Collaborative poetics: Frank O'Hara and Robert Creeley
Gold, Alexandra Jane
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Collaborative Poetics: Frank O’Hara and Robert Creeley draws on literary studies, art history, and bibliography to examine the transactions between the visual and verbal arts found in the American poets’ work. Bringing longstanding aesthetic debates about poetry and painting to bear on studies of collaboration, the dissertation counters the field’s prevailing intra-disciplinary focus. Visual-verbal collaborations, it suggests, undo conventional dichotomies between these descriptive systems, rendering insufficient a binary view of the “sister arts” as antagonists or analogues. By examining Creeley’s and O’Hara’s interdisciplinary forms and practices, this study advances a notion of “collaborative poetics” that centrally depends on both inter-artistic and inter-subjective exchange. As two of the most prolific collaborators of the mid-20th century – completing over 50 projects with visual artists between them – O’Hara and Creeley serve as exemplary case studies, situated at the forefront of an era in which reciprocity between the avant-garde arts was increasingly common. Through analyses of O’Hara’s early ekphrastic poems (Chapter 1) and Creeley’s literary self- portraiture (Chapter 3), Collaborative Poetics suggests that poets’ interactions with visual media destabilize lyric authority, creating space for reciprocal attachments between artists, artworks, and audiences. The poets’ artists’ books – Frank O’Hara and Michael Goldberg’s 1960 Odes (Chapter 2) and Robert Creeley and Robert Indiana’s 1968 Numbers (Chapter 4) – further advance a claim for alterity by refusing the conservative demand for “artistic purity” and prompting conversation between different (and traditionally opposed) artistic media. Restoring these little-studied works to their original interdisciplinary contexts, the project reinvigorates their status as material objects and subjects of analysis. Finally, the coda both considers the still-tenuous place of such interdisciplinary projects within many institutional spaces, including the academy and the museum, and reflects on the midcentury poets’ collaborative legacy as it turns to a brief reading of contemporary American poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and painter Kiki Smith's 2006 artist’s book Concordance.