Asserting and locating value in contemporary elliptical-style poetry : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Creative Writing at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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This thesis has both critical and creative components. The critical study examines the strategies that contemporary poets—which I am characterising as elliptical-style for their interests in postmodernist gestures and traditional affective responses—use to write about subjects that are difficult due to individual or collective trauma. It is based on close readings of the poetry of U.S. writers Terrance Hayes, Solmaz Sharif, and Dora Malech. The study analyses how the poets use found terms, erasure, anagram, and persona speakers, including alter egos, to assert and locate value in poetry that can at times be elusive or elliptical. Such poetry is characterised by evasive speakers, associative logic, and gamesmanship. Found poetry uses pre-existing material in poems, erasure selectively deletes text, while anagram remixes existing words to make new lines. Persona speakers are narrators of poems who are identified as distinct from the implied poet. This study examines Hayes’ use of alter egos in his 2010 volume of poetry Lighthead to examine issues of race, Sharif’s use of persona speakers and found poetry techniques to critique American imperialism in her 2016 collection Look, and Malech’s application of anagram in her 2018 volume Stet to write on confessional topics. I argue that these poets assert value by using persona speakers, found techniques, associative strategies, and juxtaposition of unlikely discourses, to thematic effect, while simultaneously distancing the reader from the poem by creating narrative, thematic, or grammatical gaps in the poems. The relationship between reader and poet in these elliptical-style poems is that of co-creators of meaning, as the reader must import outside information to fill in the spaces. I argue that elliptical-style poets assert and locate value in their poems by providing a co-creative experience for the reader, using techniques that are carefully chosen to both contribute to the themes of each poem, while also resisting closure and fixity, thus requiring an active reader-poem relationship that is experiential rather than linear. The creative portion of this thesis is a manuscript of original poetry. It uses found terms, erasure, and persona speakers to engage with material concerning Covid-19, the Christchurch massacre, travels in the U.S, and reflections on writing and depression. The pandemic section reimagines and reframes the civil emergency discourse of the lockdown to suggest an alternative, imaginative response for the poem’s speakers. Other sections use techniques to create elusive, dynamic lyric wholes, in which the reader is asked to contribute to the poems’ themes and narrative.
Hayes, Terrance, Sharif, Solmaz, Malech, Dora, American poetry, 21st century, History and criticism, Postmodernism (Literature), Psychic trauma in literature, New Zealand poetry