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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"This is poetry" : U.S. poetics and radio, 1930-1960 Houglum, Brook Louise


“This is Poetry”: U.S. Poetics and Radio, 1930-1960 examines the significance of radio broadcasting to the theorization and construction of American poetry and poetics in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Poets found in the pervasive and popular mass sound medium resources for poetic experiment, models of communication, and a means to intervene in poetic, cultural, and political debates. I demonstrate how poets generated poetic models of speaking and listening based on how they theorized the capacity of radio broadcasting to facilitate both mass (distal and simultaneous) circulation and the effect of intimate (proximate and personal) communication. Both radio broadcasting and secondgeneration modernist writing practices developed in an interwar and postwar period of anxiety about political affiliation and rhetoric, propaganda, the position of the United States in the global scene, and the role of literary work in cultural debates. By developing “critically communicative” poetic techniques and texts that proceeded from their ideas about how radio broadcasting functions, I argue, poets negotiated tensions attendant to the literary cultural moment and questions about the potential work of poetry among mass cultural channels. Through examining the poems, essays, radio dramatic scripts, broadcast recordings, and personal correspondence of second-generation modernists Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Archibald MacLeish, Ruth Lechlitner, and Kenneth Rexroth, this thesis demonstrates how radio enabled poets to investigate the possibilities and limits of mass sound communication for both poetic and public discourse. Chapter one articulates radio broadcasting as a model for intimate non-visual poetic reception that enabled attention to the sounding of regional and marginalized Depression-era voices. Chapters two and three demonstrate how broadcasting enabled interventions into interwar and wartime mass cultural configurations and facilitated critical cultural debate, but also examine how the temporal, commercial, and regulatory structures of broadcasting limited such public interventions. The final chapter addresses how radio broadcasting informed the development of postwar “personalist” oral poetics which engaged intimate, spontaneous strategies of written and oral communication to pose challenges to dominant literary and cultural modes and strictures.

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