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Identity and Women Poets of the Black Atlantic: Musicality, History, and Home

Concannon, Karen Elizabeth (2014) Identity and Women Poets of the Black Atlantic: Musicality, History, and Home. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis takes as its subject the points of connections and comparison that exist between five African American and Black British women poets, whose writings range from 1942 to the present day. It concentrates on the interconnection and reconstruction of their spatio-temporal geographies and their utilisation of musical traditions and historical narratives and ideas of location-dependent selfhood to articulate identity. Whilst previous scholarship tends to focus on the confines of a nation-state modality, with specifically American or British interpretations of African heritage, the methodology here is centred on the importance of a transatlantic poetic discourse to identify how literary and cultural exchanges transcend these borders. The first chapter examines the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, whose ability to combine traditional forms and African American vernacular, especially in what I identify as her ‘blues sonnets’, contextualises the voice of the marginalised in segregated Chicago within post-War US culture. The following chapter then shows that Brooks’s near-contemporary, Margaret Walker, often also follows the formal conventions of the English poetic tradition yet does so to represent the ordeal of Jim Crow segregation, while also harnessing what I will show is a mythopoeic ‘I’, which allows her to inhabit traumatic histories of slavery and its long US aftermath. The public, political grounding established by these poets is adopted by Nikki Giovanni, whose categorical voice before and after the Black Arts Movement constructs an historically minded identification for African Americans, with respect to the relationship between a prejudiced society and recognition of African origins, particularly through the musical and oral traditions that predicated the trajectory of African American cultural productions. In the fourth chapter, I then show that the work of Grace Nichols develops this invocation of an African ‘source’ and that her lyrical aesthetic, likewise, makes use of her journeys across the Atlantic and of a perpetual reconstruction of her Afro-Caribbean and Black British identities; she articulates these through her under-examined tributes to American literary influences. This sense of an Atlantic triangulation then provides the thesis with the locus through which it approaches Jackie Kay’s oeuvre. In the final chapter, I show that Kay regularly examines her complex Scottish-Nigerian heritage through the animating lens of African American blues. As such, this thesis assembles together a new and transnational group of poets, examining the intersections of their work and illuminating the shared motifs of home, origins, transformative self-identity, musicality, historical consciousness, and racial and sexual politics. 

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: poetry, transatlantic, identity, black women, blues
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr K. E. Concannon
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2015 12:48
Last Modified: 08 Jul 2015 12:48
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/9371

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