voice was political voice.

Yet a distinction is often made between the "poetic" (or aesthetic) and political. In

New Critical or formalist models, for instance, the political becomes equated with

"message" or "content" as opposed to form. John Crowe Ransom uses two metaphors to

describe the lyric: a house and a democracy. Both metaphors make a distinction between

"prose-sense" and the "poetic" quality. For instance, in a house, the poetic is equal to

those changeable elements, paint, wallpaper, etc. Likewise, in a democracy the state (the

prose-sense or message) does not control the individual (the poetic) as a totalitarian state

does-the "poetic," that is, must be free and beyond the constraints of message.20 What

strikes me as curious is that neither of these two fundamental images/concepts-shelter

and government, home and society-invokes the actual people living in either of them;

they remain strictly aesthetic terms. In that way, the poem is still allowed to be divorced

20 While these are recurring images in Ransom's work, they are most clearly defined in "Criticism as Pure
Speculation" (Kaplan 450-469).









from its cultural situation: a poem may well be a democracy but not of a democracy, not

of any political use.

In The Well-Wrought Urn, Cleanth Brooks, likewise, argues that the "poetic" is that

which cannot be paraphrased, not some effect that is hung on the poem like clothes on a

rack but as the structure itself (192-214). This idea that became a New Critical staple-

that the "poetic" is the unparaphrasable aesthetic-lends itself, though, to a vision in

which the aesthetic is inherently separated neatly from the political-the political being

defined as message. I would contend that we need to view the political in two ways: as

both voice and structure-not merely message but as poetic structure, the relationship

between self and world, individual and society. Likewise, "voice" is not important as

merely identity politics-that is, the expression of some marginalized group-as many

critics would claim,21 but in the way that the tensions between individual and social are

aesthetically embodied within the voice, an aesthetic negotiation of the individual/social

dynamic. Poetic structure is simultaneously subjective and social. If we view the

political in this way, the very structuring of the poetic house, of a structure mediating a

constructed subject interacting with the world is itself the potentially radical poetics of

the lyric. I argue, then, with Rachel Blau DuPlessis that a methodology of close reading

need not necessarily force the poem out of the social domain. DuPlessis specifically uses

what she calls a social philology: "an application of the techniques of close reading to

reveal social discourses, subjectivities negotiated, and ideological debates in a poetic



21 The distinction between identity politics versus aesthetics has been widely debated. In this dissertation, I
have already noted the ways that avant-garde theorists such as Perloff maintain this binary. I would also
point, though, to the re-emergence of a Formalist school of poetics that maintains the New Critical
distinction between poetic/political. A short list of such poet-critics would include Dana Gioia, Jonathan
Holden, and Timothy Steele.









text" (Genders, Races 12). Where DuPlessis is mostly concerned with words and word

clusters, phonemes, and puns, I am mostly concerned with questions of voice and

structure.

My sense of structure here relies heavily on the notion of the poetic house to which

Ransom refers, but in the sense that structure-like a house's architecture-enacts the

subject's interaction with the social. A tightly shuttered, locked building represents a

very different posture toward the world than an open, large-windowed and terraced-style

house. Poetic construction likewise represents a means of interaction, and as such the

linguistic subject embodies all of the latent, yet fundamental, contradictions of the

American experience: public and private, self and other, individual and group. The lyric

is uniquely able to interrogate and deconstruct the individual-social binary that is

essential to enabling new visions of individual and group agency and which is integral to

the ongoing evolution of a Democratic society.

Lesley Wheeler's The Poetics of Enclosure productively defines the lyric as an

enclosure that embodies cultural forms of confinement and privacy, enacting gendered

relationships to the world. I build on Wheeler's ideas, but conflate the idea of the lyric

house with the notion of a democratic house of representatives, not merely an individual

relationship to the social sphere but a choral structure in which competing interests

struggle to find voice. Where Ransom's house is a strictly individual, solitary aesthetic

object, I would argue that the lyric house is inherently social and political. In fact, we

can think of the lyric voice as a house, an imaginary container in which subjects

(individual and group) are constructed, compete to be given voice, and thus

cultural/political representation. Rather than claiming some extra-cultural, transcendent









aesthetic, the lyric should be seen to be engaging the fundamental, historical questions of

the nature of American democracy. The shape of the lyric house necessarily engages the

democratic house.

The poets that I will examine in this project all work, in quite different ways, to

restructure this house of representatives to reveal the contradictions of the American "I"

and attempt to negotiate new possibilities for the American subject. One of the defining

characteristics of the lyric as I am defining it is based on Finch's model of "coherent

decentering" as a way of engaging a given audience. The tradition of American lyric, I

contend, is founded on placing speaker and audience not in a formal, linguistic house but

within an always changing cultural performance. Such a definition of lyric allows an

elasticity to the genre that is essential (and what makes it so culturally important) at the

same time as situating it within ongoing traditions. Other genres may have more definite

borders; lyric, though, remains an opening, a space in which things intersect, a house

where people come and go, move in or move out; there is redecoration, renovation and

reinvention. Each lyric redefines the possibilities of the house itself. That founding

gesture is one in which the reader is allowed to participate, to imagine the shape of the

house, or the democracy, along with the poet.

Rather than seeing lyric poetry in America as simply privileging the individual self,

we need to see the way that selves are constructed and examined. This puts the genre at

the very center of contemporary critical theory debates. The lyric is particularly suited to

explore issues of privacy and disclosure, of representation and voice, of individual and

group allegiance that are the heart of the American experience. Lyric is a form that

forces an investigation of the intersection of linguistic and social forces that determine









subjectivity. Identity is always a constructive, performative process-in life and in the

poem. Lyric is a structure, then, in which discursive forces and individual agency can be

explored in order to imagine new paradigms of identity. As the poets that I will examine

in this dissertation show, the American lyric serves as an invaluable cultural practice, a

space in which our deepest beliefs and visions can both be affirmed, challenged, and

changed.

To say that any of the poets in this project are most interesting as figures embedded

in historical circumstance is not to suggest that they are merely reflectors-or mere

products-of their culture; it is rather to see their poetics as most radical in their

confrontation with historical experience, as figures in time rather than beyond. The lyric

poet is inherently positioned at the nexus of contradictory cultural energies. These

energies are particularly poignant in America, a culture based on the contradictions of

identity: the American is expected to be both profoundly individual and defiantly

"American," to retain one's cultural heritage while simultaneously "melting" into an

American identity. An American national identity, founded on notions of

exceptionalism, requires that members pledge allegiance and commonality at the same

time as remaining unfailingly unique. The writers in this project all confront, through the

very structure of their work, these contradictions that compose the American ethos; each

poet, in creating an art that challenges how we read, challenges us to re-read America

itself.















WALT WHITMAN: THE INDIVIDUAL AS NATION

An oft-quoted passage from Song of Myself indicates the new poetic voice that

Walt Whitman attempted to construct in his Leaves of Grass: "Do I contradict myself? /

Very well then I contradict myself/ (I am large, I contain multitudes)" (LG 78). The "I"

here, rather than a distinct individual, is a composite persona, embracing the masses and

the complex variance inherent within such a disparate body. The "I" speaks as the nation

itself and its intrinsically contradictory diversity. At the same time, though, the title

points to the ways in which the poem insists on the speaker as an individual, the sole

creative force behind the poem. Whitman constructs a voice that is neither individualist

nor communal but both. The voice of Leaves of Grass, that is, embodies the complex

interrelation between the one and the many that defines a democracy; the poems become

a crucible in which the problems and possibilities of American democracy are constantly

refigured. But these problems and possibilities, while shifting focus perhaps, are never

resolved: the tension between individualism and group allegiance are still at the heart of

the American experience, making Whitman's poetics as relevant as ever, a soundboard

against which any reader voices his or her version of "America," an always multiple and

unresolved process. In fact, we might say that Leaves of Grass creates a perspective of

America and democracy as process rather than a product or definition, a process that each

act of reading engages anew.

Simultaneously individual and communal expression, solo and choral, Whitman's

voice at once reflects a fierce American individualism and opens itself to the democratic









masses, a radically new poetic structure that enacts the democratic ideal of equal access

and representation. At the same time, this voice mirrors an American cultural

exceptionalism and imperialism: the openness of Leaves of Grass is not only welcoming

but also often subsuming. The voice in its increasing largeness inevitably overtakes

difference and speaksfor, which places the intersection between artistic and political

representation at the forefront of Whitman's poetry. Whitman might speakfor as a way

to give voice to marginalized groups, but he also risks speaking in place of those groups,

that is speaking for rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. In many respects,

we may think of these tensions in Whitman's poetry as representing what Gary Gerstle

has referred to as "civic nationalism" and "racial nationalism."1 Within Whitman's

poetry, the impulse to define America based on the promise of equality clashes with the

need to define Americanness based on a model of racial heritage, or a melting pot in

which the right of American identity is tied to the melting of difference into a white,

Anglo identity. Whitman's poetry, then, represents a psychosocial struggle in which the

individual and the communal voices merge and compete. Both political and

psychological, the poems represent a complex narrative of emerging individual and

national identities.

Whitman specifically engages with three radical new strategies of constructing a

poetic voice that reveals these psychosocial tensions. First, Whitman challenges the

contemporaneous expectations of the reader-text relationship or the reader-author

contract. The authorial presence is seemingly no longer bound by the traditional confines

of the text as reader, likewise, is explicitly brought into the text and made an agent in the

1 Gerstle's American Crucible argues that these two distinct forms of nationalism have been defining forces
in the shaping of an American identity.









construction of the voice and the production of meaning within the poem. Rather than

presenting a finished product, Whitman suggested that his poetry must be completed by

each reader anew. His investment in the reader reflects a changing cultural perspective in

which each citizen is the source of authority rather than priests, monarchs and authors.

Second, the "I" functions as a choral voice, a composite persona that attempts to give

voice to all. By "giving voice" to the masses, Whitman's poetics embody the ideal of a

representative government in which all citizens will have a voice. Poetic representation

then is equal to political representation. Likewise, the "I" is constructed in a way that

reflects what later theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari would refer to as "rhizomatic."2

That is, the "I" has no single source, no discernible center; the center, rather, exists

everywhere within the poem. By constructing an "I" without center, Whitman refuses the

notions of margins in favor of a political state in which all voices are equal. Finally,

Whitman's "I" suggests the double nature of "choral." As mentioned, the voice is not

singular but a chorus of multitudes, but it is also choral as a reference to its musicality.

Song of Myselffor instance reflects Whitman's interest in opera, a poetic structure in

which a multitude of characters and voices all sing as "I"-what he refers to as the nature

of his poetry as "ensemble."3 It is also important to consider Song ofMyselfnot just a

song about the self but a singing of the self into being; the "I" of these poems is a

perpetual becoming, enacted with each reading of the text. In this way, Whitman has

constructed a poetics that allows each successive generation of readers to reconstruct the




2 This image of the rhizome runs throughout Deleuze and Guattari's work, but it is especially central to A
Thousand Plateaus.

3 The phrase comes from a letter to William Douglas O'Connor from March 5, 1889 (LG xxvii).









"I" at the center of these poems, and, thus, to reconstruct its version of American

democracy as well.

To a large extent, we can see these three strategies-the challenge to author-reader

conventions, the dual nature of the lyric "I," and the notion of poetic music as ensemble

performance-reflect the merging of three different traditions: the classical, the romantic,

and the "modern" (while certainly we cannot classify Whitman as a "High Modernist"

writer, the periodization of such a term proves problematic with a writer such as

Whitman). I will argue that the weaving of these three strands is what ultimately marks

what I am defining as an American lyric tradition in which the lyric voice is able to

embody the political tensions of American democracy.

It would be a naive reading of Whitman, though, to disregard the complex function

of the "Other" within this seemingly democratic voice. The "Other" who is seemingly

welcomed into the embrace of democracy serves just as often as a border to the identity

being constructed and, likewise, serves a historical function to support the claims of

cultural progress that Whitman supports. The "I" of these poems, then, is continuously at

odds with itself as it both merges with these endless figures in a democratic embrace and

uses them as the "Other" from which to construct its own identity.

Two sets of competing narratives play themselves out through Whitman's poetics.

First, we can read Whitman's Americanness as an example of a postcolonial anxiety,

revealing the need to break free from British and European cultural/intellectual/artistic

control as Whitman envisions himself the new Adam giving voice to the New World. At

the same time, though, Whitman's ideas of "progress" (which affords America its

increasing status as bearer of the "modern") necessarily involve notions of cultural









evolution. To give credence to this narrative of progress, he must not break free from

Europe but, rather, claim America as taking on the mantle of European control.4 Second,

Whitman's poetics also attempt to construct a universal-ahistorical and acultural-

democratic subject, allowing equal access and representation for all. Conversely, his

belief in progress also means he must see figures as radically historical, identifying

groups as signposts in a historical narrative of progress from which America has emerged

as the "new" or the "modern."5 Rather than particulars, then, groups often become

identified as figures within a historical narrative; for instance, the Native American

serves as the "child" that modernity has surpassed-both source and artifact.

