Rhymes Unbearable: Crises of Feeling in 20th-Century U.S. Lyric Open Access

Steen IV, John Warren (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/qj72p818c?locale=en


Rhymes Unbearable: Crises of Feeling in 20th-Century U.S. Lyric

"Rhymes Unbearable" argues that three significant moments of poetic innovation linking Modernism to contemporary literature derive from responses to the emergent need for poetry to rearticulate its relationship to feeling. No longer conceived as a secure container in which the emotions of lyric speakers find purgative release, the poems of Wallace Stevens, Robert Creeley, and Aaron Kunin call on unfamiliar strategies to engage uncontainable affects poetically. Stevens' anxiety about what poems can hold leads to an oeuvre that admits of "chaos" more often than confidence. Specifically, I read the consequences of Stevens' vexed ‘poetic holding' alongside the British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott's concept of the maternal "holding environment." In my second chapter, Stevens' elaborate apologies for interiority find a parallel in Winnicott's concept of "not communicating," and open a route for acknowledging the threats of affects that arise from within. Later chapters turn to the afterlife of Modernist feeling in the trans-Atlantic influences of postwar U.S. verse and in the theoretical orientations of contemporary poetry. Jean Daive's translations of Paul Celan and Robert Creeley bring to the fore the physical and affective components of stuttering as a response to personal and historical destructions. By incorporating the technology of the photograph and its peculiar relationship to time into a work of poetic mourning carried out over several decades, Creeley's elegies for his mother work through problems of poetic speech and its origins that his early poems struggled to overcome. My final chapter demonstrates how Aaron Kunin's poetics of verbal constraint mimic what Silvan Tompkins calls the "reduce[d] facial communication" characteristic of shame. Such an intentionally flat poetics refashions Kunin's verse as the zero degree of affective production. In my conclusion, I suggest that affective constellations signifying on autism spectrum disorder allow contemporary verse to comment upon otherwise inaccessible feelings. As such, twentieth-century poetry's handling of its crises of feeling prefigures continuing poetic interventions by affective means into the broader political, ecological, and humanitarian crises borne by persons in our unsustainable, if not unbearable, present moment.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

The Feeling of Crisis: Negative Affects and Poetic Reading...1

Chapter I

'One reads poetry with one's nerves': Wallace Stevens and Anxiety's Holding...28

Chapter 2

Solitude's Comedy: Wallace Stevens and D.W. Winnicott's 'Not-Communicating'...85

Chapter 3

Stuttered Orientations: Jean Daive Between Robert Creeley and Paul Celan...124

Chapter 4

Words Returning: The Mourning of Robert Creeley...150

Chapter 5

The Line of Shame: Poetic Form, Conceptual Aesthetics, and Aaron Kunin's Folding Ruler Star...191


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