Alex Howerton

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Michael Dowdy


Sanctuary Poetics and Contemporary US Culture argues that contemporary poets of color create spaces of safety, relation, and justice through the act of writing as resistance itself. Sanctuary Poetics discusses poetry responding to the myriad crises of our contemporary moment, and considers how poets, through formal techniques such as ekphrasis or synecdoche, envision moments of shelter and connection that provide necessary relief to imperiled populations. I introduce the idea of a sanctuary poetics through Amanda Gorman’s recent poem “The Hill We Climb,” performed at Joseph Biden’s inauguration. The first chapter covers citizenship and the work of the Undocupoets, a multiracial activist group whose members are all currently or formerly undocumented. The second chapter employs readings of works by contemporary Black poets Ross Gay, Joy Priest, Jericho Brown, and Danez Smith that hope to reimagine a broader definition of legal justice for a community ravaged by police brutality. Later chapters engage with Edouard Glissant’s poetics of relation to envision alternate epistemologies of the US’s imperial legacy. Indo-Caribbean poet Rajiv Mohabir’s series of whale poems expresses what he calls a “Coolitude” drive to ally with oppressed populations in chapter 3; meanwhile, the poetry of Camille Dungy and Paisley Rekdal locates intimate resonance between capitalist mismanagement of nature and Chinese immigration in chapter 4. The dissertation concludes by glossing over recent racial violence via a recent special issue of the Journal of Asian American Studies dedicated to the violence experienced by Asian American women.

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2023