Lyric as Comedy

Lyric as Comedy

The Poetics of Abjection in Postwar America

Calista McRae


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A poet walks into a bar... In Lyric as Comedy, Calista McRae explores the unexpected comic opportunities within recent American poems about deeply personal, often embarrassing, experiences. Lyric poems, she finds, can be surprising sites of a shifting, unruly comedy, as seen in the work of John Berryman, Robert Lowell, A. R. Ammons, Terrance Hayes, Morgan Parker, Natalie Shapero, and Monica Youn.

Lyric as Comedy draws out the ways in which key American poets have struggled with persistent expectations about what expressive poetry can and should do. McRae reveals how the modern lyric, rather than bestowing order on the poet's thoughts and emotions, can center on impropriety and confusion, formal breakage and linguistic unruliness, and self-observation and self-staging.

The close readings in Lyric as Comedy also provide new insight into the theory and aesthetics of comedy, taking in the indirect, glancing comic affordances of poetry. In doing so, McRae captures varieties of humor that do not align with traditional terms, centering abjection and pleasure as facets of contemporary lyric practice.


Calista McRae:

Calista McRae is Assistant Professor of English at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.