This voice, then, embodies the fragmentation of the mid-19th century marked, as

Eric Foner says, by "the interplay of race, class, and political ideology in a society

undergoing both a sectional confrontation and an economic revolution" (9), a society in

which the gaps between rich and poor, capital and labor, owner and slave, north and

south threatened its own dissolution. At the same time, America was attempting to

construct its own identity as separate, and exceptional, from the rest of the globe, forcing

a division between increasingly native and global impulses. Most importantly, these

tensions have never been resolved: the history of America has been an ongoing cyclic

reconfiguration of these essential confrontations between the individual and the state, the

one and the many, the nation and the globe, individualism and group allegiance.

Whitman's poetics, then, remain as central as ever to understanding the American ethos.




4 For a useful discussion of the effects of the postcolonial experience on U.S. writers, see Buell (196-201).

5 For a thorough discussion of the manifestation of this narrative of progress that fixes figures as static
representations in much 19th-century America literature, See Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms.









A Lyric for the New Democracy

The 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass did not bear a name or a signature, only an

etching of Whitman himself standing confidently in workman's clothes. The effect of

such a radical gesture was to suggest that the book did not represent a creation by a

particular author but rather was the author himself. "Camerado, this is no book, / Who

touches this touches a man," (LG 424) he says in "So Long," the poem that ended every

version of Leaves of Grass since the 1860 edition. Again and again, throughout the

collection, Whitman attempts to create the sense that the text is the actual life, not a

representation. Many critics, then, reduce the poems to personal utterance, a

phenomenological revelation of a pre-existing self. For instance, James Miller refers to

Whitman as "ever the confessional" (Leaves of Grass: America's Lyric-Epic 113) and

Robert Phillips suggests that "Whitman may have been America's first blatantly

confessional poet" (3). Folsom similarly repeats Whitman's claim: "The book the reader

holds is Whitman himself" (MS 24, emphasis mine). Such a critical approach comprises

only a small part of Whitman criticism as a whole, but what is important is that Whitman

promotes such a reading even as the work clearly goes beyond such claims. In his 1855

"Preface" he claimed, "I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality

to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains" (LG 624), suggesting a new

author-reader relationship, supposedly unmediated by artifice or convention. Throughout

Leaves of Grass, curtains are undraped and clothes are pulled away to reveal the "real,"

Whitman, the "naked self."

Certainly the self-revelatory character of these poems is important but the figure of

"I" is much more complex than Whitman's own claims might suggest. The question is

not whether Whitman intends for the reader to equate the "I" with an individual









personality, but for what purpose. Even as astute a critic as Allen Grossman has

suggested that Whitman's "poetic authority is J.S. Mill's 'overheard' soliloquy of feeling"

(LG 881). But clearly, rather than working within this romantic model of the lyric,

Whitman's poetry engages, if not assaults, the reader directly. In fact, if we use the

traditional signposts of lyric poetry-overheard utterance and musicality-Whitman's

poetry might not be considered lyric at all. Both music and speech, though, function in

Leaves of Grass as a lyric performance in which the reader is drawn into relationship

with the speaker: "You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me" (LG 624).

Rather than a private, overheard utterance, Whitman is suggesting a communal act,

focusing heavily on the oral quality of speech that, as Walter J. Ong has noted, creates a

shared experience as opposed to the isolation of the printed page (115-135).

Whitman does hold certain poetic sensibilities in common with Wordsworth:

poetry should be of everyday events, in a language of real "men."6 But rather than a

poetic introspection, Whitman speaks directly to-and for-his audience, performing a

particular version of selfhood for a contemporaneous audience and attempting, in fact, to

create a new audience and thus a new cultural identity; the poems are not only a response

to Emerson's call for a new poetic expression7 but are actually an effort to develop a new

national identity. Literature for Whitman is not the reflection of an existing culture but

the means of forming culture. His poetry attempts to both speak to, and for, America.

The American ethos to which he is speaking is integrally grounded in notions of




6 These claims for poetry are developed in Wordsworth's "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" (Kaplan 256-275).

7 This call for a new form of distinctly "American" literature was the focus of Emerson's "The American
Scholar" (51-71).









personality and individualism; to engage with such a culture, then, his poetics are

likewise grounded.

"Music," or poetic structure, for Whitman is not a case of an a priori formal quality

as had been true for much European (and earlier American) poetry but an effect that

suggests a spontaneous imaginative act. That is, Whitman insists on the individual

imagination as the source of poetry and music. He, likewise, must speak as the master of

his own creative pursuits, praising his originality over any sense of tradition. Especially

in the 1855 version of Song of Myself this sense of originality is created by the lack of

structural definition; the poem has no numbered sections and moves freely from

experience to experience all revolving around the "I"s seeming definition of itself,

progressing, as Betsy Erkkila notes, "by image association rather than by cause-and-

effect" (90); the center of the poem exists equally everywhere, and "meaning" is

generated not in a linear progression but as accumulation or, as he suggests within Song

of Myself centrifugally and centripetally.8 Whitman's poetics, then, engage with a

Jeffersonian model of individualism and self-sovereignty. This very notion of the

creative personality that Whitman helped produce was concurrent with, and reflected, the

evolution of an American national identity.9 Despite the body of critical work that

expounds upon Whitman's "mystical" or "transcendental" orientation as distinct from

historical cultural/political formations,10 what poems like Song ofMyself reveal are the


8 These terms come from the 1855 version of "Song of Myself," line 1007 in which he refers to himself as
"One of that centripetal and centrifugal gang" (LG 702).

9 See a thorough, parallel discussion of self-sovereignty, imperialism and the work of Herman Melville in
Dimock, Empire for Liberty.

10 Allen, The New Walt Whitman Handbook and Studies in Leaves of Grass; Matthiesson, The American
Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age ofEmerson and Whitman; Miller, James E. Jr. A Critical
Guide to Walt Whitman.









ways in which the poetic voice dramatizes a culture, a voice defined through notions of

democratic individualism.

Alexis de Tocqueville seemed to be speaking prophetically of Whitman when he

suggested that the literature of democracy "will never demonstrate the order, regularity,

skill and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be ignored or

despised." The poetry of a democracy, he continues, will be made of a "rough and

untutored energy" (qtd Gray 14). The poetics of Leaves of Grass attempts to embody the

unruly yet optimistic inclusiveness of the new democracy; his poetry must break free of

tradition, especially European models that had dictated poetry until that point. In an 1866

letter to W.D. O'Connor discussing Leaves of Grass, Matthew Arnold expressed the

conservative perspective against which Whitman's verse was working:

While you think it is [Whitman's] highest merit that he is so unlike anyone else, to
me this seems to be his demerit [ .. ] a great original literature America will never
get in this way, and her intellect must inevitably consent to come, in a considerable
measure, into the European movement. That she may do this and yet be an
independent intellectual power, not merely as you say an intellectual colony of
Europe, I cannot doubt; and it is on her doing this, and not on her displaying an
eccentric and violent originality that wise Americans should in my opinion set their
desires. (MS 82)

But, for Whitman, new ways of reading actually indicated new approaches to society,

and, thus, new ways of writing were essential. The American character could not thrive

under the cultural standards of Europe. The hierarchy of author-reader is broken down in

an attempt to invite the reader into the process of making poetry, Whitman's poems not

so much vessels of meaning but the event from which meaning might be made. The poet

must not serve as a figure like a king or priest who hands down meaning to the masses

but should actually give voice to the multitude. In other words, Whitman believed that

just as a new democratic society demanded a new citizenship, one in which the authority









becomes invested in the individual, so too literature demanded a new readership, one in

which meaning stems from the reader. Not only must he distance himself from tradition

in order to create such a poetry, he must disinvest himself of authority: "He most honors

my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher" (LG 706). Similarly, Whitman

attempts to help the reader become an active participant in the making of meaning:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origins of all
poems,
I ... ]
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand .... nor look
through the eyes of the dead .... nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, or take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. (LG 663)

The reader here represents both the active reader and the new active democratic citizen.

Knowledge is constructed by the reader (not second- or third-hand) and not stored in the

static realm of books. Each reader, as each democratic citizen, must serve as his or her

own filter-both source and judge of knowledge, an idea that embodies a Jeffersonian

philosophy of an individualist democracy.

Likewise, in terms of subject matter, Tocqueville suggested that a democratic

poetry must necessarily be about the poet himself, a singular embodiment of the

democratic mass. Considering Tocqueville's claims, Richard Gray goes on to argue that

"the only way in which [Whitman] could participate in a common cultural effort, he

believed, was by behaving as a supreme individualist" (20). One of the great tensions

and innovations of Whitman's poetics, then, is his attempt to be profoundly

individualistic at the same time as he claims a national identity, the way in which these

two interpenetrate, the one becoming the many.









Even the terms by which Whitman affirms his own individual nature become

ambiguous: "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos" (LG 680).1 The

terms by which he defines this individual move from the biographical name, the historical

individual, to a national affiliation, followed by two more ambiguous adjectives, a rough

and a kosmos, wrapped in a syntax that clouds the relationship between terms. For

instance, the term "roughs" seems particularly multiple. On one hand, it surely represents

a class marker, the rough representing the manual laborer. Whitman aligns himself with

the nation's workers rather than the elite. Likewise, in mid-19th century America, the

term carries with it homosexual overtones. In both cases, Whitman positions himself at

the margins of national identity. On the other hand, the term "roughs" can refer to a

national character-that Americans are the roughs. So, the term can equally suggest a

group identity within the nation-one of those roughs within America-and a national

identity, suggesting that America itself is one of the rough, unpolished new countries, a

national identity that Whitman positions against what he sees as the overly refined

sensibilities of Europe. "A kosmos" presents a similar ambiguity. Is Whitman, the

biographical figure, a kosmos within himself, or does his notion of self begin to transcend

the physical, to reach into the kosmos? Or, is it actually America that becomes a kosmos?

The syntax itself allows these multiple readings so that, even as the self is seemingly

affirmed, it dissolves into ever-larger spheres.

Constructing a New Reader

This ambiguity allows Whitman to speak in multiple ways, but it also puts the

reader in a new position within the text. Throughout Leaves of Grass, the reader

1 The terms and syntax have become much less open-ended in later versions of the poem. For instance, the
final version is "Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son" (LG 45).









becomes central to the construction of this poetic voice and of meaning itself-meaning

not as a static entity, but an ongoing process of dialogue between text and reader. In

some senses, the speaker of these poems reaches out beyond the confines of the page.

For instance, in "Trickle Drops," the speaker's blood spills onto the page and beyond:

"confession drops, / Stain every page, stain every song I sing, every word I say, bloody

drops / Let them know your scarlet heat, let them glisten, / Saturate them with yourself all

ashamed and wet" (LG 107). The physicality of the speaker actually drips from the page.

In the context of the "Calamus" cluster of poems in which this poem resides, though, we

might also consider this blood as a sexual fluid, so that the poem is a confession of one's

sexuality and a masturbatory image12 projected toward the reader who responds

"ashamed and wet." These poems represent a new national identity marked by

sexuality-a nation in which its puritan roots meet with a new model of openness and

inclusion.

Throughout Leaves of Grass, the borders between personal and public are tested.

James E. Miller Jr. refers to Leaves of Grass as a lyric-epic, the first half denoting (for

Miller) the private, and the second denoting the public. But this binary is constantly

undercut by the poems themselves as the "I" becomes the very ground on which the

culture itself walks. By the end of Song ofMyself, for instance, the speaker has become

air, dusk and dirt, claiming finally that to find him we must look for him beneath our

boot-soles. Is the "I" then public or private? Whitman's poetics insist that it is both.

The poems are seemingly spoken directly to each reader, "Whoever you are

holding me now in hand" (LG 99), at the same time that this reader seems to be an

12 For a thorough discussion of the poem as masturbatory act, see Erkkila "Public Love: Whitman and
Political Theory" (EW 113-144).









intimate, particular reader: "This hour I tell things in confidence, / I might not tell

everybody, but I will tell you" (LG 676) which opens up the question of who this "you" is

if not a democratic everybody. Likewise as the voice enacts a communal speech, it also

stems from a more "personal" relationship and loss: "I loved a certain person ardently

and my love was not returned, / Yet out of that I have written these songs" (LG 115). At

times, the speaker is on the periphery of the reader's consciousness, almost as a stalker:

"Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you ... All is recalled as

we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured, / You grew up with me, were a

boy with me or a girl with me ... I am to see to it that I do not lose you" (LG 109). At

other times, he is in a direct, sensual contact with the reader: "thrusting me beneath your

cloth, / Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip ... For thus

merely touching you is enough, is best" (LG 100). The speaker longs "to infuse myself

among you till I see it common for you to walk hand in hand" (LG 113) as if he attempts

to reach out to the reader in both sexual embrace and in democratic solidarity: "I will

make divine magnetic lands, / With the love of comrades" (LG 100). The nature of this

union is left open in way that, as Sherry Ceriza notes, allows readers to feel included

rather than excluded. Ceriza argues that words such as "comrade" or "lover" "signify

according to their context and to their reader" (EW 107) rather than designating a singular

definition and, thus, allow the reader to construct the poetry for him or herself. The

amativenesss" or "adhesiveness"13 of these poems functions on multiple levels

simultaneously, from an individual declaration of sexuality to a communal bonding

indicative of democratic possibility, but all revolving around the notion of human contact.


