Year of Publication

2004

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dale Bauer

Abstract

This dissertation demonstrates how poetry about Appalachia expanded American considerations of democracy, ethnicity, and cultural values. I argue that poetry is profoundly communal in its construction and investigate how the value of poetry changes based upon its transfer through varying networks of production, circulation, and reception. Informed by theories of cultural capital and rhetoric, the chapters trace three books of poetry from their composition and publication to their reception and influence, noting how central political and social institutions and individuals shaped that process. The dissertation establishes how the poets crafted their writing to sway specific interpretive communities attitudes on pluralism. In Hounds on the Mountain (Viking, 1937), James Still sang about the erosion of the quiet earth for the liberal, middleclass readers of The Atlantic. In U. S. 1 (CoviciFriede, 1938), Muriel Rukeyser wrote about the deaths of migrant and African-American miners, the Spanish Civil War, and the threat of fascism for popular-front readers of The New Republic, Poetry, and the New Masses. In Clods of Southern Earth (Boni and Gaer, 1946), Don West catalyzed resistance in an interracial readership of southern (and mountain) sharecroppers and factory workers. In each case, the complex interrelations between history, authors, and readers show their mutually transformative effects on pluralism. Within American pluralism from1900 to 1948, my work reveals the vital relations between established ethnicitiesAfrican-American, Jewish, Anglo, American Indian, and Southernand Appalachia. My account follows the concrete connections of pluralism from Plessy vs. Fergusons judicial theory of racial purity, through a cultural pluralism based on national origins during WWI, to the Harlem Renaissance, and ends with an examination of regional pluralism in the 1930s. Appalachia was then often understood as preserving remnants of a premodern America, and the authors about whom I write used it to authenticate the values of community, which they felt to be endangered by the threats of modern dissociation, industrial exploitation, and fascist culture. Through close readings of poems in the three books, I establish Appalachias role in the discourse of modern American pluralismthe poetics of region and race.

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