Chronic Poetics

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This essay examines the late work of one poet strongly identified with disability studies in order to ofer an account of disability's role in poetic practice at the turn of the twentieth century. A phenomenological engagement with Larry Eigner's work demonstrates how traditions of disability studies and formalist discourse can produce a more flexible mode of criticism that incorporates both. What I'm calling chronic poetics extends the reach of disability criticism's relevance to all bodies, not the disabled body alone. Chronic poetics is a phenomenological account of perception and artistic practice that allows the shared conditions of embodiment to emerge from the text. Thus chronic poetics fulfills the imperatives to significantly address the fact of disability and further to determine whether disability is a meaningful critical frame for thinking about literature.

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The article examines the work of Tory Dent, an HIV-positive poet who completed 3 volumes of poetry from 1993 to 2005. Specifically, the article analyzes two poems that capture Dent’s intertextual poetic, cripped sonnet, and bleeding free-form lines, form that mirrors her imagery of pregnancy, miscarriage, and nursing at a time when HIV was understood as an alien invader. Dent’s poetry can best be understood through a disability poetic, highlighting the relationship of the poem to the page and to the embodied reader. Utilizing disability theory from poets Jim Ferris and Petra Kuppers, alongside Hillary Gravendyke’s conceptualization of chronic poetics, the article argues that Dent creates an intertextual poetic that allows for the poem’s form to replace the poet’s body; she also creates a temporal space that allows for multiple accounts of unknowing. The importance of this intertextuality and chronic poetics is explored through feminist bioethics.