Wanderings: (Back) toward a poetic historiography
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"Wanderings: (Back) Toward a Poetic Historiography" considers how the long-standing American tradition of wandering in the wilderness is adopted and adapted as a method of historical inquiry by three twentieth-century poets: William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Susan Howe. In Metahistory , Hayden White argues that before historians organize events into a narrative account, they must "perform an essentially poetic act... pre figure[ing] the historical field." Because Williams, Olson, and Howe believe that definitive, narrative representations of history fail to acknowledge the disorder and volatility of the past, they typographically construct accounts that more closely resemble the indeterminate "historical field" than the completed narrative. The historical field offers multiple ways of navigating the past, and the reader wanders between the words, events, and individuals that populate this field. Acknowledging the disorder of the past and proceeding by intuition, these poets expose the false objectivity often employed by historians. Williams, Olson, and Howe borrow from and revise earlier American conceptions of wandering; thus I begin by recounting the complicated history of the wanderer in the American imagination. In my discussion of three early American wanderers, Mary White Rowlandson, Jonathan Edwards, and Henry David Thoreau, I demonstrate how American writers have consistently relied on wandering as both a metaphor and a methodology for textually representing non-linear, indeterminate movements. In the remaining three chapters, I track the evolution of this wandering methodology in Williams's Paterson , Olson's Maximus Poems , and Howe's Articulation of Sound Forms in Time and Thorow .