Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Ammiel Alcalay

Committee Members

Giancarlo Lombardi

Bettina Lerner

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Art Practice | Comparative Literature | Digital Humanities | Literature in English, North America | Nonfiction | Other English Language and Literature | Poetry


Poetry, Document, Documentary, Documental


This dissertation presents, analyzes, and builds on the existing literary genealogy of documental poetry. In 2020 Michael Leong proposed the term documental poetry to describe the turn toward source materials in 21st-century North American poetry, seen in longform research-based poems that explicitly incorporate documentation and seek to intervene in cultural memory. Using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance, I argue that there are clear affinities between 21st-century poets and their 20th-century literary forerunners, also that an expansion of the scope of documental poetics is needed. The three nodes of connection I examine are works by: Muriel Rukeyser and M. NourbeSe Philip, Langston Hughes and Mark Nowak, and Edward Sanders and Kenneth Goldsmith. In doing so I develop critical vocabulary to describe the affinities among this diverse range of poems, including: document, frame, figure of the poet, audiences, process, and project. The implications for future research are that documental poetry is not merely a 21st-century phenomenon, but a recurring strategy for poets in different time periods and locations.