Prose or Poetry: The False Dilemma in American Literature, 1830-2016
My book manuscript uncovers the forgotten history of how and why the categories “poetry” and “prose” created a forceful false dichotomy in twentieth-century US literature. Contemporary critics, writers, and readers embrace the spurious notion that prose is the most natural written mode because it is patterned on everyday speech, while verse, with all its apparent contrivances, is prose’s opposite. But it was not always so: the emergence of this sharp opposition between prose and poetry at the beginning of the twentieth century marks an unprecedented shift away from the prevailing practice during previous centuries of including prose within the broad category of poetry. English literature’s most famous defenses of poetry— Philip Sidney’s and Percy Shelley’s—define the poetic impulse as one that encompasses any creation with language, including prose. Indeed, literary historians demonstrate that what we know as “prose” is in fact a set of conventions derived and adapted from those of verse. In the modern era, literary developments (free verse, prose poems) reveal more clearly than ever that dividing lines between poetry and prose can be inexact, extraneous, and misleading—indeed, conventions themselves. And yet, just when these hybrid forms emerge, some poets and critics increasingly and obsessively invoke the poetry-prose dichotomy. In chapters on Henry David Thoreau, WEB Du Bois, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Claudia Rankine, I analyze the fixation on this binary to demonstrate how it helped establish and foster traditions of poetry and verse techniques—even while inspiring poetic innovations among those resisting or questioning these modal divisions.
"Living Poems in Thoreau's Prose," Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 44, Fall 2017, pp. 155-176.
Despite evidence that poetry is central to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, critics have largely viewed the volume’s numerous lyric poems as digressions, explications, or mere ornaments to the prose. But these lyrics are, in fact, integral to Thoreau’s book. I explore how Thoreau's narration depicts poems "living" beyond their own forms, an integral component to how Thoreau conceives of death, life, and literary representation in this his first book, an elegy for his brother, John.
"Bridge Brought Back: This Bridge Called My Back and the Afterlife of Kate Rushin's 'Bridge Poem,'" 37 pp.
Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem,” the title poem of Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s groundbreaking 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back, is uncompromising in its advocacy for women of color. Over time, reprinted in new contexts, the poem’s advocacy has taken new forms. In each reprint, the poem stands as the most obvious of many connections between the new book and This Bridge, as new writers reconsider the intersectional theory of Moraga and Anzaldúa’s anthology in order to understand evolving social structures that promote or inhibit the lives of women of color.