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Title: "I am made by her, and undone" : mother-son relationships in confessional and post-confessional lyric
Author: Baker, Hannah
ISNI:       0000 0004 2708 9447
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2011
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This dissertation offers close readings of a representative of poems by male confessional and post-confessional writers. I examine poems by men whose construction of the motherson relationship sheds light on the notions of confession and poetic identity. These readings are informed by psychoanalysis, primarily the work of Freud, D.W. Winnicott, Christopher Bollas, Jessica Benjamin, and Adam Phillips. I argue that the term "confessional poetry" although often critiqued is useful in highlighting the psychological dimensions of the mode and in locating the writers within a literary-historical period that begins with the publication of Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959) and marks a shift towards a colloquial, personal, and deviant poetics. By looking at one aspect of confessional poetry, the writer's fundamental relationship to his mother, I argue for a rethinking of the seemingly masculine poetics of Robert Lowell and John Berryman and the gay sensibility of Allen Ginsberg. I discuss the ways in which male poets collaborate with their mothers, represent motherhood as transcending gender and biology, and suggest that mothers and ideas about mothers play into poetic self-fashioning. Examining crossgender relationships and alliances as represented in a handful of poems has implications on theories of poetic influence, which tend to highlight either same-sex collaboration or, in Harold Bloom's conception, father-son rivalry. This dissertation contributes to an understanding of confessional writing as self-exploratory, uncertain of its own status, and mediated by analysts, parents, and texts, rather than as titillating self-disclosure. Chapter 1 examines two mother poems by first-generational confessional poets, John Berryman and Robert Lowell, and applies Jessica Benjamin's model of intersubjectivity to explore the poet's identification with and differentiation from the mother figure. I consider Lowell's acknowledgment of his mother's identity prior to his own existence; in contrast, Berryman asserts the poet's need to banter with the mother and so discover the writing self as paradoxically reactionary and autonomous. In Chapter 2, I suggest that Allen Ginsberg'S "Kaddish" and Frank Bidart's "Confessional" represent the poet-son's desire to cure the mother's madness; both writers depict soul-making and soulsearching as essential to identity and autobiography. As I consider the literary-historical place of these two poets, who anticipate and respond to Life Studies, I highlight their shared preoccupations with madness, crisis, and intertextuality. Chapter 3 explores poems by two post-confessional writers, Robert Hass and C.K. Williams, which revise the literary mode, and bring to the forefront the fictionality of autobiography, the trope of the maternal body, and the limitations of the child-parent, confessor-confessant, and victim-perpetrator dichotomies. In Chapter 4 and the coda, I discuss Thorn Gunn's transatlantic response to confessional poetry, and examine how his poems about his mother are at odds with his critical rejection of American confessional verse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available