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Open Access Thesis
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
poetry, america, sonnet, hybrid, canada
The image has been essential to American poetry since at least the early 20th century, when modernists like H.D., Williams, and Pound made images the charged heart of their poetics. But the image as a concept, as that which we see when we say caribou, is as ancient as human thought. Not all images, though, spring from material truths, like the material truth of an animal. Images are social, like doctor, and if they are social, they are political. They are shaped by experience and reinforced by culture. In a capitalist culture, images become alienated from the material they claim to represent; they are simulacra in the theoretical sense, a representation of a thing that never existed. As such, images can be wielded as weapons: to harm, to intimidate. These reified images are trafficked as truth, and they alter what is real as people bend the world to make it fit their image of it.
The poems in The Only Way Out Is Through are an intervention and an inquiry into this process. “Sonnets from Decivilization” is a crown of sonnets in the tradition of Claude McKay, Edwin Denby, Ted Berrigan, Wanda Coleman, Jack Agüeros, and Terrance Hayes. What is common between these poets is their engagement with American hegemony through the poetics of the sonnet. In the American sonnet, distinct from the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet forms, notions of the state and of belonging are always-already present, influencing the affect of negotiations between speaker and state. An alien in the eyes of the United States government, the speaker of the sonnets engages with the unreal and the real that constitutes the image of, and images from, America.
The first part of “The Image World” is a journey to the realm of images, a place that is both interior and external, personal because shared. The unreality of a familiar landscape is relayed through understatement from a vacated voice. Joseph Ceravolo, Bernadette Mayer, Fred Moten, and Anne Carson help inform the approach.
“The Applications” uses the rhetoric of bureaucracy to show how personhood is distorted when citizens and aliens are required to make their experiences and desires legible to the language of power. The narrative resonates when the reader is able to place their own experience into the blank spaces between the words, and sites where language breaks down entirely is where the reader is able transcend, along with the speaker, the commodified function of language and exist, however briefly, in meaningful senselessness. Hoa Nguyen and Alice Notley are key influences.
The final section, the second part of “The Image World,” is a vision for a future that resists the oppressive powers that have brought our world to the crises we are currently living through. The speaker of this section is the addressed of the first section, collapsing reader and speaker into the same entity. This coming to voice speaks to the necessity of articulating possible futures, of creating new images, of returning to materials truths, together, the only way out, through.
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Available for download on Thursday, May 08, 2025