13 The terms adhesive and amative are used quite frequently in Whitman's prose to signify democracy.









Contact, in fact, is one of the prime drives of a poem like "Song of Myself:" "I will

go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, / I am mad for it to be in

contact with me" (LG 662). At the same time that the speaker reaches out from the page

for this contact, though, the reader is invited to enter into union with the text/speaker:

"Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as I pass, / Be not afraid of my

body." (LG 96). In the poem that would later become "Song for Occupations," the

speaker says

Come closer to me,
Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,
Yield close and closer and give me the best you possess

This is unfinished business with me. (LG 710)

The effect of this passage is to draw the reader into closer, and more intimate, contact-a

give and take between author and reader that is "unfinished business." Erkkila has noted

that the "Calamus" poems, like the "Enfans" poems, suggest forms of affection that "are

neither private nor always sexual and genital but public, erotic, and multiple14-a practice

of everyday life that is visible and pervasive" (EW 131). At the same time, however, the

"Calamus" poems enact a sexual covering, as the speaker engages with his own sexual

uncertainties:

Sullen and suffering hours-(I am ashamed-but it is useless-I am
what I am;)
Hours of torment-I wonder if other men ever have the like,
out of the like feelings? (LG 755)

To some extent, we may see the desire to create a marginless poetics as a desire to allow

an uncertain or unaccepted sexuality a place, or voice, in the new nation. Likewise, as

14 Though Emerson considered Leaves of Grass to be a work of American genius, he believed that
Whitman should remove the "Calamus" section from the collection, pointing to the challenge these poems
present to a reader. See Pease (162-163).









the speaker confesses his own homosexuality and uncertainty about it, in "A Woman

Waits for Me," the speaker also engages in a heterosexual union that becomes

emblematic of both a creative and national force as well as a release of personal energy:

I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for these States,
I press with slow rude muscle,
I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties,
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long
accumulated within me.
Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself. (LG 88)

While not ignoring the problematic fact that this poem both enacts a violent sexuality and

relegates the woman to the role of child-bearer,15 I would like to suggest that the body in

these poems becomes the source of a democratic and creative energy. Sexuality, if these

poems are viewed in the context of the others, also refuses an essentialized categorization

and does not define the subject. Physical/sexual embrace becomes emblematic of an

inclusive democratic embrace. It is this embrace that allows the divide between social

and individual to become porous, to create what Michael Moon refers to as "the complex

fluidity of identity," (LG 856). This fluidity, this openness of expression, allows the

voice to become profoundly communal while remaining its sense of individuality.

Toward the "Modern"

Whitman is the first major poet to radically open the lyric house, or lyric structure,

so that the subject at the center of the poetics is literally opened to the world: "Unscrew

the locks from the doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!" (LG 46) (a

phrase that radically challenges any thinking of the poem as a self-contained unit). The

poems enact an open exchange between self and other, or as Stephen Mack argues, blur


15 While beyond the scope of this dissertation, there is much excellent criticism of the problematic relation
of Whitman to women. See, for instance, Vivian Pollak, "Whitman's Visionary Feminism" (BB 92-111).









"the boundary between externally perceived objects and internally experienced emotions.

He has erased the subject-object distinctions" (26). The lyric voice, through such

association, merges with the external world and demands, then, a poetic structure large

enough, and free enough, to likewise encompass the world. In a letter to William

Douglas O'Connor in 1887, he claimed that the Leaves were like "a great city to modern

civilization & a whole combined clustering paradoxical identity a man, a woman" (LG

xxvii). Ransom's poetic house then has been opened out into the vast, sprawling growth

of the population. Whitman's lyric is not a pre-determined structure but one that grows

in accordance to changing needs and, like a city, the poems grew in relation to the

demands of the nation.

As poem becomes city or community or nation, poetic liberation likewise becomes

metonymic of national liberation. In the 1872 preface, Whitman says "I have in my mind

to run through the chants of this volume (if ever completed) the thread-voice, more or

less audible, of an aggregated, inseparable, unprecedented, vast, composite, electric

Democratic Nationality" (LG 651). Likewise, in the previously mentioned letter to

O'Connor, he refers to his revolutionary poetics not as an individual utterance but as an

"ensemble" (LG xxvii). Even as Whitman engaged a culture increasingly founded on

notions of individualism and personal liberty, then, the "I" works in multiple ways,

speaking as self, nation, globe, and cosmos. Certainly the creation of a voice that

functions simultaneously on such levels is one of Whitman's great poetic achievements,

but it is also what manifests the psychosocial tensions of both Whitman and an American

culture.









Even as he proclaims that he celebrates himself, the speaker of Leaves of Grass

asserts that "every atom belonging to me belongs to you" (LG 662) counteracting the

notion of supreme individuality or difference. In a tangibly political reading, this latter

claim is one of an egalitarian democratic society in which access to the nation's bounties

belongs to everyone, a socialist democracy. Yet in the discourse of mid-19th century

America, such a democracy also reflected an imperialist tendency. The nature of

democracy, that is, was naturally to expand. The nation was expanding its borders

westward just as the voice of these poems, with its insistently inclusive structure, was

gathering everything into its fold. Whitman clearly saw the nature of American

democracy (and, in fact, he views the terms America and democracy as synonymous16)

such that Cuba, Mexico, and Canada would happily fall into, and become part of,

America. By the time of"A Passage to India," we see that this vision has encompassed

the whole globe. This reading certainly supports Whitman's radically accumulative

structure in which the poem reaches larger and larger areas of experience, as if the poem

itself represents what Stephen Mack suggests is "the cosmic analogue of American

imperialism, manifest destiny gone stellar" (46).

In the process of such radical accumulation, however, the "individual" is actually

lost. The "I" of these poems can embrace everything in general but nothing specifically,

claiming the central importance of the "I" even while showing the "I" to be without

attribute. As Wai-Chee Dimock has argued, "Whitman's democratic poetics, in short,

can have no access to that chaotic world of special loves and hates [. .] If nothing else,

Whitman makes us long for what he does not and cannot offer: an ethics of preference"

16 In "Democratic Vistas," Whitman says "I shall use the words America and democracy as convertible
terms" (LG 758).









(BB 78). Even as Whitman insists upon individualism as the basis of his poetics and

American democracy itself, he must also create a categoric, non-contingent self upon

which the full rights of democracy can be conferred without qualification.

Interestingly, the speaker makes a distinction between some internal self and the act

of observation and contact. In what would become Section 4 of "Song of Myself," the

speaker notes that the many types of contact with the world, "Trippers and askers ...

People I meet ... The latest news ... My dinner ." are not the "essential" self: "They

come to me days and nights and go from me again, / But they are not the Me myself' (LG

664). John Stephen Mack suggests that the self in Whitman's poems is both subject and

object, a subjective "I" and an objective "Me." In this way, the "Poet may differentiate

himself as an object available for introspection and translation" (26). This distinction

also creates a "me" that Dimock suggests is the subject upon which we can /must confer

democratic rights, while the "I" is the agent of such democratic considerations. While his

poetics reflect this political egalitarianism throughout the many versions of Leaves of

Grass, it is most true of his 1855 version in which any sense of an ordering, or

hierarchical, principle is missing.17 The seemingly endless listing is clearly manifest in

what would become section 16 of Song of Myselfin which the speaker declares himself

of old, young, foolish, wise, maternal, paternal, child, man, southerner, northerner:

A boatman over the lakes or bays or along coasts. ... a Hoosier, a Badger,
a Buckeye,
A Louisianan or Georgian, a poke-easy from sandhills and pines,
At home on Canadian snowshoes or up in the bush, or with fisherman


1 The issue of arrangement and structure of the collection seems to be an issue with which Whitman
struggled throughout its many versions. The 1860 version was the first to display any kind of ordering or
structured arrangement. The emergence of the "Calamus" theme and, more importantly, the "Drum-taps"
poems that struggled specifically with the nation at war, seem to have been the strongest impetus for his
increasing sense of order to the poems and to the collection as a whole.









off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of iceboats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine or the Texan
ranch,
Comrade of Californians. comrades of free northwesterners, loving
their big proportions,
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen-comrade of all who shake hands
and welcome to drink and meat;
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfulest,
A novice beginning experiment of myriads of seasons,
of every hue and trade and rank, of every caste and religion,
Not merely of the New World but of Africa Europe or Asia. ... a
wandering savage
A farmer, mechanic, or artist. .a gentleman, sailor, over or quaker,
A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician or priest. (LG 674)

A catalog such as this-what Walter Grunzweig refers to as a "census" or "an inventory

of American (and world) culture" (EW31 )-defies us to know the particular Whitman; if

the speaker responds to everything equally we may say that he responds to nothing in

particular. And without such responses we can never actually know the individual. Even

the insistent use of the indefinite article "a" instead of "the" suggests a detachment from

particulars even with a list of specifics. In fact, we may see such listings as an

affirmation of a laissez-faire economy and culture: the subject approves of everything

equally, without discrimination; the universe is expanded and embraced infinitely and

optimistically. Oddly, this equates to a passive speaker who claims no agency. Mack

argues:

The idea of human agency seems strikingly absent from Whitman's democratic
vision in 1855 and 1856. The self he represents in the first two editions seems
either to observe events from a distance or only passively to participate in them. .
.Nowhere in the first two editions of Leaves of Grass do we find a poet who must
grapple between alternatives and decide among them. (60-61)

The speaker, even in his optimism, refuses to distinguish himself from evil:

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet
of wickedness also.
What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?









Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent. (LG 44)

Even as the poet here embraces his whole world, he will (must?) stand indifferent

to moral questions. In fact, the very notion of a democratically defensible subject for

Whitman lends itself (or mirrors) an expansionist or imperialistic mindset: the view of

American democracy as "the future" or "the modern" combined with a passive, laissez-

faire approach of equal opportunity created what Dimock notes is a parallel between the

American "narrative of human progress" and "the narrative of Jacksonian imperialism"

(20). Just as Whitman's speaker embraces everything and everyone equally, that voice

attempts to become everyone equally: the slave, the woman, the native. Even as he

espouses the rights of such individuals, the act of a composite persona appropriating their

voices embodies the imperial mindset of the 19th century.

Whitman's multiplicitous and open voice is, to a large extent, a response to

Emerson's call for a new, American literature: "We have listened too long to the courtly

muses of Europe" (70) (even as Emerson's own poetics still largely mirrored European

traditions). In a catalog such as the one quoted above, Whitman is giving voice to the

new continent, the experience of the new Adam. The continent itself becomes a beacon

for a future global utopia in which all are welcome. The voice in section 24 of Song of

Myself can be read as the poet speaking for the multitude, the voice of democracy itself

serving as the channel through which all will have voice:

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas'd and despairing of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the
father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform'd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,









Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.

Through me forbidden voices
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd. (LG 46)

Just as Whitman's poetry grants access to subjects normally cast out of poetic decorum,

in Whitman's new world all will have a voice and all will be unashamedly present. This

act of inclusion, of course, represents a linguistic challenge. Especially in Song of

Myself, Whitman suggests that no language is large enough to contain the self18 (and,

thus, the new democracy). As he suggests in the final section, "I too am untranslatable"

(LG 77). The accumulative, expansive language responds to the first frustrated attempts

to find a language for, or give voice to, the New World-an alien world to which the

European languages could not respond. The poems draw from native languages, then,

and create an inventory of the New World as he sees it.

