From printed page to live hip hop: American poetry and politics into the 21st century Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Dowdy, Michael
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project identifies and explains the major rhetorical strategies American poets from Vietnam to the present use to create political poems. It argues that there are many different, though overlapping, approaches to making sociopolitically engaged poetry. Understanding political poetry as a collection of multiple rhetorical strategies moves away from identity-based and subject-based criticism. This project thus considers a number of representative poems from each strategy in order to illuminate each strategy's intricacies. Further, the contention that hip hop has the most political potential of contemporary poetries suggests convergences with strategies for making printed poetry political. The framework for understanding both hip hop and printed poetry is derived from theories of agency that negotiate the individual's ability to act according to her purposes in relation to the determining economic, political, and social forces that constrain action. The strategies considered thus emerge from various types of poetic agency: embodied agency, including both experiential and authoritative agency; equivocal agency, including comprehensive and particular varieties; migratory agency; and contestatory urban agency, which includes strategies indigenous to hip hop. Poems of embodied agency utilize the lived experiences of speaker-poets, experiences transformed through poetry but demonstrable through the body and memory. While poems of authoritative agency present individual and collective experience, they insist that they know the conditions of others and demand action from their readers. Poems of equivocal agency problematize notions of direct experience and are often nearly devoid of human presence, but replete with equivocation, irony, satire, and transpersonal experiences. The primary source of agency in poems of migratory agency is the fluid border between English- and Spanish-speaking cultures in the Americas. Their bilingual textures contest English's role as the language for poetic, social, and political expression in the United States. The final chapter expands the scope for contemporary American political poetry, arguing that hip hop can achieve politically what printed poetry cannot. Live hip hop shows at small clubs can create interactive, community-based, democratic spaces, and hip hop's internal debates about authenticity and agency vivify the culture, ensure its diversity, and work to uphold its endangered emphasis on collective identity and community strength.
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  • Wagner-Martin, Linda
  • Open access

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