What is the boundary between fiction and nonfiction? What happens if the line between the two is crossed? Can we possibly recall events in our lives exactly as they happened? In creative nonfiction, such as memoir, the audience expects the writer to recall things exactly as they happened, with no embellishments, re-ordering, additions, or subtractions. It seems as if authors of creative nonfiction are bound to be questioned about events, nitpicked on details, challenged on memories, and accused of portraying real-life people the "wrong" way. Yet when the writer creates fiction, it seems to go the other way: readers like to think there are parallels between an author and her stories. Readers congratulate themselves for finding the similarities between the two, and instead of focusing on the crafted story at hand, try to search out which parts are "true" and which are embellished. Does any of this matter, though; don't all stories tell a kind of truth? We have an insatiable urge to classify, to "know" the truth, but truth isn't merely a recollection of cold facts; likewise, a story isn't any less true if it's fiction.
As a dyslexic child, I always had trouble finding my voice. It's hard to express yourself in words, when you struggle with them. For me words always come later when I write. But most people don't understand how I feel. If your synapses fire off at the right time how can you image what it would be like it they didn't? That's where fiction comes in. If you can override someone's lack of experience with the use of a metaphor, then by distancing the reader from reality with an allegory, you can get to truth that's hard to capture any other way. You can also simply tell the truth in your writing with plain nonfiction. For me, fiction and nonfiction are a way for me to claim my voice and convey truth. Only a reader can decided what that truth looks like.
In the preface to this collection, "Poetry and History: Finding 'What Will Suffice,'" I show how Czeslaw Milosz's "Dedication" and Jorie Graham's "Guantánamo" embody the virtues of philosophical meditation and the moral imagination to create a unique poetry of witness. These poems also provide American poets with an example of how they can regain the trust of an apathetic general reading audience. Tinder for the Bathhouses is a collection of poems in which I use the moral imagination to indirectly bear witness to events as far ranging as the Holocaust and the Iraq War. Using the family as a foundation, I show how historical narratives can provide a poet with the tools to think about larger metaphysical questions that poetry can raise, such as the nature of beauty and the purpose of art.
The introduction of this thesis is an essay examining the poem Homage to Paul Cezanne by Charles Wright. Claiming that the capacity to serve as intersection of the singular and universal is poetry's means to transcendence, the essay uses the Charles Wright's poem to demonstration this capacity, identifying poetry's ability to access the primitive: its connection to the base of what humanity is and can be, as the means by which that transcendence is possible. Placing the discussion within the context of the Romantic Movement and furthering the literary ideals of the paralleling interior human Nature, to external nature. Following this introduction is a four section collection of poetry, unified by the philosophy of the essay which precedes it.
The preface to this collection, "Against Expectation: The Lyric Narrative," highlights the ways James Wright, Stephen Dunn, and C.K. Williams use narrative to strengthen their poems. Where My Own Grave Is is a collection of poems that uses narrative to engage our historical fascination with death.
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