More importantly, rather than "expressing" a pre-existing subject (self or nation),

the poetic strategy is one of singing the subject into being: "My voice goes after what my

eyes cannot reach, / With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of

worlds" (LG 48). Song ofMyselfbecomes an operatic drama of a self woven and

unwoven through the singing itself: "Now I will do nothing but listen, / To accrue what I

hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it" (LG 48). Everything that this

speaker experiences actually becomes the speaker in the process of the poem, so that

when Whitman says "I sing myself," it is a literal action, and the song itself is woven out

of the external world, just as the child in "There Was a Child Went Forth:" "There was a



18 Whitman referred to Leaves of Grass as primarily a "language experiment" in which the self (or the
"body electric") is immersed in linguistic energies and syntactical streams. See Folsom, "Introduction,
Recircuiting the American Past" (14).









child went forth every day / And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became"

(LG 306). Listen to the repetitions of this theme throughout Song ofMyself. "Absorbing

all to myself and for this song" (LG 35), "And of these one and all I weave the song of

myself' (LG 39), and "Now I will do nothing but listen / to accrue what I hear into this

song" (LG 48). This process of becoming is not a static self-definition but a self in flux.

Just as "agonies are one of my changes of garments" (LG 58), so too we can assume are

his joys and ecstasies: "Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity" (LG 50 ).

This voice, then, does not equate to a static identity, but suggests identity as eternally in

flux, an identity that does not rely on a division between inner and outer, individual and

social. More importantly, if the subject here is a dynamic interrelation between

individual and social, or subject and object, it is never finished, never fully defined. In

that way, Whitman has created a voice that continues to live, continues to be redefined in

each successive reading, by each successive generation of readers, until at last Whitman

himself vanishes from the text as he does at the end of "Song for Occupations" and "the

psalm sings instead of the singer [. .] the script preaches instead of the preacher" (LG

712). And as any new reading redefines Whitman, so, too, it redefines America.

It is important to remember, though, that since "America" and "Democracy" are

synonymous terms for Whitman, this future global utopia is ultimately an expansion of

the United States. In Whitman's global vision, all figures-racial, gendered, sexual, and

religious-become subsumed in his master narrative of "democracy" (a term that Donald

Pease notes is "more prescriptive than descriptive" (153) for Whitman). His vision of the

nation and the globe is ultimately of the melting pot that figuratively melts away

difference: to become the "new," the "modern," or the "democratic citizen," the









individual must assimilate to Whitman's version of the global, "American" dream

(remembering that America is more a democratic ideal than a geographic or political

entity). Once entered into this American dream, though, Whitman will grant that "every

atom belonging to me as well belongs to you." These tensions, again, reveal the dual

narratives of racial nationalism and civic nationalism; in the case of the latter, Whitman's

America is ultimately a socialist democracy that runs contrary to the Jeffersonian

individualist tradition. In the case of the former, America is constructed out of troubling

relationships with a distinct sense of"otherness."

Whitman and the "Other"

This idea of becoming American is certainly complicated at the point in history that

Whitman is writing, as racial, sexual, economic and class divisions of the mid-19th

century began to tear at the fabric of the American people. As Erkkila notes, "The

political union to which [Whitman] stakes his identity as the poet of democracy began to

dissolve under the pressure of slavery and other contradictions in the body politic of the

American republic" (EW 124). Slavery, the oppression of women, the destruction of

native populations were all imprinted on the poetics. On one hand, Whitman's version of

democracy certainly cannot bear the existence of slavery, slaughter, or oppression; his

political claims depend on notions of equality and universal suffrage. On the other hand,

he needs the image of these groups as primal source from which the modem democracy

obtains its rights of power; Whitman's narrative of progress needs figures for the

primitive past, images that point toward the movement of civilization. In the 1872

"Preface"19 Whitman notes the importance of the poetic image in developing cultural


19 Though the 1872 version did not specifically have a Preface, his published letter to Emerson was clearly
meant to serve that function.









narratives: "I say the modern Image-Making creation is indispensable to fuse and express

the modem Political and Scientific creation" (LG 649). Images of the native and the

slave, then-while treated differently and serving a different function in Whitman's

narrative-share one important aspect: however problematic their contemporary situation

may have been, it was unavoidable at best or, at worst, a necessary evil that served the

growth of the Republic.

Even in Whitman's welcoming embrace, groups are represented in troubling ways.

A prime example is his worldly lists in "Salut Au Monde!":

You Hottentot with clicking palate! you wooly-hair'd hordes! [. .]
You human forms with the fathomless ever-impressive countenances
of brutes! [ .]
You Austral negro, naked, red, sooty, with protrusive lip, groveling,
seeking your food! [ .]
You plague-swarms in Madras, Nankin, Kaubul, Cairo!
You haggard, uncouth, untutor'd Bedowee!
You benighted roamers of Amazonia! you Patagonian! you
feejeeman!
I do not prefer others so very much before you either,
I do not say one word against you away back where you stand,
(You will come forward in due time to my side). (LG 125)

The primitive here is a "brute," "red, sooty" and "groveling," "uncouth," and "untutor'd."

There is a doubleness to the gesture as Whitman welcomes, "in due time," all of these

figures into his fold even as they remain figures of the savage past. They must come

forward to be with the modern Whitman, to stand by his side, not the other way around.

Guiyou Huang argues, "Whitman upholds a more inclusive and receptive attitude toward

other races, but only under the condition of domination by the American race." Huang

goes on to suggest that Whitman represents "a Darwinian streak-only the fittest of

individuals can qualify and survive to become members of the new American race" (EW

166). More importantly, though, these figures are represented in such a way to serve as a









border or defining limit to the American or "modern" identity he is constructing; that is,

these figures become the borders for a new national identity. Such representations are at

the complex heart of his contradictory democratic impulses.

These cultural images afford Whitman the narrative of progress in which America

finds its birthright and out of which the "modern" democratic subject is born. At the

same time, Whitman knew that his civic nationalism could not accommodate the

contemporary treatment of natives and slaves. His representations, then, also provide the

means to explain/justify such troubling aberrances and develop his racial nationalism.

One of the most visible tensions in Whitman's body of poetry is his relationship

with the Native American. The native serves for Whitman as the raw, authentic

experience of the new world, a savage expression of the wilderness. Indians serve as a

counter to the artificiality of civilization, serving instead as the representative of "nature":

"I see swarms of stalwart chieftains, medicine-men and warriors, / As flitting by like

clouds of ghosts (Race of the woods, the landscapes free, and the falls!)" (LG 440).

At the same time he refuses them definition as "American." America is not a place or a

particular political entity for Whitman but an ideal to be enacted; America as landscape

or location is much more metaphor for the ideal of democracy, and the native, thus, is

capable of becoming an American but is not inherently granted that status through

birthright.

In a late poem, "Yonnondio,"20 Whitman shows the historical Indian to be in need

of preservation: "No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future:) / Yonnondio!

Yonnondio!-unlimn'd they disappear" (LG 440) In other words, it is necessary to


20 Whitman notes that the term is an Iroquois word meaning "Lament for the Aborigines (LG 440).









portray these past, noble figures lest they disappear. The contemporary figure, however,

is readily expunged. The disappearance of the Indian was regrettable but was also

inevitable; like the black, there is no true means of coexistence in the new, white

"democracy." Of course U.S. treatment of the native casts a large shadow on the

optimistic vision that Whitman attempted to portray, but Whitman portrays this as a

necessary part of cultural progress. Democracy as the future is to be welcomed and the

"savage" (while perhaps noble) is to be subsumed into the "modern." Those natives who

do not adapt to the emerging vision of "Americanness" remain an ahistorical figure,

serving as a backdrop against which progress is played out rather than gaining any

substantive access.

At the same time, however, Whitman turns to the Native as source of the nation. In

this way, the native conflates with Whitman's notion of woman, a figure that literally

gives birth to the nation but is not granted a role in its development. Both the native and

the woman serve as figures of a "natural" state, an unchanging source of a modern state.

He says of "the friendly and flowing savage" that "Wherever he goes men and woman

accept and desire him, / They desire he should like them and touch them and speak to

them and stay with them." Even as the world progresses past it, the Native offers "words

simple as grass .uncombed head and laughter and naivete [ .] the common modes

and emanations, / They descend in new forms from the tips of his fingers" (LG 697). In a

very similar fashion, woman is an image of an unencumbered past:

The female contains all qualities and tempers them .... she
is in her place .... she moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veiled .. .she is both passive and active
.... she is to conceive daughters as well as sons and sons
as well as daughters. (LG 734)









Her role as motherhood is both figurative of a national origin but also quite literally to

populate the new country:

She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Her daughters or their daughters' daughters .. who knows who
shall mate with them?
who knows through the centuries what heroes may come from
them? (LG 736)

In relation to the 19th-century "cult of domesticity," Whitman relies on notions of

"Good Motherhood" as a solution to the problem of modernity, a figure of origin and

continuity in the shifting passages of modernity. Woman serves as the source of male

energy that then constructs and expands the democracy. Women are represented as

selfless, or as Vivian Pollak says, an "archetypally gratified and gratifying mother" (BB

99). Women, granted authority within the home but not within the public sphere, serve as

a reassuringly continuous subjectivity that does not challenge social conventions in the

way that he, as a man, is able to. Woman serves as a counterpoint to the muscular, manly

new world; native and woman become historical figures lacking agency.

Whitman's poetics manifest a more troubling relationship with slavery and

African-Americans. Certainly his stance toward the abolitionist movement and the Free

Soil party changed throughout his career,21 but whether blacks were to be accepted in the

universal democratic suffrage always remained questionable. For instance, many critics

point toward Whitman's 1858 editorial concerning Oregon's new constitution as a

definitive statement of Whitman's feelings about black citizenship:




21 When Whitman worked for The Brooklyn Eagle in the 1840's, he endorsed the paper's expansionist
views. In 1848, though, Whitman had become a Free Soil Democrat. He was fired from the paper for an
editorial that espoused his new political views. See Pease (150-51).









Who believes that the Whites and Blacks can ever amalgamate in America? Or
who wishes it to happen? Nature has set an impassable seal against it. Besides, is
not America for the Whites? And is it not better to be so? As long as the Blacks
remain here how can they become anything like an independent and heroic race?
There is no chance for it. (qtd. Klammer 16)

Is this the same individual that houses the runaway slave in section 10 of Song of Myself?

The same person that welcomes the slave to sit next him at the table? There are several

important aspects to note in terms of this relationship. First, the presence of African-

Americans in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass actually lessens with each progressive

edition. His vision of democracy demanded more and more distance from the black

experience. Secondly, as Jonathan Arac has argued, the role of the slave in section 10

remains oddly objective; that is, the slave becomes an object through which the speaker

derives identity and moral authority. Every verb has "I" as its subject and the slave (or

some part thereof) as its object; the slave is without agency even as he is granted safety

(BB 46). In fact, the figure of the Black not only affords the speaker nobility but is also

incorporated into his sense of identity: rather than the Black's liberation serving as its

own goal, it becomes metaphoric of the drive for a sovereign subjectivity. Whitman is

willing not to merely speak for the slave but to appropriate his voice: "I myself become

the wounded [slave]." (LG 692). In a paradoxical gesture, the figure of the other

becomes both part of an emerging American identity at the same time as it is cast as a

backdrop against which the new subject can define itself.

It is, of course, his own Anglo-American subjectivity that allowed Whitman to

make the claims he did in the first place. We have seen the way that he grapples with

notions of center and marginality by denying the very figure of center. His vision accepts

or admits no outsider status. But how can we possibly align this utopian vision with the

material realities of his world? Can the slave experience/envision America in the same









way that Whitman can? As Alicia Ostriker has argued, "High and low, rich and poor, the

enslaved and the free are for him all actors in a pageant. Such a solution is beautiful but

useless to one who is a slave. Happily independent of institutions [ .. .] he has no sense

of what it means to be crushed by them" (MS 464 emphasis mine). A poetry lacking all

hierarchy actually denies the reality of inequality that it attempts to speak against, denies

the race conflict and radical difference that defined America in the mid-19th century. It is

only from a certain social status that one can claim, as Whitman repeatedly did, the

beauty in everything. Even evil is somehow beautiful in Whitman's eyes, but this clearly

points to his own position of privilege. As optimistic and egalitarian as his vision may

seem to be, it is certainly sculpted out of his particular historical situation.

What these tensions suggest is that Whitman's poetic voice itself embodies the

tensions of America during his era-the contradiction between the belief in a egalitarian,

democratic ideal and the inability to live up to such an ideal. This is not, however, to

merely portray Whitman as a racist, imperialist poet. If Whitman attempts to configure

his "I" as a national identity, that "I" necessarily embodies the contradictions at the heart

of such an identity; the tensions between an absolutely individualist stance and a

democratic, universal subjectivity inherently mean that the formation of the subject

undergoes the same psychological stresses that the nation undergoes. We might

productively view this process through a psychological lens and see that the subject is

attempting to demarcate identity by a process of othering, marking what the self is not,

the borders that will delineate identity. On the other hand, Whitman simultaneously

attempts to erase subject/object distinctions so that the borders of self and nation are

never stable and never complete.









