Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ammiel Alcalay

Committee Members

Matthew K. Gold

Wayne Koestenbaum

Subject Categories

Digital Humanities | English Language and Literature


poetry, cosmopolitanism, archives, anglophone, pedagogy


This project proposes a replacement for some institutional-archival mechanisms of non-exclusively anglophone poetry as it is produced under racial capitalism and archived via its universities and grant-bearing nonprofits. The project argues specifically for the self-archiving of non-exclusively anglophone poetry, and by extension of poetry, in a manner that builds away from US-dominated, nationally-organized institutions. It argues that cosmopolitanist norm translation, as advocated by various critics, can function as part of a critique of institutional value creation used in maintaining inequalities through poetry. The US-based Poetry Foundation is currently the major online archive of contemporary anglophone poetry; the project comprises a series of related essays that culminate in a rough outline for a collaboratively designed, coded, and maintained application to replace the Foundation’s website. Whatever benefit might result, replacing archival mechanisms of racial capitalism while remaining within its systemic modes of value creation is at best a form of substitution: it is not an actual change in relations and not a transition to anything. Doing so may, however, allow greater clarity in understanding how poetry is situated within US-based institutions, beyond the images and values that poets and critics in the US often help to maintain.

Chapter one, “‘Indianness’ and Omission: 60 Indian Poets,” reads the anthology 60 Indian Poets, published in 2008 in India and the UK (with US distribution), as argument about the contours of Indian Poetry in English and about the contours of India’s relations in the world. It relates Rashmi Sadana’s work on the meanings of English in India to decisions made within the anthology, and look further at Pollock’s conception of cosmopolitanism and vernacularity, particular as it applies to the Indian North-East and the poetry of Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih. The second chapter, “Archival Power: Individualization, the Racial State, and Institutional Poetry” engages Roderick Ferguson’s concept of archival power to explain the 2015 “crisis” within contemporary US poetry driven by practitioners of conceptual poetry, and an attempted archival act with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. The chapter ends with a fragment of Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s recent account of US university life as experienced by Black artists and scholars. That chapter is followed by “The Poetry Foundation as Site of Archival Power,” which extends Jodi Melamed’s critique of US university value-creation mechanisms to Poetry magazine and the Poetry Foundation’s website. It argues that the Poetry Foundation functions as a de facto arm of the US university system as outlined in the previous chapter, and aids in capitalist value-creation. “TextFrame: An Open Archive for Poetry,” the fourth chapter, is an attempt to begin thinking a replacement for current mechanisms of archiving non-exclusively anglophone poetry. The fifth chapter, “Narayanan’s Language Events as Free-Tier Application,” documents work imagined for TextFrame, as an application, that has actually already been built: the poet and scholar Vivek Narayanan adapted Robert Desnos’s Language Events for the classroom using a variety of discrete free services, and the present author collaborated with Narayanan in creating a stand-alone Web application.

Chapters six, seven, and eight function as case studies to be used in creating templates for providing context to specific poems within any built application. Both of the specific moments covered transmogrify the “anti-psychological.” The sixth chapter, “An Unendurable Age: Ashbery, O’Hara, and 1950s Precursors of ‘Self’ Psychology” thus argues that an anti-psychological ethos is developed in Ashbery and O’Hara’s poems of that moment. It shows that Frank O’Hara’s “Personism: A Manifesto” (1959) is almost certainly a parody of Gordon Allport’s theory of Personalism, of related strands of 1950s American psychology, and of the poetry that developed alongside them in the 1930s. It follows other critics in looking at midcentury conceptions of schizophrenia as a specifically homosexual disease, and argues for the importance of contemporarily published examples of schizophrenic discourse, particularly those of Harry Stack Sullivan. It argues that Ashbery’s poem “A Boy” can be read as directly engaging those ideas, and opposing them. The shorter discussions follow consider the affinities that Some Trees has with anti- or a-psychological theories of mind that were being developed at Harvard and MIT at the time that Ashbery and O’Hara were in Cambridge, including generative grammar and critiques of philosophical analyticity. The eighth chapter, “Before Conceptualism: Disgust and Over-determination in White-dominated Experimental Poetry in New York, 1999-2003,” highlights Dan Farrell and Lytle Shaw’s very different uses of lyric’s peculiar staging of voice to foreground the multi-furcation of white identities and voice in response to state pressures.

The last two chapters take up two corollaries, or theoretical concerns that fell out trying to think a cosmopolitanist application. The first, “Why Not Reddit?” examines existing commercial cosmopolitanist solutions for some of the functionality proposed for the application, and reasons for rejecting them. In doing so, it discusses Thomas Farrell’s construct of “rhetorical culture” in detail, and traces a theory of communication and authorship within a community, particularly with regard to thinking history. The last chapter (and second corollary) is titled “Ethos in Pedagogy as a Limit on Norm Translation.” It establishes the Aristotelian concept of ethos as a pedagogical limit for norm translation. The study’s governing interest is not the conflicts or differences between practitioners or tendencies that are detailed here, but their relative incomprehensibility of those differences outside of their formative contexts.

692127_supp_DB93190A-D0A2-11E9-BAFD-A01859571AF4.zip (164490 kB)
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