Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Chandler, Karen M.

Author's Keywords

Embodied subjectivities; Body memory; Poetry; Autobiography; Experimental poetics; Feminist epistemologies


Self-knowledge in literature; Feminism in literature; Mind and body in literature


That Terrifying Center is a creative and philosophical experiment in the transmission of corporeal experiences and socio-cultural knowledge through poetry. I am bringing together the seemingly disparate threads of my studies into one creative-theoretical project: a collection of original poems exploring the development of multiple subjectivities, the terror of self-examination, and the scrutiny of memory; it is also a collection of poems that bear witness, that simply tell stories. These are poems that talk about what it's like to live in a body; they ask questions and translate answers related to becoming woman, demystifying fear, investigating genealogies of pain, and narrating family histories. As the title of the project suggests, That Terrifying Center's creative synthesis is fearsome work and the discursive chapters of this project are also part of the experiment. My poems interrogate language and somatic realities, this is not just what the body says-or how it is read by outsiders- but how it interprets, interacts with space, location, and geography. I see the body as a repository of memory and possibility. Consciously, I want to cultivate a poetics of hybridity-experimentation with language and form, while keeping a narrative voice (or voices) telling the story, using absences, space, shifts in time, and memory to translate and even reproduce the sensations of being human. The creative dissertation consists of a critical introduction and two conceptual halves. The first half is a collection of original poetry, divided into the following sections: The Bottom line, Absurdity, Conjure Woman, and Sunterblooms Ik Tew. The second half of the project consists of four discursive chapters. Chapter one presents the cultural and creative framework(s) that prefigure my treatment of "many-selvedness," and black women's embodiment as they draw from M. NourbeSe Philip's concepts "s/place," "dis place" and "bodymemory." This chapter also considers "writing the body" and the reconceptualization of creativity in the poetry and essays of Audre Lorde. Chapter two presents my work as an in-process, prismatic poetics (of parallels and intersection, of reflection) -of language and sounds, but also of space and embodied experimentation that uses poetry as an epistemological tool. Taking a cue from poet Barbara Henning's statement that Mullen adopts a kind of "verbal scat" in her poetry, I consider how the vocal scat in jazz is a particularly resonant metaphor for considering improvisation, language, and the role of "sound image" in the discussion of poetic experimentation in work by Harryette Mullen and others. Chapter three retraces the process of locating the thematic, formal and conceptual centers of the poetry manuscript. This chapter also presents some of the challenges involved in writing critically about my own poetry. In particular, I explore my desire for a poetics of hybridity and the conflicting pull to write conventional criticism and to write creatively in the discursive parts of That Terrifying Center, while considering the genesis and overall design of the creative-theoretical project. Chapter four is a lyric essay that meditates on my personal interaction with these poems, speaking frankly about the ways in which grief, illness, and memory informed the earliest conceptions of this project, its shifts and its detours. In this final chapter, I reflect on the nature of my project: the poignancy of what it has meant to translate the language of my innermost selves, to plumb my own memories, to offer up the flesh and wonder of my own terrifying poems.