The paradox of Whitman's (and America's) democracy is that one must be

profoundly individual (locating sovereignty, as Jefferson believed, in the individual

consciousness22) and must destroy individual boundaries; the individual must stand as

one and as the many. This, ultimately, is the heart of Whitman's genius: even though we

can point clearly to the negative implications his work poses in terms of representation,

such representation is never complete. Any form of identity defies closure, inviting

rather the reader (and, most importantly, future readers) to define and redefine the subject

at the heart of his poetry. The fluidity of self and other is profound in the way that it

forces a reader to recreate Whitman or America with each reading. Even as Whitman

attempts to define the self and a national identity, the poetry remains vital for such

definition today.

The act of reading Whitman is always an open-ended conversation. As Folsom

suggests, "To address Walt Whitman, after all, is to complete his poetic act, to create the

other half of the dialogue he initiated" (MS 24). The way that poets have come to "talk

back"23 to Whitman suggests the complex and ongoing role he plays within America's

cultural heritage. For many recent Native American writers, such as Simon Ortiz and

Sherman Alexie, Whitman represents the voice of the white pioneer, an American poetry

that "came at the expense of the 'multitudes' of still bodies of Indians, massacred in the

name of American progress" (MS 69). For African American writers, though, the

problems lie not so much with Whitman but with the white academy. Black poets from

22 Jeffersonian democracy hinges on the notion that morality must come from the individual consciousness,
not from any state mandate. In other words, Jefferson's theory of democracy was founded on a humanist
notion of self-sovereignty. As Dimock notes, "The best government for an 'empire,' according to
Jefferson, was 'self-government:' the government of the self by the self' (Empire for Liberty 38).
23 Folsom argues that much of 20th century American poetry constitutes an ongoing dialogue with Whitman
("Introduction," MS 21-74).









Langston Hughes to June Jordan have lamented the way that Whitman's poetry of

egalitarianism and freedom was kept from view; for these poets, Whitman offers an

important, liberatory vision and the academy kept such possibilities out of their lives. In

1946, Hughes was adamant about the necessity of Whitman to his political discourse:

Perhaps, too, because his all-embracing words lock arms with workers and farmers,
Negroes and whites, Asiatics and Europeans, serfs and free men, beaming
democracy to all, many academic-minded intellectual isolationists in America have
had little use for Whitman, and so have impeded his handclasp with today by
keeping him imprisoned in silence on library shelves. (MS 186-87)

Obviously, Whitman serves a different cultural/political role for Hughes than for Alexie.

To hold on to a specific view of Whitman denies the plurality of readings his work

allows; it also risks silencing potential cultural positions. Whitman's democracy serves

quite a different function for 20th-century Black Americans than it does for Jewish

Americans such as Ginsberg or, more importantly, for the academics who determine his

position within the canon. We might view his democratic vision as ultimately flawed, but

does this make it invalid? If so, what groups of people are cut off from productive

dialogue with that vision? In our academic efforts to see the imperialist realities of his

vision, would we cut off the new wave of democratic challengers such as Hughes?

Whitman himself claimed that he was not a poet but that poetry would be born out of

dialogue with his work. We can also claim, then, that a poet such as Hughes is the fruit

of Whitman's labors.

The point here, then, is not to condemn Whitman's poetic project but to remain

aware of its complex and contradictory nature. The flawed representation and

appropriation of other cultures and perspectives does not inherently deny his democratic

vision. The tendency to read him as the prototypical prophet of the "liberal self' or the

"universal" without also acknowledging his claims of cultural superiority and his









tendency toward imperialism points toward the ongoing conflict of identity within

American culture. More importantly, without considering our own position within this

cultural production we create a distorted view of both who he was and what the nation is.

The way that writers have continued to respond to Whitman in varied ways points to the

fact that we are still a nation defined by the promise of a socialist democracy in which all

will have a voice and the inability of society to live up to that promise.

To suggest that the voice of Leaves of Grass was often racist or imperialist is not to

deny its importance to American cultural history; in fact, I would argue that it makes it all

the more important to us today. "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict

myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes)" he says (LG 77). Indeed, this is a central

truth of American history and identity. And the very difficulty of living as a multitude is

the central challenge that Whitman poses for us, again and again-a challenge to which

America has yet to successfully respond.















H.D. AND THE DIVIDED SUBJECT

It might seem curious to follow a discussion of Walt Whitman with a discussion of

H.D. since, in general, criticism would suggest that H.D.'s modernist sensibilities oppose

the romanticism of Whitman. Where Whitman was open and expansive, the latter was

closed and elliptical; where Whitman was unabashedly nationalistic-if not jingoistic-

H.D. was an expatriate, tentative at best in her relationship to America; where Whitman

tended toward inclusive lists of the everyday, H.D. turned toward classic, if not rarefied,

myth and image.

These two seemingly disconnected writers did share several important traits,

however, that will help in my consideration of the lyric. Both writers invited the reader

into the process in fundamentally new and innovate ways, implicating the reader in the

process of making meaning. Both allied themselves with figures at the margins of

national identity even as they attempted to reconfigure gender roles and sexual

stereotypes, placing questions of gender and sexuality at the center of national narratives.

Both blurred the boundaries between self and other, the individual and social, and-

though admittedly far from the optimistic American that Whitman was-H.D. similarly

attempted to construct new models of an American culture. And most importantly, both

grounded these projects in a lyric voice that functioned simultaneously as individual and

as a chorus. This is not to suggest that H.D. can merely be roped into the shadow of a

Whitmanesque tradition; I do contend, though, that for both poets the lyric served as a

flexible genre through which they could reimagine the possibilities of individual and









communal identities; the lyric, that is, served as a container in which they could forge

radically new American possibilities.

In 1910, when H.D. was 24, the Washington legislature approved a referendum on

women's suffrage. The referendum served as a national catalyst, energizing women who

joined forces in the drive for the suffrage. After ratification of the 19th Amendment in

1920, however, other issues beyond the vote disrupted this unity of the women's

movement. As Lynn Dumenil argues, "Women's widely varying agendas made it

difficult for them to translate political enfranchisement into political power" (111). This

tension suggests the paradoxical nature of any group struggling to find a voice within a

democracy: the necessity to act, and speak, as a group in order to gain representation at

the same time as allowing diversity and individuality within the group. DuPlessis refers

to this as a distinction between "female 'otherness' and female 'sameness' or perfect

equality," going on to argue that "While H.D. profited from 'rights' feminism, she

was extremely drawn to the feminism of 'difference'" (Bloom H.D. 36). We might think

of the "female sameness" or "rights feminism" as a form of civic nationalism, a society in

which all are afforded the same rights and opportunities, while the "feminism of

difference" envisions a national identity that counters an exclusive national identity-

similar to a racial nationalism in which a national identity is granted only to particular

groups. As Gary Gerstle has pointed out, though, women faced a problem quite different

from race: women were granted an "American" identity, even as they were relegated to

second-class citizens within that society.1




1 See Gerstle's discussion of the gendered character of American nationalism in American Crucible (178-
180).









As a way of reimagining notions of national identity, H.D.'s poems conflate a

Greek landscape with an American landscape as a way of returning to the very source of

Democracy, and to reimagine the cultural landscape based solidly on notions of civic

nationalism. "Cliff Temple" opens up with a fairly typical H.D. coastal image:

Great, bright portal,
shelf of rock,
rocks fitted in long ledges,
rocks fitted to dark, to silver granite,
to lighter rock-
clean cut, white against white.

High-high-and no hill-goat
tramples-no mountain-sheep
has set foot on your fine grass; (CP 26).

Susan Stanford Friedman suggests that these landscapes come from "her American

childhood: in particular the harsh northern seacoasts of Cornwall and Maine" (Psyche

Reborn 40) while a critic like Roger Mitchell sees her poems' landscapes as "purely

Greek" (Myers 44). H.D. herself refers to the poems as "nostalgia for lost land. I call it

Hellas. I might, psychologically just as well, have listed the Casco Islands off the coast

of Maine" (qtd DuPlessis H.D. 14). While the supposed clarity of Imagist poetry would

suggest we all respond to the same visuals, these poems actually create an open-ended

visual landscape that the reader must complete, a lost land that is both personal and

cultural, "Hellas" as a utopian, democratic vision.

It is also important to recognize how many of these landscapes are borderlands,

particularly coastlines that serve as a demarcation of both self and national identity.

These poems look at figures at the margins, figures that are either invaded (colonized) or

cast out in the name of a national character. As a way of aligning with the marginal

figure, H.D.'s poetics construct a choral structure in which multiple groups are given









voice and representation. We can certainly read her work as feminist in that they imagine

a society in which women are active participants, but she doesn't necessarily want to

bring women into the "center" of society. Her poems suggest, rather, that the margins are

productive, arguing against any essentializing definition of"woman" (or any such group).

She breaks, rather, any distinct binaries, allowing a national identity large enough to

embrace differing sexualities, genders and races.

H.D.'s lyric voice enacts alternative models of"Americanness" and of "woman."

As Rita Felski has argued, the struggle for modernization and modernity is integrally tied

in to questions of gender, woman most often scripted as a figure of nostalgia or

sentimentality. The maternal, likewise serves as source or origin, a figure of authentic

harmony but remains tied to the past (The Gender of Modernity 35-60). As we saw with

Whitman, woman serves most often as a figure of the pre-modern against which the

modern is cast. Even as H.D. struggles to construct woman as an essential part of an

American identity, she also attempts to break through this notion of woman as originary

or authentic. For instance, in a poem such as "Night," the rose (that traditional romantic

image for beauty) has its petals peeled away, leaving "the stark core / of the rose / to

perish on the branch" (CP 33). The very search for essence, or "core," is actually an act

of violence rather than a welcoming embrace. Again and again, even as the voice affirms

a female identity, the images with which women have been traditionally associated

become victimizing: she is choked by the beauty of flowers ("Sheltered Garden" CP 19-

20) and flayed by fruit blossoms as she pleads "spare us the beauty / of fruit trees"

("Orchard" CP 28). As women are struggling for a voice within an American national









identity and a political voice, H.D. constructs a model of gender that is highly complex

and contradictory.

The very lyric traditions and representations that H.D works within, and against,

are parallel to the ongoing struggles for democratic representation. Lyric representation,

as I argue, is about the very nature of identity; aesthetic choices, then, reflect new social

and linguistic possibilities, and innovative poetic forms represent alternative cultural

forms. H.D's poetics are not only responses to ongoing artistic traditions but to the

pressures of social circumstance, pressures manifest in the earlier poetics of Walt

Whitman.

One of the paradoxes that Whitman's lyric unveiled was the role of the woman in

the American democracy. Whitman saw women as central to the foundation of the new

nation, but they then were reified as "source" or "mother": women serve as a creative or

generative source but then are overtaken by the a male leadership-a democracy in which

they might be "represented" or "spoken for" but not allowed their own voice. The

woman may be inseminated and serve as source or mother of the democracy but not as an

active constituent. In poetic terms, we can see this as the woman as muse but not poet, or

as Cynthia Hogue says, "the object, but not the subject, of poetic contemplation" (xvii).

As a method of countering these forms of poetic representation, H.D. carefully developed

a poetry out of differing lyric traditions-the classical and the romantic-as a way of

negotiating an increasingly misogynistic modernism. The lyric voice becomes a

malleable construct, functioning at once as an individual and as a chorus, both promoting

a new lyric subjectivity and refusing any reification of the subject. H.D.'s lyric voice is

elusive and performative and, most importantly, is not meant to be reduced to any









singular reading, demanding that a reader maintain multiple contradictory readings at the

same time. This demand on the reader also reflects H.D.'s lyric sensibility. Like

Whitman's, H.D.'s poems engage a contemporary audience and involve them in the

process of making meaning. This often occurs in her poems as she shifts from an "I"

toward addresses of "You" and "We" in poems like "Helmsman" for instance: "We

worshipped inland- / we stepped past wood-flowers, / we forgot your tang, / we brushed

wood-grass" (CP 6). The poems themselves become shared rituals in which an audience

speaks together.

This act of reader involvement, along with her use of multiple traditions, however,

has had unfortunate effects on her place within the canon. Critics have never been too

sure where, or how, to place her work within the canon and have, then, placed limiting

terms (most notably the detrimental "Imagist" label) on her work, obscuring the

innovative ways in which she forces us to read. In fact, the problematic reception of her

work often becomes the subject of the poetry itself, the challenges with a poetic culture

serving as a trope for "culture" in a larger sense. This chapter will focus on her early

work because in these shorter, imagistt" poems she effectively challenges lyric and social

conventions; likewise, her reputation now rests firmly on her later poems that receive the

bulk of critical commentary. Even as ardent an admirer as Denise Levertov suggests that

"The icily passionate precision of the early work, the 'Greek' vision, had not been an end,

a closed achievement, but a preparation." In a now generally accepted critical move,

Levertov emphatically labels H.D.'s later work the "most important" (Bloom H.D. 10). I

would like to suggest that these early poems are not merely precursors to the later poems,

or a developmental stage in her maturing process as has been often claimed, but visionary









works in their own rights. These poems show the lyric-with its dynamics of openness

and closure-to be a metaphor, as Lesley Wheeler has suggested, of identity itself (70-1).

