Date of Award
Craig A. Challender, Ph.D.
Steven P. Faulkner, Ph.D.
Robert L. Lynch, Ph.D.
Country life does not always feature the idyllic beautiful landscapes and the closeness of family as depicted in Elizabethan pastoral and Romantic nature poetry. While these elements indeed exist, much of country life is grittily realistic - a condition that derives from the hardships and "the dailiness of experience," as Virginia Woolf put it, consonant with living in "a state of nature." Drawing on my own rural experiences, first in my home state of Pennsylvania and later in North Carolina and Virginia, I will explore in my poems the complex relationship structures that form in rural America, focusing on the dynamics of the rural working class family.
The voice I am developing in my poems is influenced by female autobiographical poets such as Kim Addonizio and Sharon Olds, both of whom have a remarkable talent for investing their confessional poetry with universal themes such as family relationships that emphasize love, loss, and death. Additionally, B.H. Fairchild and Sydney Lea, whose poems explore the particularities of the rural middle class and country living, also have been influences on the poems I am writing for a collection I am entitling Life on the Back Roads: Poems. My poem "In the Garden," for example, reflects the influence of nature on my childhood. On the other hand, I have found that the hardships of rural living can also, though in a much different way, establish closeness within the family unit and create a larger sense of community as well. My poem "The Things We Don't Say" shows this flawed side of families, demonstrating how this balance of struggle and love helps create the hard-earned (as opposed to the idyllic) appeal of country life.
My informal, largely narrative poems are designed to engage the people who live and work in rural America. My poems create universal themes that a multitude of readers can relate to but the specifics such as nature, the hardships, and the socio-economic dynamics distinguish how rural living affects the universal themes of familial love, loss, and struggle. It is the specifics of my poems that will engage readers from rural America and show readers outside that spectrum the complexities of country living.
Dennis, Jessica R., "Life on the Back Roads: Poems" (2014). Theses & Honors Papers. 4.