Picturing Poetics: Seriality, Comics, and the Cartoon in US Experimental Poetry

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I argue that experimental poets, beginning with Gertrude Stein but proliferating later in the century with such poets as Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Joe Brainard, and Barbara Guest, were drawn to comics for the way they perform, while undoing, the most conventional appeals to authorship, authenticity, personhood, and the unified text. Examining twentieth-century poetry in juxtaposition with comics as an often-overlooked interlocutor, I show how comics—from their inception—have always held an influential place in an US, poetic avant-garde. Drawing on critical work in visual cultural studies and popular culture as well as queer theory and literary studies, this project revises the term “avant-garde” and its loaded connotations of privilege, elitism, and obscurity, to include a myriad of popular frameworks that expand literary histories of the US American avant-garde and its recognized artists.

In comparing US poetry and the comics field in the twentieth century, I attend to the places, socialities, and shared materials of the avant-garde in order to move beyond an inversion of long-standing concerns for the “great divide” between “high” and “low” art. Rather than attempt to reverse hierarchical classifications, I chronicle production continuities (e.g. publication models, modes of distribution, editorial influences, and common audiences) between avant-garde culture and mass media in order to emphasize overlapping contexts between these seemingly disparate fields. Attending more closely to the sites of formation, dissemination, and the literal and symbolic boundaries of these contexts, I use the comparison to open up a more nuanced dialogue about American culture with respect to experimental poetry and its interactions with popular, pictorial media. My consideration of long-publishing comics in poetry—from the Nancy comics to Krazy Kat and Dick Tracy—not only highlights the ways these poetic works challenged conventions in their use of comics media, but also how multi-authored texts provide agitating, lyrical depictions in response to reductive classifications of race, gender, and sexuality in the twentieth century. Drawing from José Esteban Muñoz’s queer theory of disidentification, I analyze poetic texts alongside close readings of the comics they use to reveal how these literary forms mirror and respond to one another in, turn, to challenge how we perceive popular images and texts as fixed, irrelevant, or boring.






Stark, Jessica Q (2020). Picturing Poetics: Seriality, Comics, and the Cartoon in US Experimental Poetry. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20847.


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