This chapter will explore the early lyrics of H.D. as transgressions-poetic, sexual,

social-that challenge conventional modes of representation and attempt to redefine

notions of American identity.

H.D. and the Poetic "Tradition"

The romantic tradition as envisioned by Wordsworth, and expanded by Emerson,

perpetuated a belief that the poet/speaker stands as representative of "universal"

experience, a man speaking for all men.2 Women's experience, however, has never been

granted the universality that a man's experience has. As Joanne Feit Diehl has noted, the

Emersonian sublime puts man at one with the cosmic law. The authority that such an

equation offers is not available, though, to a poet on the outside of the tradition.

Emerson's poet presumably speaks for everyone, but woman has been, especially in the

19th century, relegated to the minor position of "Poetess" (1-25). Luce Irigaray's notion

that only woman is gendered supports this idea: since man is not gendered, he can speak

as the "universal" while woman is limited to speaking only as woman. Likewise, as

Friedman has noted, women in modernist poems rarely exist as authentic people; they

are, rather, "feminized principles-both threatening and life-giving, and not

particularized human beings" (Bloom H.D. 48). In this cultural context, women have

served as minor poetic figures or, more often, as the midwife for male artists.

Whitman added another layer to this problem as he suggested that the poet should

bare the self, to stand naked with as little as possible between poet and audience.


2 See especially Emerson, "Nature" and "The American Scholar" (7-72).









Nakedness, however, tends to not mean the same thing to a woman writer as to a man.

Woman is the possessed object, not naked but a "nude" on exhibition. We can vividly

see this in a theory of poetry like Edgar Allen Poe's in which he claims that female

beauty (or more specifically the death thereof) is the essence of poetry: "The death, then,

of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world" (756).

Likewise, what is often cited as a strength in many male poets (especially with the advent

of modernism)-emotional ambiguity-is most often seen as a weakness for women,

pointing to their inability to stretch past "women's" concerns into any "universal"

poetry.3 American women poets in the 20th century, then, have necessarily struggled to

find their place in a tradition to which they do not belong, inherently outsiders.

For a poet to merely disregard the tradition, however, is to concede the possibilities

of audience engagement and cultural representation offered by those traditions. Aesthetic

tradition is a means of cultural/political representation; to simply write outside of the

tradition is to perpetuate models in which groups or individuals remain outside of a given

culture. The question that women poets have faced is how to use the tradition without

being defined by it, to use inherited meanings in order to shape a new subjectivity-to

see lyric discourse, that is, as shaping the sayable without allowing it to limit the sayable.

H.D., then, speaks from within certain traditions even as she maintains the position of

outsider to the tradition, functioning subversively within lyric models that she also

counters. In "Notes on Thoughts and Vision," she aligns her creative source with the





SI.A. Richards's Principles ofLiterary Criticism offers a fine example as he praises Eliot's ambiguity then
goes on to argue that the problem with H.D.'s poetry is "The loss of so much formal structure leads
otherwise to tenuousness and ambiguity" (206).









womb and the body, countering a male-dominated modernism with a "feminine"

principle.4

H.D.'s early work weaves together two seemingly conflicted traditions, Greek

Classicism and American Romanticism as a way to enter into dialogue with American

Modernism. But it is important to remember that Raymond Williams has effectively

shown that the classical and the romantic are opposed to naturalism rather than to each

other (Culture 37-19). The tendency of modernist poets was to reject the romantic model

of lyric in favor of a less "personal" or "self-expressive" poetics, or as Marjorie Perloff

suggested, a yielding of romantic emotion to a Poundian esthetic of the mind (Wheeler 3)

which is generally considered a response against lyric. By functioning in a lyric

framework, H.D.'s poems always existed in a vexed relationship with modernism. But

rather than considering whether the poems are or are not "modern," I contend that they

use both a classical and a romantic tradition to challenge the increasingly accepted

orthodoxy of modernism. For instance, consider the opening of her poem "Mid-Day"

from her first book Sea Garden:

The light beats upon me.
I am startled-
A split leaf crackles on the paved floor-
I am anguished-defeated. (CP 10)

Two impulses fuse here, the impersonal imagistic impulse of the split leaf image and the

highly personal, "I am anguished-defeated." This tension continues throughout the

poem, moving from images like "the blackened stalks of mint" to thoughts such as I am

scattered in its whirl." It would be easy to read the latter as an overly romantic or

melodramatic sentimentality, even echoing Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"-that now

4 For a useful discussion, see Laity, H.D. and the Victorian Fin de Siecle (ix-xiii).









classic model of romanticism-and its images of "winged seeds" in the swirl and chaos

of the wind, the wind itself both "Destroyer and Preserver" (577-79). But in the middle

of H.D.'s poem, we learn that it is in fact the speaker's own thoughts that are tearing her

apart, "My thoughts tear me, / I dread their fever." The tension between the image and

thought enact the split psyche that can in some ways be attributed to modernism's

impulses toward self-reflective thought, or a tension between a classical and a romantic

sensibility. Neither the romantic nor the classical tradition will sustain her, and she

accordingly attempts to create a new synthesis. Adelaide Morris has accurately noted

that her poems "think about thinking and they think toward action: they are, that is,

philosophical and ethical" (2). This observation suggests two important facets of H.D.'s

work. First, even in a seemingly "emotional" poetics, she still reclaims philosophy as her

subject that has generally been seen as the domain of a male poetics (counter to the

supposedly appropriate work of the "Poetess"). Second, the intellect of the poems

actually reflects Perloff s "Poundian esthetic" even as the poems reclaim a romantic

heritage to which it supposedly runs counter. That is, the poems exist in liminal states

that challenge the boundaries of convention, pushing equally at the limits of classicism,

romanticism, and modernism.

"Sea Rose," the opening poem of Sea Garden functions as a similar kind of

performance:

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem--









you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted on the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip with such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf? (CP 5)

We might consider this poem a dramatic performance about H.D.'s poetry itself. The

rose, of course, is a traditional symbol of love, beauty, poetry. But this particular rose is

in the least promising, least nourishing, environment imaginable-an environment that is

the equivalent of a woman's poetry in a male artistic tradition. Interestingly, the

adjectives are words often used-as praise and condemnation-for her imagistic poetry:

harsh, meagre, sparse, stunted. The poem is in fact a reflection on both her relationship

as an outsider to the tradition, and of a woman in a society to which she exists as outsider,

as "other." We can also see that, even as the poem suggests alternative figures of beauty,

this new self does not seem to be granted agency: caught, flung, lifted. The voice, then, is

a complex embodiment of women's experience early in the 20th century.

A poem like this suggests, then, that H.D. is working in several different modes, on

the one hand attempting to speak as an individual to a society that responds to the

individual voice-forcing a reader to respond, or "finish" the poem-while, on the other

hand, speaking as a group, or chorus. In this way, her voice is often like the chorus in a

Greek tragedy singing the part of an individual. In "Sea Rose," for example, the "you" is

an undefined entity-her poetry, perhaps, or a part of herself-but it also becomes a

readership with which she claims allegiance. "You who are cast out like me are the most

beautiful" she seems to be saying. The "otherness" of "woman" is conflated with the









otherness of the artist, a space from which the subject, both individual and group, can

speak.5

As already suggested, women poets hold a particularly vexed position within the

romantic tradition. If a woman poet follows the modernist lead and writes a more

impersonal poetry, she gives up the ability to speak as woman, to give voice to an

experience that has already been shut out of artistic and social discourse. The romantic

tradition, however, allows the space to speak in a seemingly personal manner, as a

woman. To do so, though, puts a poet in the position of still being labeled a "Poetess," a

woman writer concerned only with women's experience, not universal expression. And,

as Eileen Gregory has noted, the early poems generally suffer for the same reason that

they were once praised, as representations of the "Poetess" (Friedman and DuPlessis

130). The sensual, erotic persona of H.D.'s "romantic" tendencies is, on one hand, a

subversive possibility in the context of modernism's impersonality.6 On the other hand,

such a persona is limiting and stifling. As Gregory notes, the Poetess has been "identified

with the prolific, sentimental, 'songbird' of 19th-century romanticism this woman

appears as withdrawn, sensitive to the point of neuroses and hysteria, passionate, ecstatic

and morbid" (129). The answer, for H.D., was to meld the tensions of classicism's

impersonality and discipline with romanticism's spontaneous and emotional expression

into a radical new poetics. While both of these impulses must be held in dialogue

without resolution, criticism has tended to take one or the other approach to reading H.D.,

resulting in a series of misreadings and mislabelings, more often than not maintaining her



5 I am drawing here on ideas from DuPlessis (H.D.: The Career 31-69).

6 For a useful discussion of this idea, see Dickie "Women Poets" (233-259).









position as a disenfranchised poetess rather than the enfranchised poet she struggled to

be.

Though accepted to varying degrees over the years, and fortunately now generally

accepted as the innovator that she was, H.D.'s work has suffered by being falsely

classified into an easily understood but limiting term originally thrust upon her by Pound:

H.D. Imagiste.7 There are two general effects this has had on her work. First, many

critics merely lump her in with other "Imagist" poets, seeing her work then as merely

derivative of stronger, more importantly male influences such as Pound, Williams, and

Lawrence. Recent scholarship, however, has clearly shown that this reading is not

historically supportable;8 H.D. was clearly an innovator in the Imagist movement,

actually writing poems that would spawn Pound's poetic credos rather than responding to

them. Second, and more importantly, this reductive labeling has obscured the innovative

ways in which her poetry forces us to read, limiting the ways in which we read the

"image" itself. I.A. Richards offers a New Critical response to H.D.'s poem "The Pool"

in The Principles ofLiterary Criticism:

The experience evoked in the reader is not sufficiently specific The loss of so
much formal structure leads otherwise to tenuousness and ambiguity Had the
poet said only 'I went and poked about for rocklings and caught the pool itself,' the
reader, who converts what is printed above into a poem, would still have been able
to construct an experience of equal value; for what results is almost independent of
the author. (206)







SPound originally submitted H.D.'s poems to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, in H.D's words, Scu" ling
'H.D. Imagiste' at the bottom of the page" (Friedman and DuPlessis 87).

8 See especially Cyrena Pondrom, "H.D. and the Origins of Imagism" (Friedman and DuPlessis 85-105).









In other words, poetic control must be manifest by the author, not the reader. However, I

would contend that it is precisely the ambiguity of the poem that allows a reader a variety

of experiences; the poem is an invitation. Here is the poem:

Are you alive?
I touch you
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you--banded one? (CP 56)

The second person pronoun shifts in a way that allows a merging of author and image,

reader and text. Richards, however, defines the "you" simply as the pool, which

statically defines the speaker and the other of the poem. I contend that the poem is a

rejection of exactly such a notion of a singular self as defined by the traditional lyric.

And as we saw with a poem such as "Sea rose," tradition and reception point to the

cultural problematic the she faces in the context of her work; reception actually becomes

a productive lens through which we can read her work.

Louis Untermeyer, arguably one of America's most influential mid-20th century

anthologists, offers a clear picture of this problematic reception of H.D. On one hand,

Untermeyer does seem to think highly of her work. On the other hand, he limits her to a

"true imagist" (355). In what seems to be admiration, Untermeyer clearly limits the

scope of her work. In a typical reading, Untermeyer refers to the poem "Heat" as a poem

where "one feels the weight and solidity of a midsummer afternoon" (355). This might

be an accurate reading-and fits well with any notions of her as Imagist-but it is the less

important aspect of the poem. In a typical anthologizing move, the poem was

shortened-its first section missing-and entitled "Heat" instead of"Garden" as H.D.









had written it. Here is the first section, which opens us to the psychic drama to which the

second section responds:

You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.

I could scrape the colour
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

If I could stir
I could break a tree-
I could break you. (CP 24)

Untermeyer's comments ignore the violence of image and verb-cut rock, hard as hail,

spilt dye-and its engagement with the speaker's psyche: scraping, spilling, breaking,

stirring. Without this emotional backdrop, it is impossible to fully comprehend the

implications of the second stanza, especially its continuing thread of violent verbs: rend,

cut, presses, blunts, cut, plough. Here is the section as it was anthologized:

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air-
Fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat-
plough though it,
turning it on either side
of your path. (CP 25)









What the poem represents is a tension between a violent agency and an inability to move;

the reading of this poem as the weight of a midsummer afternoon clearly ignores the

struggle for growth in an oppressive climate. The voice here is fighting against the very

notions of culture/poetics that keep her at the margins (a climate that we can see

Untermeyer himself helping to perpetuate); likewise, since the "I" can be read as a

communal voice, we can read the end of the first section as the potential violence lurking

beneath a culture that denies a group agency. That is, the poem is reshaping self, cultural,

and national narratives through the image. But the very foundation of the poem as image

has made it easy to take the poem out of any nationalist context, a "safe" reading in

which this violence and oppression can be reduced to sensory detail.

