Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Susan J Vanderborg


This dissertation examines the ways in which traditional epic conventions (in medias res, an invocation, a nationalist impulse, a particular kind of stylized language, and a heroic figure) are transformed in three twentieth-century modernist American poems. William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, and Charles Olson are all, in their own ways, disciples of the Ezra Pound model of the epic, which is embodied in his most important work, The Cantos. Each of these authors, though, looks back further than Pound alone, reconfiguring conventions dating back to the earliest epics. Each puts a unique stamp on their vision of the epic, too. With Paterson, Williams creates a kinetic epic. The text, as it uses the conventions listed above, relies on a constant movement. Zukofsky's epic, 'A', is what I call a material epic, meaning that he consistently emphasizes both the materiality of language and that of language's referents, going so far as to make concrete human emotions. Finally, Charles Olson writes an epistolary epic with his Maximus Poems. His text is written in the form of letters, and these letters serve a particular pedagogical purpose for their reader. Each author, with his unique takes on the epic, creates a counter-example of the vision of modernist aesthetics found in Pound. In the final chapter, I investigate three authors (Alice Notley, Ron Silliman, and Susan Howe) who take the epic decisions of Williams, Zukofsky, and Olson and implement them in late twentieth century postmodern poetry.


© 2012, Graham Buckner Stowe