Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2006


Worldwide Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Linda Kinnahan

Committee Member

Faith Barrett

Committee Member

Laura Engel


Contemporary Poetry, Relationship to Ethics, Subjectivity, Women Poets


This dissertation investigates ethics and lyric subjectivity in the writings of three American women poets. I consider select poems and poetics of Claudia Rankine, Fanny Howe, and Elizabeth Robinson, in order to argue that their postlanguage lyric poetry retains lyric subjectivity and reformulates it as ethical insofar as it is "circumspective" or "other-oriented"; that is, the lyric "I" is depicted as constituted through its relations with alterity. I apply contemporary literary-ethical methodology, notably the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the poetics of Paul Celan, the hauntology of Jacques Derrida, and the poethics of Joan Retallack, in order to demonstrate how these poets retain and revise the lyric. All three poets register the lyric subject's interiority and exteriority, use extensive intertextuality, and deploy self-reflexivity. Furthermore, I examine the ethics of reading and writing poetry, and suggest that these poets deploy what I term the Levinasian-Celanian model of postlanguage lyric poetry, wherein the poetic text is conceptualized as a site of ethical encounter between writer and reader. Rankine, Howe, and Robinson present a range of explorations of a lyric "I" that acknowledges alterity within subjectivity. Rankine critiques what she depicts as the deadening mythology of autonomous subjectivity in American culture and language. She uses the textual strategies of fragmentation, interruption, and juxtaposition to demonstrate the subject as both violable and capable of revitalization through ethical encounter within the lyric. Howe, a Catholic poet, puts the traditions of Romantic and Objectivist poetry in conversation and draws on liberation theology adds both a spiritual and politically committed dimension to the Levinasian-Celanian model of lyric encounter. Howe uses serial/spiral poetic form to underscore subjectivity as wandering, dynamic, and constituting "being-in-the-world" for the Other. Robinson draws on supernatural tropes, including the doppelgänger and the ghost, to underscore the distortions of lyric reflections of the self and the otherness inherent in self-encounter. Further, Robinson's conceptualizations of lyric voice and lyric address are Levinasian in their potential for ethical encounter between reader and poet, but she modifies this model with a Derridean emphasis on the persistence of difference and distance between the lyric "I" and the lyric "you."