Even as writers (especially feminist critics) have offered productive new readings

of H.D., the Imagist label continues to haunt her. For instance, consider Robert DiYanni's

anthology in which the only comments about her actual work are stock responses: "She is

best known for her compelling Imagist poems, characterized by short lines, free rhythmic

cadences, and vivid images" (548). There is nothing to suggest the psychic power and

complexity underlying the images; the image remains, rather, a static thing in itself.

Unfortunately, even feminist theories that have helped open up new possibilities for

reading H.D. can also lend themselves to misreadings. For instance, Ostriker suggests

that "When a woman poet today says 'I,' she is most likely to mean herself'(12). Such a

statement denies the ways in which a poet such as H.D. constructs the "I" as both an

individual and a choral voice. Certainly Ostriker points to the political importance of

women being able to have their own voice in a society in which it is denied; her comment

points to the particularly American version of feminism which hinges on notions of self-









representation and auto-biography.9 This theoretical bent, however, is one of the aspects

that lends the lyric its critical edge in the first place. That is, because of the expectation

of, or insistence on, auto-biography, a poet can function subversively within the context

of self-representation, to function as critique of the very foundations of American

individualism. I would argue that H.D.'s "I" represents an ever-shifting construction that

investigates the stable ego at the center of an American identity and to engage in

biographical connections distorts the work. Likewise, the "I" is a communal

construction, giving voice to a group identity rather than a merely "personal" identity (or,

more appropriately for H.D., investigating the tension between the communal and the

personal).

"Sheltered Garden" begins with an emotional claim: "I have had enough / I grasp

for breath" (CP 19). This can easily be read as a personally enervated "I," but can also be

read as a repressed group, women in American society. Interestingly, in this poem the

voice actually longs for a more troubled existence, to live in some "terrible / wind-

tortured place" (CP 21). The "I" then takes on two different possibilities (at least): we

might read the "I" as the artist who is stuck in the deadening romantic model of "border-

pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies" (CP 20) or likewise we might read the "I" as a choral

effect of women trapped inside a domestic role of womanhood, "beauty without strength"

(CP 20). Certainly these poems argue against traditional models of woman, but they also

resist any essentialization of identity, a resistance to unified meanings as much as to

particular cultural circumstance. Gregory suggests, "The voice of these poems, then, is



9 Both the importance of autobiography and its political implications for women writers have been
effectively developed in a variety of works by Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, most notably
Shakespeare's Sister.









hermaphroditic, collective and atemporal. The poem is, in a sense, a liminal state without

ordinary determinations of gender, person, or tense" (Signets 139). In other words,

identity in general, and gender in particular, are elusive and performative; there is no

graspable speaker and to read it, then, as biographical entity forces closure on a

subjectivity meant to be left undefined. Imagism, at least as H.D. conceived of it, was a

means to push at poetic conventions and open up new possibilities, to construct a poem

that exists at the border between inner and outer. The voice is an open-ended structure in

which individual/social and inner/outer lose their boundaries, opening then new

possibilities for self and national identities.

Modernism, Individualism, and the Freudian "I"

H.D. is most often read as a lyric poet in terms of her privatenesss." Critics such as

Janice Robinson and Susan Gubar, for instance, highlight the "personal" quality of the

early poems. Gubar argues that she "hides her private meaning behind public words,"

(Friedman and DuPlessis 299) suggesting that the poem is a puzzle that the reader must

solve. Gubar's suggestion that such hidden meaning is actually reflective of women's

experience is important but it perpetuates the notion of lyric as personal, which maintains

a distinct social-individual binary that H.D. is actually attempting to investigate. Rather

than hiding her meaning, H.D. actually confronts and implicates an audience in the

conventions of representation.

One might actually argue that, if "lyric" is defined, as I do, by the presence of a

speaking subject, H.D.'s poetry is not lyric at all since there is at times an almost palpable

absence of a speaker. On the other hand, though, the poems in large part emanate from

the "eye" more than "I." For instance, here is the opening to her poem "Sea Poppies":

Amber husk









fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

treasure
spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders. (CP 21)

It would seem that the speaker here is merely transparent, a window the reader sees

through. If we consider, though, the rising popularity of Freudian thought at this point in

time, though, we see a culture that is beginning to read the "eye" as "I." With the

popularization of Freudian thought, Lynn Dumenil notes, the subconscious became an

important theme, the method to "realize your true self' (87 emphasis mine). In that way,

the Freudian speaker at that point represents the "true" voice, the deepest revelation of

self. Dumenil adds that early in the century, Freud became so familiar that "free

association" became a parlor game; these new theories were liberatory in the battle

against a repressive culture (87). In fact, Freudian thinking actually serves as a signifier

for an entrance into the modern. Freudian innovation, then, reflects the modernist

sensibilities of art as a way beyond the repressive nature of society (which also points

toward the fact that H.D. is aligned with a "modernist" sensibility even as she is firmly

rooted in classical and romantic models). I would contend that H.D. constructed a voice

that fed into American's sense of "personality" that would maintain the illusion of a

tangible lyric speaker, and worked within a set of cultural expectations, seemingly

embracing the modern while also returning to classical roots.

For Freud, the first goal of therapy was for the patient's consciousness to become

conceptual. That is, Freudian psychoanalysis was basically imagistic, to let things stand

in consciousness "as they are." In Therapy and Technique, Freud says, "So say whatever









goes through your mind. Act as if you were sitting at the window of a railway train and

describing to someone behind you the changing views you see outside" (qtd. Friedman,

54). The "external" world becomes a window into the "internal" world. Friedman

suggests that, once these associational images are within consciousness, "the analyst and

analysand could collaborate on a translation of their significance" (54). She goes on to

note that imagistic principles are even parallel to psychoanalytic principles: concision,

condensation, displacement, and the melding of contradictory impulses (56-9). H.D.

creates two poetic affects by reflecting these psychoanalytic experiences: First, she

produces the illusion of a "self"-revealing speaker-which we should remember is

important if she attempts to speak to, or for, a culture mired in individualism. Second,

Friedman's observation that the image is then collaboratively translated in the

psychoanalytic situation reflects H.D.'s poetics in which meaning becomes

collaboratively constructed. That is, in a similar fashion to Whitman's poetics, the

imagist principles are actually a way to draw a reader in and to involve them in the poetic

process. H.D.'s Freudian thinking actually reflects a lyric that, as Wheeler has suggested

is about forging new possibilities in process rather than retrieving something from the

archive of one's interiority (1-17).

The speaker of many of these poems, already ambiguous, is always on the cusp of

union with a similarly ambiguous "you" even as it seems to be losing that "you." In

"Pursuit," we experience a speaker on the trail of desire itself, following not another but

signs themselves:

I can almost follow the note
where it touched this slender tree
and the next answered-
and the next. (CP 11)










We can read this speaker as on both an erotic and a spiritual path where the signs

themselves are both revealing and concealing. The "pursuit" then is for meaning itself, or

understanding, in the same way that one digs into the unconscious for self-knowledge.

What seems especially important, though, is the way that this pursuit on the path of signs

does not lead to any understanding; the signs themselves are emptied: "I can find no trace

of you" (CP 12). We might also consider this "note" as musical, reinforcing, of course,

its sense of musical/lyrical performance. The note, however, reflects an almost opposite

experience from what we saw with Whitman. Music here leads to an absence of self; to

follow the note leads away from, not toward, any transcendence or self-discovery. This

can actually reflect back to notions of the tradition: as lyric has been often defined by

musicality, we find here that this tradition has left the speaker empty; she cannot find

herself within this tradition. There is nothing in the pursuit of signs and events that will

lead to a greater self-awareness. The poem suggests, then, the way in which she uses

Freudian thought and imagery even as she counters and critiques it at the same time that

she is productively able to critique notions of poetic tradition.

The problem with such a use of Freudian thought, is that it has also led to ongoing

misreadings of her project. To an unfortunate extent, the reader becomes not a

collaborator but the analyst, analyzing the poet's neuroses and illnesses. Biographer

Janice Robinson sees H.D.'s language as straightforwardly Freudian in that it holds a

secret subtext that the reader is privileged to unveil: "The very act of writing became a

form of concealed speech. If we have the keys, we can read the poem as message to a

friend as well as an 'objective' statement" (xiv). The notion of reading the poem as

between H.D. and a friend returns us to a lyric that is not concerned with its rhetorical









effects. More importantly, Robinson sees the "keys" to the poems as strictly

biographical. For instance, both "Priapus" and "Hermes of the Ways" are strictly the

"sublimation of her love for Pound into poetry" (57). Robinson, on one hand, suggests

that the beauty of Imagism is that nothing stands in for anything else-everything exists

on its own terms-at the same time that she claims H.D.'s poetry is writing about one

thing under the guise of another. Interestingly, most critics consider Pound's Personae

poems, to be a productive use of a constructed mask while, as we see with Robinson's

comments, H.D.'s many persona poems are sublimations of unconscious and/or hidden

desires, reflecting an ongoing double standard for women writers.

More problematic, though, are the many critics who use a strict Freudian

perspective to analyze H.D. For instance, Friedman notes that critics such as Norman

Holland and Joseph Riddel "dissect her with all the Freudian terminology they can

muster-as if she were a neurotic woman, a 'patient' instead of the artist" (Bloom H.D.

49). Holland's argument is that H.D.'s poems are generated out of a traditionally

Freudian penis envy (Bloom H.D. 11-26) while Riddel argues that she needs to develop a

masculine identity in order to develop as a poet ("H.D. and the Poetics" 447-73). This is

a case of, as Gregory notes, the poems servicing as "evidence of her personal neurosis"

(14) Such readings ignore the fact that she is using Freudian concepts in order to

construct a self, and to implicate us in the making of that self as well as her self. Taken

in that light, Holland's and Riddel's arguments say as much about themselves and their

culture as it does about H.D.'s actual psychological state.









Toward an Open Voice

Rather than reading these poems as a closed system as such Freudian readings do,

we should see that the poems are generative and open-ended. For instance, consider the

way she implicates the reader at the end of her poem "Epitaph":

So I may say
"I died of living,
having lived one hour";

so they may say,
"she died soliciting
illicit fervour";

so you may say,
"Greek flower; Greek ecstasy
reclaims for ever

one who died
following
intricate songs' lost measure." (CP 299-300)

The reader gets a seemingly personal statement, followed by a critical statement in which

poetic excess is rendered as a sexual solicitation and, thus, an ultimate rejection of her

work. Finally, the poem opens toward the reader who must either agree with or rej ect the

statement being made. The speaker's statement actually pushes the reader too far. On

one hand, the "Greekness" is a way for the voice to reclaim its classical and democratic

roots; on the other hand, it is a caricature of a "Greekness" being imposed on her by the

imagist label. The reader, then, must position him or herself in relation to the critical

condemnation of her "excess." Gregory has argued, "She has an amazing ability to name

accurately the terms in which her work is criticized and dismissed" (Camboni 27-8).

H.D., that is, is not only implicating the reader but also pushing against the boundaries of

poetic decorum and critical response. But note also that the poem points again to the fact

that the speaker dies attempting to find the measure of song, or the musicality of the lyric









tradition. Even as she challenges poetic decorum, she is able to interrogate the tradition

by which she has been defined and limited.

At other times, H.D.'s voice revolves as much around a "We" as an "I." As noted

earlier, a poem like "Helmsman," constructs a "we" as a collective invocation:

We forgot-we worshipped,
we parted green from green,
we sought further thickets,
we dipped our ankles
through leaf-mould and earth,
and wood and wood-bank enchanted us. (CP 6)

The voice here is united in a communal ritual, speaking, worshipping and acting as one,

so that, even as this "we" becomes comfortable and "enchanted with the fields, the tufts

of coarse grass" (6), they are called as one into the more dangerous world of the sea:

But now, our boat climbs-hesitates-drops-
Climbs-hesitates-crawls back-
Climbs-hesitates-
O be swift-
We have always known you wanted us. (7)

The "we" responds to a calling, to live a treacherous existence, but as her next poem in

the collection "The Shrine" suggests that they are blessed by this very "you" that called

to them, the "spirit between the headlands and the further rocks":

Though oak beams split,
Though boats and sea-men flounder,
And the strait grind sand with sand
And cut boulders to sand and drift-

Your eyes have pardoned our faults,
Your hands have touched us-
You have leaned forward a little
And the waves can never thrust us back
From the splendour of your ragged coast. (9-10)









At other times, the poems become dramatic monologues as the voice merges with

mythic figures such as Circe, Demeter, or Eurydice or, more importantly, the artist who

serves as a foundation for H.D.'s work: Sappho. As DuPlessis has noted, the conflation

of her voice with Sappho's serves as a trope representing three ideas: the incomplete text

(as Sappho's only exist as partial fragments10), the absence of women in the tradition, and

the cultural denial of lesbian experience (H.D. 23-26). H.D.'s ties to Sappho show an

ambivalent approach to sexuality in these poems. On one hand, the poems' constricted

form can lead some critics, like Wheeler, to suggest that the lyric functions as a type of

closet for H.D.'s bisexuality (69). On the other hand, the poems contain an extravagant

sensuality that leads other critics, like Laity, to see the poems as a "coming out," naming

the lesbian aspect of her own sexuality (1-28). This sexual uncertainty is critically

important at the time H.D. was writing, as Victorian moral codes and images of female

sexuality-a culture in which women did not admit to sexual appetites, let alone a

transgressivee" identity of bisexuality or lesbianism-were being challenged. The voice

aligns itself with the "New Woman" in questions of sexuality that is tied to feminism in

its questions of agency and representation.

