Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Golding, Alan

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Maxwell, Kristi

Committee Member

Maxwell, Kristi

Committee Member

Polzer, Natalie

Committee Member

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

O'Leary, Peter

Author's Keywords

poetry; magic; queer; alchemy; romantic; spell


"Words have power": no more obvious statement has perhaps ever been made in an essay. However, the nature of that power is quite complicated, with a long and contentious history. I think of poetry as magic. Poetry is magical in the sense that it has ineffable qualities to it that enable readers to experience new thoughts and feelings when experiencing poetry, but when I say magic I mean that I think of poetry as actual, practical magic. As I will argue, poetry has magical qualities to it regardless of who is weaving the words, while intentional use of a self-aware magical poetics renders the effects of poetry palpable and controllable by the poet. A magical poetics, as I argue, is an effective (and affective) sociopolitical tool. In this essay, I approach a definition of magic pertaining to language and poetics and outline the historical origins of magical poetry in efficacious language practices and rituals since antiquity. I explore these practices as ancestral predecessors of the aesthetics of magic in poetry, emphasizing the English Romantics and stretching to the present day, in order to better understand how and why certain poems and poets attempt to evoke, conjure, banish, channel, and otherwise incant through language use, particularly by leveraging the semiotic slippage of meaning. I tell the story of magical poetics using a variety of methods and styles based on close reading and literary analysis, cultural and historical theory, queer and feminist perspectives, memoir, self-reflection and poetics statement, anecdote, Twitter critique, oral history, #BlackLivesMatter counter–hegemony, and other counter–moves in the hope of creating an "alchemical" formula — a spell of its own, intended to encourage belief and practice. This essay depends upon a theoretical backbone based in liminality and theories of the margins, and so I feel that only a queered scholarly style will convey meaning as I intend for it to be conveyed, matching form to content — as above, so below.

Available for download on Thursday, November 14, 2024

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