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‘A wordlife running from mind to mind’: Inheritance, Influence, and Tradition in the Poetry of Anne Stevenson

SPENCER, ELEANOR,LEAH (2012) ‘A wordlife running from mind to mind’: Inheritance, Influence, and Tradition in the Poetry of Anne Stevenson. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis argues that, as an American poet living variously in England, Scotland, and Wales, Anne Stevenson has had a major role in bringing together diverse literary traditions and forging a distinctive transatlantic poetic. Questions of inheritance and influence are, of course, important for any poet, but especially so for a poet of dual nationality. As the title of her 2003 collection, A Report from the Border, suggests, Stevenson has found her true home in the no man’s land between different cultures and traditions. Though the poet’s claim that she ‘lost any sense of belonging either to the United States or to Britain long ago’, suggests rootlessness and disenfranchisement, it is clear that she is rooted, though by no means restrictively, in both American and British poetic traditions, and is heir to the cultural and artistic inheritances of both the Old and the New worlds. It will be shown that her work ranges widely and eclectically across British and American cultural models and poetic styles, and each chapter considers a particular facet of her bi-national and bi-cultural inheritance. The first chapter explores Stevenson’s complex and ambivalent relationship with both the texts and the figures of the Romantic poets, and her development of a pragmatic romanticism that speaks to both our late philosophical scepticism and our persisting desire for affirmation. The second chapter looks at how Stevenson, a contemporary and biographer of Sylvia Plath, eschews a ‘Confessional’ poetic in favour of oblique modes of self-expression and self-examination, most notably in her book-length epistolary poem, Correspondences (1974). The third chapter looks at the ways in which Stevenson’s elegiac poetry, in both its echoic adherences to, and innovative departures from, the conventions of the genre, succeeds in extending and expanding that legacy bequeathed by her predecessors, carrying the elegy forward into the twenty-first century. The final chapter suggests that Stevenson’s work enthusiastically reprises persistent questions and concerns about the adequacy and inadequacy of language that we recognise from the work of earlier poets from Shakespeare and the Romantics to Wallace Stevens and Robert Graves. This thesis attempts, in its study of little-known archival material held on both sides of the Atlantic, the most comprehensive examination of her work, both creative and critical, to date.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Anne Stevenson, Sylvia Plath, American poetry, British poetry, twentieth century poetry, transatlantic poetry, Anglo-American poetry, tradition, inheritance, influence, Romantic poetry, elegy, Confessional poetry, metapoetry
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Feb 2013 09:32

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