Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rebecca Dunham

Committee Members

Anne Wysocki, Brenda Cardenas, Dennis Lynch, Lisa Moline


This creative dissertation explores issues of female identity in contemporary American culture in an extended sequence of lyric-narrative poems. In these poems, speakers must try to negotiate female identity through examining the range of available aesthetic positions offered to women by art, social and cultural identities, and familial relationships as we understand them in western culture.

Most often, the book revolves around questions of body, and attempts to think through how modes of aestheticization-- and fetishization-- of certain qualities of "femaleness" have constructed the ways that women can act and be in the contemporary world. In order to examine the connection between aesthetic constructions of the female body and their impact on rhetorical positioning, the book places its speakers in strange and varying physical locales throughout the manuscript. Thus, the speakers of these poems are often found at the bottom of a river, inside the electrical wiring of a house, or within the human eardrum, in order to consider what shifts must be made in order to accommodate this speech.

Additionally, the poems use multiple approaches to gendered relationships as part of their exploration of aesthetics. For example, one poem in the dissertation might show a young female speaker grappling with her mother's identity, while another considers how to maintain an identity within the unifying structure of marriage. In this way, many poems use the mother-daughter or husband-wife relationships to help think through how cultural undercurrents have shaped and, sometimes, restricted our sense of archetypal female identities.

Through these poems, the dissertation attempts to encapsulate how many positions female bodies, as aesthetic figures, must sustain in their cultural and social placements in the contemporary world.