Experimental explorations of selected women’s innovative poetry written in English, with a focus on ‘the Gurlesque’

Simon, Francine (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation explores innovative poetry by selected contemporary English-language women writers. In particular, it deliberates how this poetry works between poetic traditions of lyric expressivity and forms of experimentalism. The dissertation comprises both a creative and a critical component: my debut collection Thungachi (see Addendum i), written as part of the doctorate, has already been published by the South African poetry press, uHlanga, in 2017. The scholarly component of the dissertation begins with a section which riffs on the poet Eileen Myles’s term “affidamento”. Searching for examples of local innovative female poetry, and unable to find an obvious local figure of female inspiration and guidance, where does a young South African ‘Indian’ female poet turn when she is writing between the uneasy claims of gendered identity and linguistic-conceptual experimentalism? This section of the study discusses (with different degrees of depth and intensity) my evolving poetic ideas and methods in relation to work by Meena Alexander, Eileen Myles, and Harryette Mullen, three female poets who have enabled me to frame self-reflexive thinking about my poetics. I suggest that their poetry has assisted me in exploring the various possibilities that arise when lyric expressivism is placed under the pressures of raced bodies, queerness and linguistic-conceptual experimentalism. In drawing attention to experimental women's poetry as a marginal form, I propose the concept of ‘non-place’ as a useful provisional term, able to situate and yet repeatedly to re-locate the writing of female experimental poets in their prolific and varied exploration of boundaries such as language and lyric. Here, I also draw on Rosi Braidotti’s “nomadic consciousness” as a useful conceptual node. Central to the dissertation is an extended engagement with an emergent Gurlesque, a poetics first theorised by the North American experimental female poets Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum. This section of the study explores some of the theoretical frameworks that Greenberg and Glenum have found useful in thinking through the poetries which they collected in Gurlesque: the New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics. Among these are critical girlhood studies, Riot Grrrl, camp and a female grotesque, all of which offer enlightening optics in respect of young female poets “Gurlesque tendencies”. I speculate about the possibilities of a Gurlesque poetics, considering whether more marginalised femalenesses may also find some kind of conceptual home in the term. Here, I use Ailbhe Darcy’s concept of “alternate sets of cultural referents” (2015: 3) to explore the feasibility of a more inclusive Gurlesque poetics that could be transnational, queer and raced. Overall, using examples of contemporary experimental poetry by a range of women writers, I demonstrate that women’s so-called experimental poetry cannot be restricted to received notions of Language poetry, or an avant-garde, or to refutations of a ‘confessional impulse’ in favour of disembodied abstraction. Instead, the young women poets whose work I engage illustrate the complex inflections of female, feminine, feminist, subversively drawing on a disparate range of processes, styles and indeed subjects to answer the call of what Kathleen Fraser terms “the innovative necessity” (2000).

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie dissertasie ondersoek innoverende digkuns spesifiek deur kontemporêre Engelstalige vroue skrywers. Dit oorweeg, in besonderhede, hoe hierdie digkuns werk in verskillende digkuns tradisies, van liriek-beskrywende en vorms van eksperimentelisme. Die dissertasie behels beide ʼn kreatiewe en kritieke komponent: die outeur se debuutdigbundel, genaamd Thangachi (sien Addendum i), wat geskryf is as deel van die doktoraat, is reeds gepubliseer deur die Suid Afrikaanse digkunsdrukkerry, uHlanga, in 2017. Die akademiese komponent van die dissertasie begin met ʼn afdeling wat fokus op die digter Eileen Myles se term “affidamento”. In die soeke na plaaslike voorbeelde van innoverende vroulike digkuns, en die gebrek aan sulke prominente voorbeelde as inspirasie en leiding, waarna moet ʼn jong Suid Afrikaanse vroulike digter draai as sy skryf binne die onstuimige milieu van geslagsidentiteit en taalkundig-konsepsuele eksperimentelisme? Die eerste gedeelte van die studie, bespreek (met varierende grade van diepte en intensiteit) my ontwikkelende poëtiese idees en metodes in verhouding met werk deur Meena Alexander, Elieen Myles en Harryette Mullen, drie vroulike digters wat my in staat gestel het om selfondersoekende denke in my digkuns toe te pas. In die dissertasie stel ek voor dat hul digkuns my gehelp het om die verskillende moontlikhede wat mag vorendag kom wanneer liriese ekspressiewisme/uitdrukking onder die druk van rasse-liggame, queerheid en taalkundig-konsepsuele eksperimentelisme te ondersoek. Deur aandag te vestig op eksperimentele vroue se digkuns as ʼn marginale vorm, stel ek die konsep van ‘nie-plek’ (non-place) voor, as ʼn behulpsame voorlopige term, wat dit moontlik maak om die werke van vroulike eksperimentele digters te plaas, maar ook herhalend hierdie plasing aan te pas binne hul produktiewe en gevarieerde verkenning van grense soos taal en lirieke. Hier maak ek ook gebruik van Rosi Braidotti se nomadiese bewustheid (“nomadic consciousness”) as ʼn behulpsame konseptuele node vir ʼn jong Suid Afrikaanse “Indiese” vroulike digter. Wat sentraal staan in hierdie dissertasie is ʼn uitgebreide skakeling met ʼn opkomende “Gurlesque”, ʼn digvorm wat eers deur die Noord-Amekrikaanse eksperimentele vroulike digters, Arielle Greenberg en Lara Glenum geteoretiseer is. Die tweede gedeelte van die studie verken die teoretiese raamwerke wat Greenberg en Glenum handig gevind het om om nadenkend te werk te gaan met gedigte wat hulle in die bundel Gurlesque: the New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics saam gegroepeer het in. Tussen hierdie gedigte is daar kritiese meisieskap- (“girlhood”) studies, Riot Grrrl, “camp” en ʼn vroulike groteske, wat alles ʼn verligtende perspektief bied van jong vroulike digters se “Gurlesque tendencies”. Ek spekuleer oor die moontlikhede van ʼn Gurlesque poëtika buite die konteks van ʼn “Wit Amerika”, met oorweging of meer gemarginaliseerde vroulikhede ook een of ander vorm van konseptuele tuiste kan vind in die term. Hier gebruik ek Ailbhe Darcy se konsep van alternatiewe stelle van kulturele referente (“alternate sets of cultural referents”) om die lewensvatbaarheid van ʼn meer inklusiewe Gurlesque poëtika wat transnasionale, queer en rasse grense oorskry, te ondersoek. In geheel, deur sulke voorbeelde van kontemporêre eksperimentele poësie van ʼn verskeidenheid vroulike skrywers te gebruik, demonstreer ek dat vroue se sogenaamde eksperimentele digkuns nie beperk kan word tot ontvangde idees van “Language poetry”, of avant-garde, of tot weerlegging van ʼn belydende impuls (“confessional impulse”) in ruil vir ʼn liggaamlose abstraksie nie. Inteendeel, illustreer die jong vroulike digters wie se werk ek betrek het, die komplekse verbuigings van vrou, vroulike en feminis, omverwerpend gebaseer op ʼn uiteenlopende reeks prosesse, style en inderdaad onderwerpe om die roep van Kathleen Fraser wat sy die “the innovative necessity” (2000) noem, te antwoord.

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