We should not say, though, that the poems merely represent a new version of

"woman" since they just as often complicate gender. Alternately considered as spare and

extravagant, the poems lead understandably to mixed reactions. The sparseness led to an

image of H.D. as icy or frigid,11 while the extravagance constructed a sense of a


10 Sappho's lyrics now only exist as partial texts. Some publishers have attempted to "fill in" the texts, but
most have opted to let the fragments stand on their own.

1 Though this perspective fortunately did not last, we can see ways in which it still affects the terminology
of H.D. criticism. Even as ardent an admirer as Denise Levertov still can refer to her "icy" precision
(Bloom H.D. 10).









transgressive sexuality (and it is worth noting that "extravagance" etymologically stems

from the notion of "walking out of bounds"). I mention these critical responses, though,

not to suggest they are accurate but to show how the poems complicate such critical

conventions and challenge the modes by which we read and/or identify. We might also

note that the very traditions she uses in these poems have traditionally been gendered, a

"damp," "soft," "vague" and "female" romanticism versus a "dry," "hard," "virile" and

"male" classicism. By combining these two strands, then, the voice takes on a quality of

what Laity calls the "Androgyne" (3). Even as she seems to speak for the New Woman,

then, she counters that voice.

The complexity of what is happening within these poems, and the voice in which

the poems are spoken, is clearly undercut by a label like Imagism-and, is implicitly

countered by suggesting that the poems are "personal" meanings. We might productively

think about these poems in terms of a dialogue rather than any singular "I." There is

always a multitude of voices, perspectives and discourses that clash within these

seemingly "direct" and "personal" poems.

Voices from the Margins

The timing of H.D.'s poetic project is important as print technology and economic

changes were reshaping the publishing industry-and the nature of the "intellectual."

Between roughly 1890 and 1920, the American economy moved from what Marin Sklar

has termed "the dominance of proprietary capitalism to corporate capitalism"

(Hutchinson 8). Because the economy now freed a great number of individuals from

production-based labor, more and more individuals were able to function in society as

intellectuals: teachers, professors, writers and publishers. These changes allowed the

emergence of the "little magazine," opening up new publishing avenues and alternatives.









H.D. took advantage of these new publishing opportunities to construct new models of

gender and sexuality that, as they intersected with changing notions of the "intellectual,"

helped reconfigure paradigms of national culture and identity, an identity based on

communal ideals and social openness.

The polyvalent voices, the multiplicity of desire and concealment, suggest the ways

in which H.D. is negotiating the possibilities of a new lyric subjectivity. The voice is

multiple, fluid, and contradictory, challenging traditional romantic models of a unified,

knowable/expressible self. In opposition to Wordsworth's palpable, sincere poetic

presence, H.D.'s speaker defies the reader to define her. A constructed self-both

singular and plural, literal and figurative-is placed in problematic landscapes that refuse

any ultimate self-definition. Her imagery, rather than representative or mimetic, actually

invokes a paradox-ridden interior psychic drama, a landscape of borders and margins of

an uncertain existence: cliffs, tides, and shifting edges, a landscape like that in "Hermes

of the Ways" where "sea grass tangles with shore grass"(CP 39). The poems'

subjectivity and landscape become fused, inseparable; that is, the distinction between

inner and outer becomes blurred, porous. The speaker's melding into landscape actually

counters what has become known as "The Greater Romantic Lyric" in which the speaker

looks out on the landscape for lessons that will be absorbed into the self; in that way, the

self/other distinction maintains its pre-eminence. H.D.'s poems rather break down these

barriers, revealing a multiple and complex self at the center, or "vortex,"12 of the poem.

Louis Martz notes that H.D. was destined to live "at the juncture of such forces, inner and

12 In an effort to create a more complex poetics, Pound moved from Imagism to "Vorticism." This move
was also preceded by H.D.'s complex usage of the image showing her to be a forerunner of this movement
as well, not a follower as is more traditionally thought to be the case. See Cyrena Pondrom, "H.D. and the
Origins of Imagism" (Friedman and DuPlessis, 85-105).









outer, to inhabit constantly the borderline" (CP xiv). What is important, though, is that

these borderlines are impermanent, shifting. H.D.'s poetics actually stand against the

enlightenment model of the fixed, sovereign self by breaking down the clear divide

between inner/outer, social/individual. I would argue that these borderlands also reflect

national sensibilities. As the boundaries become more porous, so does any definition of

what exists on the "inside."

As Judith Butler comments, "Inner and outer only make sense in reference to a

mediating boundary that strives for stability-stabilizes and consolidates a coherent

subject" (170). H.D. herself is not clear about what constitutes an inner experience or

outer perception, as she notes in a discussion about her visions at Corfu in Tribute to

Freud: "Whether that hand or person is myself, projecting the images as a sign, a

warning or a guiding sign-post from my own subconscious mind or whether they are

projected from outside-they are at least clear enough" (46). H.D.'s transgression of

boundaries, redefining the self as fluid practice and troubling any clear distinctions

between "self' and "other," then, is a radical approach to identity, a model of selfhood in

which the certainty of an enlightenment sovereignty and an American individualism

dissolve into transformative communal experience.

In terms of this issue of sovereignty, it is also important to note that H.D. left

America early in her life, going to Europe-England mostly-in search of a culture that

would sustain her. To a large extent she rejects her Americanness. But her poetry

actually becomes a re-envisioning of American democracy as she turns toward the very

source of democracy-Greece-for her inspiration; the borders she inhabits are both

"personal" and national-the self and nation becoming conflated. Likewise, as Ong has









noted, ancient Greece is the point in which an interiorized alphabetic writing first clashes

with an oral consciousness and, thus, when the oral, communal mindset collides with a

newly emergent individualist mentality (24). H.D.'s poems push an ancient sensibility

against the modern, an oral language against print, as a way to re-envision an American

culture not based strictly on individualism.

One of the most important ways in which she engages with a communal sensibility

is to construct the voice in a complex, ambiguous psychological state. Landscape, image,

and emotion are fused into an amorphous uncertainty. To see this, we might look at her

poem "Oread," the poem that destined her to be labeled "Imagist" forever:

Whirl up, sea-
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir. (CP 55)

Though certainly vivid in image and language, what is important in this poem is the way

emotion is displaced onto this landscape of sea meeting shore. The poem breaks open the

relation between signified and signifier, allowing the image to shift like a

foreground/background illusion with either the waves/sea as the foregrounded image or

the pines. With the focus placed on the signifier, though, the ultimate image is left

unresolved, enacting the back and forth motion of what Martz calls her favorite image,

"the cresting wave" (CP xxii). More importantly, the voice here is double as well, both

an individual prayerfor a group and an actual collective voice. The agency or desire of

the poem is also double, an invocation to sexual ecstasy or rapture at the same time as a

desire for suicidal annihilation, to be lost in the violence of the image. There is a strong









tension, then, between the desire for agency and to be acted on. The notion of

"individual" in this context becomes unsustainable and undesirable.

This tension is similarly evident in "Helmsman" where the "we" is an active

agent-wandering, worshipping, seeking-at the same time as surrendering to a vague

otherness. A poem like "Cliff Temple" also suggests such doubled desires. The poem

combines a sexual, erotic bliss with the sense that such desire is a dangerous surrender:

"Shall I hurl myself from here" (CP 27). "Evening" similarly suggests that desire also

equals a loss of selfhood, a dissolution and passivity: "shadow seeks shadow, / then both

leaf/ and leaf-shadow are lost" (CP 19). What we experience in these poems is a divided

self that is consistently resistant to unified meanings, positing rather plastic and

contradictory notions of selfhood and other; the lines between are blurred.

Even as critics such as Robinson and Friedman suggest the poems are a kind of

"rosetta stone" that the reader must decipher,13 it is important to remember that any

meaning is always marked by erasures and re-visions. One ofH.D.'s central images (as

was true with Whitman as well) is the palimpsest. Every text is an endless series of re-

visions on top of older texts. The notion of the poem as "secret" or a hidden "personal"

meaning, though, suggests the notion of one's archival formation that can be rescued.

H.D.'s palimpsest is not to suggest an original text, though, but rather to suggest the

plurality of reading and meaning. The reader cannot discover some truth at the core of

the poems but must become a part of the poetic process itself.

The self as traditionally conceived in the romantic and/or enlightentment model

becomes self-referential and closed in the same way that the garden in its stasis of beauty


13 Robinson, "'Orion Dead': The Logic of Imagism" (H.D.: The Life and Work 70-77).









becomes a sensuous trap. The voice in these poems, then, is preoccupied with disrupting

the stasis, the singular self, the static image, the psychic and sexual paralysis represented

in the "sheltered garden" of traditional romanticism. "Sea Garden" for instance, shows

the speaker seeking out an alternative tradition and an alternative site for identity:

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place. (CP 21)

Rather than define the self in terms of binary opposition that are juxtaposed in the

poems, we should see these opposition as existing on the fluid borders embodied in the

poems. As DuPlessis notes, the poems in Sea Garden are defined by sets of repeating

opposites: male/female; spiritual/erotic; wild/sheltered; land/sea; salt/sweet; stunted/lush;

torn/whole; rose/rock--and even the title "suggests vast containment or uncontained

cultivation" (H.D. 125). I would argue, though, that by placing the poems at the juncture

of these opposites, H.D. actually suggests that neither side of these binaries is stable, but

inherently shifting and changeable. This voice is contradictory as a form of resistance,

but a resistance never "satisfied with a confrontative or purely oppositional stance"

(DuPlessis H.D. 28). These poems can be classified as what Gregory refers to as

heterodoxx," the body of opinion that is "other than the orthodox" (Camboni 21). The

poems resist the conventions of representation but defy any oppositional representation.

This sense of Otherness, of being at the margins, is what defines the voice, existing

as it does in between two landscapes, the garden and the precarious mountainsides and

cliffs. The garden, representative of the romantic lyric, is in its autumnal decay,

cloyingly sweet and choking: "I have had enough. / I gasp for breath ... / no taste of

bark, of course weeds, / aromatic, astringent- / only border on border of scented pinks"









(CP 19). Likewise, the garden suggests the trap of traditional images of the feminine.

The speaker longs, then, to venture into an alternative, stormy landscape, what I would

suggest is a classical rigidity or impersonalityy." Gregory notes that T.S. Eliot claimed

that "There are at least two attitudes toward literature and toward everything .. .and you

cannot hold both." Gregory goes on to suggest that "One attitude (classicism) is founded

on an obedience to outer authority; another (romanticism) is founded on adherence to the

Inner voice" (18). Since, as has often been suggested, modernism's version of classicism

was distinctly male, H.D.'s working between these poles was actually a disruption of

gender codes in general as well as the "outer" and "inner" that Eliot suggests are

incompatible. In H.D.'s poems, none of these terms or traditions are stable or definable;

situated as a marginal figure, H.D. actually challenges emerging notions of modernity

itself.

As women early in the century struggled for political and economic change, H.D.

was aware that such changes first demanded a change in representation. Hogue argues

that certain poets "de-scribed" woman, or, in other words, changed the conventional

images and modes of representation of the "feminine" (1-35). H.D. certainly de-scribes

"woman" but also refuses to in-scribe new modes of definition; the writer, reader, culture

must use her poetics as a way to define the self on their own terms. We cannot locate the

subject within any traditional understanding of the lyric; we must, rather, see her as a

highly constructed self that is as multiple and contradictory as the landscapes she

inhabits. She constantly breaks and reforms the terms and traditions in which she is

working to suggest not only new poetic possibilities, but new possibilities of self, and the

right and the freedom to give voice to one's own version of self. While H.D. did leave