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Title: Go on Your Nerve: Confidence in American Poetry, 1860-1960
Authors: Mahoney, Cate Louise
Advisors: Fuss, Diana J
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: confidence
Subjects: American literature
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Go on Your Nerve: Confidence in American Poetry, 1860-1960 investigates confidence in the form and style of three poets from the American Renaissance to the post-45 United States. Confidence can, at turns, mean boldness, trust, or trickery. This dissertation takes “confidence” as a keyword in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Frank O’Hara, and explores how they implement different aspects of confidence in their writing. By examining how these poets write in confident yet contradictory ways, this project takes a holistic approach to understanding confidence. I argue that confidence is not a theme for these writers but a technique. Chapter One presents Dickinson’s boldness, analyzing her command poems, a vital subset of her work previously unexplored; these poems open with a commanding voice and will their audience into being. Chapter Two situates Frost’s dramatic poetry alongside his lesser known one-act plays, comparing the two genres to see how space is manipulated in both and exposing Frost’s enduring association of writers with confidence-men (and readers as dupes). Chapter Three discusses how O’Hara creates poems that establish corresponding relationships with readers, evoking trust without relying on familiarity. The sites of his poems become safe havens for readers, a place where all are welcome and made to feel like friends.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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