Women who like to watch: 20th century American cinepoetry

Caroline Newport Hagood, Fordham University


“Women Who Like to Watch: 20th Century American Cinepoetry” addresses the intersection of gender with the genres of poetry and film. I explore female poets responding to, and revising, the work of male filmmakers, throughout the 20th century, specifically during times of war. I focus primarily on the poets H.D., Adrienne Rich, and Theresa Cha. Their poetry involves a complex transaction—a problematizing and response against objectification, but also a desire to be seen and, more radical still, to stare back. The poets I look at provide a fresh take on feminism, revising ideas about spectatorship and the gaze. They reveal themselves as women who like to watch, and who even locate a new power, possibility, and even place therein, finding the space and tools to see and be seen. Despite the fact that these poets are working at different historical moments with different senses of poetry and feminism, they all turn to cinema to gain a more expansive way of thinking and seeing than they can get from either film or poetry alone. This more expansive mode opens up a creative space for women that allows them to transform as artists and thereby seek to transform the world around them. The violence of war particularly necessitates this space. In this project, I steer away from conventional periodization in favor of looking at the development of female poets writing on film at crucial times of war. Ultimately, in addition to cinema, the three poets I consider in this dissertation are united by another fixation. Along with the aggression of the male gaze they are battling, a key context for all three writers is literal violence, and particularly war. Rich, Cha, and H.D. all underwent traumatic war experiences: Rich went through Vietnam, Cha was born during the Korean War, and H.D.lived through both World War I and World War II. Although people often (wrongly) think of war poets as being male, all three of the female poets I write on in this dissertation are without a doubt powerful poets of war. All three poets link the powers of film and poetry to address problems of battle and force at every juncture.

Subject Area

American literature|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Hagood, Caroline Newport, "Women who like to watch: 20th century American cinepoetry" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10194592.