Ligatures of time and space: 1920s New York as a construction site for modernist "American" narrative poetry



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This dissertation examines spatial-temporal aspects of modernist, self-consciously “American” narrative poetry set in 1920s New York. Because many cultural considerations and languages get left out of popular theories of modernism, I fashion an alternative characterization using Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the chronotope to account for modernist poetry written in minor languages, such as Yiddish, Black dialect, and Spanish. Five poems—Hart Crane’s The Bridge (1929), Moyshe-Leyb Halpern’s In NyuYork (1919), Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) and Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York (completed in 1929, published in 1936)—exploit the lack of a normative sense of time and a wholeness of place that characterizes modernist literary depictions of the city to establish a position in which to write with authority. Distinguishing between poetry as a “form” and poetry as a “social force” allows me to apply a theory that had been developed for prose narrative in order to discuss the chronotopic significance of such purely poetic features as rhyme, meter, and rhythm.