Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Todd McGowan

Second Advisor

John Waldron


The central aim of this thesis is to demonstrate that, in establishing themselves as public intellectuals, poets writing since the turn of the twenty-first century have restored the referentiality of language in poetry. Thus, the thesis challenges and complicates postmodernist treatments of language that insist on the infinite regression of meaning, as have, for example, the Language poets. As the Language poets, feminists, queer theorists, and other post-Derridean theorists began to challenge the meaning of language in the last third or so of the twentieth century, they devalued the referential relationship between words and the world. Taking the Kantian sense of productive imagination as a restorative method for the significance of language in poetry, the thesis will contest the postmodernist treatment of language by illustrating that contemporary poets share a vision of poetry as a medium for rejuvenating language and, subsequently, have been performing as public intellectuals in the twenty-first century. In order to make this argument, the thesis begins with postmodernist poetry’s debt to Derridean deconstruction and explains how we can reclaim the referentiality of language in poetry. The poets studied in the body of this thesis—Natasha Trethewey and Raúl Zurita—extend a strong tradition of poetry that refers directly and explicit to socio-economic realities, engaging with a globalized economy, and with culture and politics around the world. Furthermore, the thesis shows how such poets have recuperated rhetoric as central to contemporary poetry.



Number of Pages

74 p.