Abstract

The purpose of this essay is double—to counter Mikhail Bakhtin's contention that all poetry is necessarily monologic and therefore unethical (and, in doing so, to challenge also common assumptions about the lyric that presume a singular, personal, unified voice) and to make this claim by employing Bakhtin's own theories of dialogue in reading contemporary African American poet Robert Hayden's lyric "Night, Death, Mississippi." Hayden's powerful lyric about lynching, at once beautiful and horrifying, provides a rich site to trace some strategies of form and style—for example, the use of free indirect discourse, multiple lyric voices, and a modified call-and-response structure—that enable heteroglossic dialogism within the poem itself and also self-consciously evoke and even perform the reader's answerability to and for it, establishing the participation of the lyric in the ethical encounters of dialogue.

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