‘Combination of a Guitar and a Wooden Shoulder-mounted Grenade Launcher’: Poetry, Quotation, and an Instrumental Self

Susan Tichy
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Charles Altieri has said that drawing inference from concrete particulars in poetry is an essentially mystical process, related, whatever its subject, to religious contemplation. Proponents of a more digressive or associative poetry sometimes position anti-symbolic modes like metonymy and collage on a horizontal and more social plane. Like many poets, I am interested in both these movements of mind, and like many poets I am interested in the intersections of a private metaphysics with politics and history. For me, this intersection must take place at the level of poetics, not just the level of content. To borrow a phrase from Patricia Hampl, the self can be used as an instrument rather than a source, a means by which we can both sight and site the factual and the ethical. I will present poems from two new collections in which methods of collage and pastiche allow the autobiographical to take part in, not displace, public, political and linguistic contingencies. Bone Pagoda (forthcoming) is an extended meditation on Vietnam and the Vietnam War. Gallowglass (in progress) uses collage to place personal grief on a level plane with the public grief of war. I will also talk briefly about methodology and about writing these poems in the context of current wars.

Keywords: Poetry, Political Poetry, Literary Collage, War Literature
Stream: Arts Agendas
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Susan Tichy

Associate Professor, Department of English
Graduate Writing Program, George Mason University


My work draws together threads of the personal, the historical, and the political. My books are _The Hands in Exile_ (Random House), written during and after time on an Israeli kibbutz on the occupied Golan Heights; _A Smell of Burning Starts the Day_ (Wesleyan University Press), about the Philippines during the Marcos years and during the Philippine-American War; and the forthcoming _Bone Pagoda_ (Ahsahta Press), an extended meditation on Vietnam. My first book was a National Poetry Series selection and my subsequent poetry and mixed-genre work has been recognized by awards including a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, where I have also served as juror. In addition to workshops in poetry and collage, my teaching interests include women Modernist & avant-garde poets, war poetry, “the poem including history,” and the Scottish traditional ballad. I am a contributing editor to _Practice: New Writing + Art_.

Ref: A06P0123