“Archiving Otherwise: Contemporary Documentary Poetry” considers how the documentary mode transforms poetic forms in contemporary book-length poems. The “archival turn” in the twenty-first century has produced a surge in research-based poetry that uses documents like court cases, medical records, news clippings, and letters as what Marianne Moore calls the “raw material of poetry.” These documentary “project books” asymptotically approach their subjects, curating and arranging an array of voices, documents, and forms. Poets attempt the twinned task of filling archival absence and archiving absence in a process I call “archiving otherwise”: they gather new counter-archives or turn the language of the state against itself in acts of détournement. By highlighting how the past is imbricated in the present, gathering the sediment of history, and extending through time and space, book-length documentary poetry practices Édouard Glissant’s “poetics of accumulation.” Reading transnational American documentary poetry written after 9/11, this project attends to the poetry of documentary poetics. The extraliterary discourses documentary poems engage or absorb are not replacing poetic techniques, but catalyzing innovations based on existing poetic forms.
The chapters in Part I, “Book-length Cohesion,” address three large-scale structures that turn parts into wholes: momentum through narrative suspense and sonnet networks; frames formed by academic and poetic paratexts; and narrativized argument via anecdotes and what I call “evidentiary arrangement.” Part I reads poems by Tyehimba Jess, Natasha Trethewey, Maggie Nelson, C.D. Wright, BLUNT RESEARCH GROUP, and Claudia Rankine. Part II, “The Poetics of Documentary Rhetoric,” expands this archive to include Anne Carson, M. NourbeSe Philip, Layli Long Soldier, Solmaz Sharif, and Susan Briante. Documentary poetry, like documentary film, is a distinctly public form: it seeks to inform, persuade, and move its audience. Even when it fictionalizes, documentary poetry refers to and makes claims about the world; it asserts language’s power to constitute collectivities and influence actions. The final three chapters locate documentary within the framework of Aristotle’s three branches of rhetoric, pairing ceremonial rhetoric with elegiac apostrophe, courtroom rhetoric with ekphrastic description, and legislative rhetoric with anaphoric repetition. Ultimately, this project shows how documentary is a powerful poetic mode for writing with and against an archive.
“Ekphrasis as Evidence: Forensic Rhetoric in Contemporary Documentary Poetry,” Word
& Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, 37.2 (2021): 142-151.
“Archive as Underworld in the Modern Long Poem,” Callaloo: A Journal of African
Diaspora Arts and Letters, 41.2 (2018): 44–58, forthcoming.
“Archival Assemblages: Conceptualism and Documentary Poetics in the Twenty-First
Century,” Book Review on Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry by Michael Leong (Iowa University Press, 2020), for Contemporary Literature, forthcoming.
“Activist Documentary Poetics: On Susan Briante’s Defacing the Monument,” under
review at Jacket2.
Presentations and Workshops
“American Meridian” documentary film pitch-deck, "Ethics and Representation in
Documentary Filmmaking" workshop led by Angela J. Aguayo and James Chase Sanchez, Rhetoric Society of America Summer Institute, Syracuse, NY, June 2021. (Virtual)
“Close Listening: Collective Composition and Paratextual Performance in BLUNT
RESEARCH GROUP’s The Work-Shy,” Panel on (Meta)Narratives, English Graduate Student Organization Conference on Vulnerability, Cornell University, April 2021. (Virtual)
“Anaphora’s Anti-Economy: Documentary Poetry and Legal Discourse,” English
Department Roundtable, Cornell University, March 2021. (Virtual)
“Unraveling Elegy in Anne Carson’s Nox,” Panel on American Elegy, Now, American
Literature Association Symposium on American Poetry, Washington, DC, February 2020.
“The Poetics of…Poetics?” Panel on Metatexts, English Graduate Student Organization
Colloquium, Cornell University, March 2019.
“Speaking a Cemetery: Alice Oswald’s Memorial: an Excavation of Homer’s Iliad,” Emily
Dickinson International Society’s panel on Poems of War, SAMLA 90: Fighters from the Margins: Socio-Political Activists and their Allies, Birmingham, AL, November 2018.
“Narrating Napping in Mrs. Dalloway,” graduate workshop with Rebecca Walkowitz,
Novel Theory: Society for Novel Studies Conference, Cornell University, May 2018.
“‘A spectacle to which there is no end’: Narrative Looping as Self-Crossing in The
Prelude,” Panel on Forms of Knowledge Production, The Global Nineteenth Century Colloquium: Overwhelming Pessimisms, Cornell University, March 2017.
“Heteroglossic Monologue in ‘Annie Pengelly,’” Panel on Poetry and Poetics, PAMLA
Conference, Portland State University, November 2015.
“Heteroglossic Monologue in Lorna Goodison's ‘Annie Pengelly,’” Panel on Caribbean
Voices, Human Terrains: Identity, Geography, Politics Conference, The University of Virginia, April 2015.
Book Project: Negotiating the Gap: Contemporary Documentary Poetry
Book-length documentary poems work in and across gaps – gaps in the archive and gaps between poems in a series: documentary happens in the interstices. As I revise my dissertation into a book manuscript, I will be adding new sections on "documentary fictions." This new research will address the role of the imagination in documentary poetics in two ways: 1) the persona poem as a form of historical fiction, specifically in the work of contemporary African American poets, and 2) documentary speculative nonfiction as a means of narrating and describing events that exceed the apparatuses of cultural memory (the transatlantic slave trade) or scientific knowledge (climate change). Some documentary poems and ecopoetry that I will inform this research include: Craig Santos Perez's from unincorporated territory and Habitat Threshold, Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler, Kaia Sands's Remember to Wave, Cecily Nicholson's From the Poplars, Tyehimba Jess’s Olio, Eve Ewing’s 1919, Victoria Chang’s Obit., and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s The Age of Phillis.
New Directions: Television Studies
My research on documentary fictions will provide the basis for my next project on mockumentary television. Initially popularized by The Office, mockumentary continues to find success in shows like Documentary, Now! and What We Do in the Shadows. Mockumentary combines familiar documentary conventions with subversive humor to make political interventions. I have already begun thinking about mockumentary in my classroom, examining the poetics of humor in my cultural studies course “Dramedy from Ancient Greece to NBC” and the contours of contemporary documentary in my upcoming course “Documentary, Now?” Extending my research on seriality in poetry, I will examine the specific affordances of serial forms for mockumentary. How does the series’ cadences of repetition and return, its navigation of the empty space between episodes, and its stretched-out temporal scope create unique opportunities for both political commentary and punchlines?