That way: a poem sequence & entering voices, filling space, considering time: poetic form and the representation of nineteenth-century women pioneers in America

  • Kimberly Williams

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This project, including a book-length sequence of poems and an exegesis, seeks to answer the following research question: how can the hybridization of form and use of mixed modes in poetry—including lyric poems, prose poems and more unconventional works—extend traditional narrative and lyrical boundaries in order to foster the representation of traditionally underrepresented female voices? The creative work employs these mixed modes in a continuous format to create a complex sense of space and time as it documents, represents and reimagines women’s histories and voices from participants in the nineteenth century overland migration in the United States of America. The poems incorporate or allude to material from both primary and secondary historical documents, including letters, diary entries, maps, and overland guidebooks from 1820 to the 1860s. Some of the characters presented are historical figures; others are fictional creations—products of the poetic imagination who stand in for many of the lost voices of female immigrants from the era. The exegesis provides a brief overview of the use of the long poem and the extended poetic sequence in contemporary poetry in English. It examines several mixed mode and hybrid poetic sequences written in the last 40 years, including some from writers working from the margins. These include Tyehimba Jess’s Olio, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, Alice Oswald’s Dart, and multiple works by Susan Howe. The poems are examined through the lens of feminist scholarship, with a particular emphasis on how women’s historical experiences may be retrieved, represented and “voiced” in contemporary poetry. The exegesis is especially concerned with the functioning of TimeSpace in poetry and the associated manipulation of space and language on the page’s white space. There is a tension between the way narrative poetry moves forwards through time and the often stilled or even recursive lyric moments that encompass women’s particular and individual experiences. In recognising this tension, and constructing an extended poem’s TimeSpace accordingly, women’s complex and multifarious migratory experiences—so often represented simplistically or left at the periphery of historical narratives—can be richly expressed. Both the creative and exegetical components of this thesis give priority to refurbishing and reanimating historically marginalised voices and narratives through expanding and extending the spaces for their utterances and through exploiting the flexibility that hybrid forms and mixed poetic modes afford.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul Hetherington (Supervisor) & Jen Webb (Supervisor)

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