For the last two hundred years, poets and scholars of English poetry have perpetuated a narrative about poetic form as a means of liberation and freedom. Contemporary poets, suspicious of earlier claims made on behalf of liberation, seem wise to the fact that the rhetoric of freedom in the twentieth century has served capitalistic, hegemonic, and imperialist motives while silencing opposition. Such skepticism emerges especially in the work of contemporary Language poets such as Bob Perelman, Susan Howe, and Charles Bernstein. Taking its cue from these writers’ skepticism, this essay examines the ways in which Dickinson’s poetry rejuvenates our understanding of liberation through tropes of violence. Through close readings of “No Rack can torture me - ” (Fr649), “Could I but ride indefinite” (Fr1056), “The Soul has Bandaged moments - “ (Fr360), and “Unto like Story - Trouble has enticed me - “ (Fr300), this essay demonstrates the ways in which liberation in Dickinson’s poetry is accompanied by images of violence and rupture. Her poetry becomes a means of “liberation” for contemporary poets who are wary of, yet not free from, the tired rhetoric of liberation. As such, Dickinson allows poets to put the violence back in liberation, a violence all too readily elided in public discourse.


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pp. 63-76
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