McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Linda A. Kinnahan
documentary, poetics, labor, poetry, solidarity, witness, Hogue, Llewellyn, Wright, Nowak
Although the term “documentary” originated in film and photography studies, it has been used to describe a range of compositional and research strategies in discussions of twentieth and twenty-first century poetry as well. A study of such documentary poetics, however, requires us to distinguish between documentary poetics in general and social documentary poetics in particular. To illustrate this distinction, I discuss five contemporary books of poetry and photographs: C.D. Wright’s and Deborah Luster’s One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, Cynthia Hogue’s and Rebecca Ross’s When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, Chris Llewellyn’s Fragments from the Fire: The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of March 25, 1911, Mark Nowak’s Shut Up Shut Down, and Mark Nowak’s and Ian Teh’s Coal Mountain Elementary. In every case, the poets and photographers participate in working-class memory-building and engage with various subjects of economy as they participate in the tradition of the social documentary book. They demand that readers interact with the poetry and images to make sense of the complex juxtapositions of documents, and this interaction implies the construction of a community, a forging of connections between disparate parts. The self-reflexive and other-directed approaches in these texts signal, however imperfectly, a desire to [per]form a collectivity in and through the written word, thereby positing an overall strategy for composition—textual solidarity—which models how we might confront the alienating effects of global capitalism and the divisive “isms” that it both requires and reinforces.
Gaffey, M. B. (2020). Subjects of Economy: Social Documentary Poetics and Contemporary Poetry of Work (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1932