Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Wayne Koestenbaum

Committee Members

Tanya Agathocleous

Eric Lott

Subject Categories

American Literature | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, North America


New York school poetry, New American Poetry, poetics, domesticity, urban space, New York City


This dissertation reconsiders the politically charged interpersonal relationships portrayed in the New York School poetry, an avant-garde literary movement from the latter half of the twentieth century. I examine this poetry’s depictions of intimate social exchanges occurring inside residences and outdoors on the street. These are marked by what Jane Jacobs and Samuel Delany refer to as “contact,” or the in-person social interactions crucial to the fabric of a functioning city. I use the work of Jacobs, Delany, and other urban theorists to investigate the work of poets on the social fringes of the New York School’s first generation. This socially engaged poetry allows me to map the interplay between social scenes and their immediate environment, with a focus on deterritorialized family formations and the spaces that foster them.

First-generation New York School poets are too often misunderstood as antipolitical aesthetes. This view problematically refuses to think through these poets’ conversations with one another and their larger cultural contexts. Critics interpreting these poets’ aesthetic sensibilities in isolation overlook the tensions that writers such as David Antin, Hettie Jones, LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), Bernadette Mayer, and Alice Notley present across axes of class, race, and gender through their poetry that interrogates domestic arrangements and intimate relationships. I show that these writers produced a politically and textually radical poetics by challenging then-prevalent cultural norms such as the nuclear family, much as their texts disrupted dominant discourse.

These poets’ self-chosen families can be described as queer, not only because they violate normativity, but also because they provide nurture through the close-knit communities recorded in their poetry. Further, in documenting the changing constituency of the polis, these poets also register the changing definition of the political. I argue that these poets’ domestic intimacy is a form of community that experiments with new ways of being in writing. These poets make their social world anew as they reshape the spaces poetic lyrics make on printed pages. They employ pastiche, garrulousness, and unconventional punctuation, among other tactics, to enact their radical kinship structures on the page.

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