Homemade (Post)Modernisms: Ephemeral Objects in the Twentieth-Century American Poetry Archive
Fraser, Alison Whitney
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“Homemade (Post)Modernisms: Ephemeral Objects in the Twentieth-Century American Poetry Archive” studies objects like scrapbooks, photo albums, and clippings files to argue that such ephemeral objects authorize the value of process over product (or publication), laying bare the physical basis of poetry in material culture. The first monograph-length study of homemade objects as they relate to questions concerning twentieth-century American poetry, this dissertation undertakes primary research of archival materials that have received little or no scholarly attention. I argue for an expansion of what we consider to be valuable in the archive for literary study by bringing cultural materialism into conversation with poetics. I analyze the evolution of homemade object making by studying the work of four women poets representative of the modernist and postmodernist periods. This dissertation demonstrates how these poets responded to and manipulated emerging forms of media—from Marianne Moore’s files of newspaper clippings and Helen Adam’s occult scrapbooks of pulp fiction to Lorine Niedecker’s snapshots and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Susan Howe’s Xeroxes—in their multidisciplinary approaches to poetry. Refuting the longstanding assumption that the modern collage poem—one of the most influential contributions of modernism—was developed exclusively from the (male) avant-garde, I argue that these poets’ engagement with ephemeral projects makes legible an increased sensitivity to the page as a visual staging ground for writing, and that their work also speaks to concerns in postmodern literature including visual poetics, intertexuality, and the tension between narrativity and fragmentation. I propose that as women at work in male-dominated literary communities, these poets also found that homemade objects provided a method around dominant publishing economies and exclusive historical narratives as they established a place for women within the archive and claimed taste-making roles (like editors and publishers) for women.