Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.
Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis through interlibrary loan.
Theses that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
poetry, reality, pop, dead, performance, essay
In his essay collection Another Future, Alan Gilbert argues that culture, at it’s best, “interrogates the gap between the ideal and the real.” Ad copy, public text, Hallmark cards, narrative film, etc flood ‘the masses’ with the ideal: the dream of love, the dream of the new, happiness, happiness, happiness, while it purports to be ‘real.’ Conversely, a fair portion of art positions itself staunchly against the marketplace, it too claiming ‘realness,’ a superiority to ‘representation,’ a championing of ‘authenticity’ and ‘the individual experience.’
Art and poetry can be a venue to complicate this dichotomy, demystify all cultural products, and question the usage of massive words such as ‘real,’ ‘dream,’ ‘new,’ love.’ Maybe the most effective way to interrogate the gap between ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ is to read “the social poetically and poetry socially.” While post-modernism concentrated on experimentation with form and bridging a ‘high’ and ‘low’ divide, Gilbert argues that what comes next is an emphasis on the “social ramifications of cultural products.” As Kenneth Goldsmith says, “Context is the new content.”
But I’m not interested in simplistic Conceptualist copy and paste. The function of art shifts to an aggregation and recontextualization of information: how ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ are represented, implemented, and manipulated across various social contexts. Artist John Baldessari asks: “Where does art reside? Is it physically there in that painting? Is it in my head? Could it be a trace memory? Could it be a photo? What is necessary for it? Can you just talk about it?” For me, there’s little difference between creating a cultural product, writing ‘about’ someone else’s cultural product, or interviewing artists about cultural products they made. Warhol thought of his body of work as equally visual and vocal: Andy is not Andy without his interviews. Conversation as poem. The conversation in the media around a poem as poem.
Example: a poem by Kristen Stewart, a Hollywood actress, cannot be divorced from the reactions and retaliations it spawned. The content of Stewart’s poem, her word choice or where she broke the line fades to the background as voices across the Internet use the poem as an opportunity to judge and humiliate her. I’m concerned with how capital P Poetry is represented in the mainstream, how people experience poetry outside the context of the small press world, and reclaiming such experiences as Poetry. Can a commercial that features Whitman be labelled as a poem? Can my writing about how Whitman is represented in an iPad commercial be a poem? Or, how does listening to a poem while observing one’s surroundings influence one’s experience of the poem? In the ‘I listen’ series, I try to acknowledge that poems do not create a world, but exist within one.
And I think of this book as lyric poetry, but my ‘lyric I’ must account for itself and its contexts. It must interview and interrogate itself. Even knowing what the lyric I is requires a privileged position. This must be acknowledged, and leads to a reckoning with former selves, former heroes. The ‘multitudes’ I contain are not my fellow citizens, but all the cultural products I’ve consumed in thirty years and how those products and individuals have changed me. I’m approaching cultural products and their contexts from a subjective, lyric, populist lens, trying to articulate each subject’s intention, because for me it’s in the absurdity of intention where the humor, or the poetry, or the ‘real,’ or ‘profound experience of art’ resides.