Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Steven F. Kruger

Committee Members

Stephanie Burt

Carrie Hintz

Joshua Wilner

Subject Categories

American Literature | Ethnic Studies | History of Gender | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Poetry | Women's History | Women's Studies

Keywords

poetics, archives, transgender studies, pedagogy, history of disciplines, life writing

Abstract

This dissertation, "A Literary History of Early Trans Poetry: Readings, Poetics, Transitions, Obstacles, Movements," creates an interdisciplinary subfield where I use aspects of trans history and trans cultural production to uncover and document the centrality of contributions by trans poets to the history of poetry and poetics. I reconstruct the literary careers, contexts, and creative vectors of the first generation of trans poets to publish books in the US: Samuel Ace, Stephanie Burt, kari edwards, Joy Ladin, Trish Salah, and Max Wolf Valerio. Instead of simply reiterating a recognizable trans narrative, I address each writer's experience of gender transition in relation to their creative literary trajectory, discussing aporias, challenges, and triumphs in conversation with their immediate contexts. In the process, I show how transition has both literary and extra-literary resonance for how we perceive an author’s work, and for what we understand that work to mean. Looking at the methodological tools of reading traditionally taught in literary studies, I demonstrate how these are inadequate to understanding the work of trans writers, and I gesture toward alternate paradigms for reading trans poets. Using trauma theory and research into the history of creative writing as an academic discipline, I examine the inadequacy for trans poets of such an institutional discipline by drawing parallels between aspects of this system and the administrative history of medical gender transition, in the process unearthing deep ideological reasons why trans people are often mistakenly assumed to be limited to the creation of their own genders rather than being able to produce artistic texts like poems. Finally, I address how each of these early trans poets managed to evade such disciplinary and contextual obstacles by entering into conversation with important movements of their moment in twentieth-century poetry, including New Narrative, Gloria Anzaldúa's This Bridge Called My Back, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, and Elliptical Poetry.

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