The Investigative Reader: Documentary Poetics and the Epistolary Narrative

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When William Carlos Williams, the author of Paterson, interrupts lines of poetic verse with found letters, medical records, newspaper clippings and similar documents, do these non-literary documents, as critic Hayden Carruth stated, "derive literary value from their juxtaposition with verse"? How do found documents create a significant impact in poetry? In an attempt to answer these questions, this dissertation examines how documentary poetry functions, looking closely at how each poet makes a conscious effort to manipulate content such as collage, scrapbook, pastiche, montage, and patchwork, exercising an artistic sensibility. The intention of this dissertation is to explore the relationship between real documents and found material and imaginative poetry as well as how the intimacy of the journal and letter function as poetry. The scholarly essay investigates which methods poets utilize to mix documents and imaginative poetry, how found documents negotiate with the verse, in what way human documents and social documents stimulate documentary poetry, and how the epistolary form provides temporal complexity in narratives and poetry. My creative work is an example of how the document serves as source of power for poetry. The dissertation's second chapter identifies some of the various styles of documentary poetry and illustrates how the found material is put into poetic form. Chapter three investigates how found material interacts with original verse as well as identifying the possible moments where document and verse negotiate. Chapter four, using Janet Altman's idea of "temporal complexity," explores the tensions created through the epistolary form in narratives and documentary poetry. In part two, my original creative work is a book length poem inspired by a journal and travel log written by Francis Hammel in 1920. The narrative poem takes place in 1920 and starts in Fort Worth, Texas; it logs the observations of Francis's travels to Los Angeles and back to Fort Worth. I incorporate found materials such as letters, newspaper articles, photographs, and excerpts from Manhood in America: A Cultural History by Michael Kimmel.

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