Title

Auto/Aura

Publication Date

5-2015

Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

3-9-2015

Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis

Degree Title

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

Department

English

Major Advisor

Martin Corless-Smith, Ph.D.

Advisor

Kate Walker, M.F.A.

Advisor

Clyde Moneyhun, Ph.D.

Abstract

I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are to be the most spiritual poems, And I will make the poems of my body and of mortality

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, section 6

Auto/Aura attempts to follow through on Whitman’s project by literally using materials from the world to create a situation that challenges the traditional reader-poet relationship. The poems here diverge from the page into a three-dimensional setting to continue in a largely personal and arbitrary lineage (as all poet-historical lineages tend to be according to Jerome Rothenberg) of 19th and 20th century poetic practices that viewed the visual component of the poem as just as an important component of the poem as the content itself. From Mallarme’s “Un Coup de Des…” to Ezra Pound through the Brazilian Concrete Poets and into contemporary video poetics (among many others), the use of white space, indentation, shifts in typography, nonsensical sounds, images, and scrambled syntax have been seen as invaluable elements in communicating reality as a complex palimpsest of events, ideas, people, and sensations.

Shifting the conventional location of the poem (away from the page or computer screen) functions much like the white space between lines and stanzas does in many poems. It destabilizes the relation between different points on the page and challenges the reader to make (or intuit) certain connections. And while the space between those points may only consist of a ¼” stripe of empty page, the reader might discover that they’ve jumped from ancient Rome into a kind of present moment, and a new narrator has replaced another. This kind of juxtaposition has allowed poets to manipulate multiple perspectives, effectively enabling the poem to draw from and speak through (almost simultaneously) any number of subjects.

One effect that this kind of practice has had, where a poem does not necessarily have a purpose to announce, is that the poem (and poet) has been able to push back against the reader’s expectations, allowing for a more complicated version of reality to emerge than some thought possible through traditional poetics. In many ways, a significant cross-section of 20th century poetry (often referred to as avant-garde or experimental) has seemed interested in implicating the reader in the construction of the poem’s meaning. This, in addition to the loss of faith in a universal aesthetic, has led to a poetic practice that has been exploring how human experience is an intersection of various—personal, social, historical—trajectories. In many ways, the goal of Auto/Aura hopes to continue that tradition of integrating the reader into the world of the poem. Thematically, the poems here concern themselves with how aspects of power, violence, history, and identity resonate and cycle through time. As I have tried to present these poems, the reader has to relinquish some of their physical control over the text in order to become more fully engaged with what is before them. In asking the reader to sit and track the visuals of “Call and Response”, listen carefully for parts of “It Begins Here” to become audible, and maneuver their body through “Fields”, I hope to interfere with the traditional poem-reader dichotomy in order to call attention to how arbitrary and manufactured such identities are in the present world. By calling into question one identity (and set of relationships) that is often taken for granted, these poems hope to show how mutable all our identities are as the result of complicated, overlapping, and unstable interactions distributed across time, space, and matter.

Itbeginshere.audio.mp3 (44643 kB)
Audio of the Poem It Begins Here. Has long moments of silence between each section of poetry.

Fields Images.zip (16873 kB)
Photographs from the installation of the Fields.

Call & Response.mp4 (47950 kB)
Video of Call & Response. It is meant to be looped.

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