• ‘While the triangle-roofed Farmer's Grain Elevator / sat quietly by the side of the road’: Site and Simultaneity in Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’

    Zane Koss (see profile)
    CLCS 20th- and 21st-Century, GS Poetry and Poetics, LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American
    Poetry, Cold War (1945-1989), Place (Philosophy), Space
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    The Poetics of Mapping: Representing the Built Environment
    Conf. Org.:
    University of Pennsylvania
    Conf. Loc.:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Conf. Date:
    April 20-21, 2017
    Allen Ginsberg, anti-war, Vietnam War, Occult, Cold War, Space and place, Post-WWII American literature, Temporality
    Permanent URL:
    Recent scholarship has focused on the flowering of poetry that engaged with geographic and spatial logics in the United States in the years following the Second World War, notably in Lytle Shaw’s 2013 study Fieldworks: From Place to Site in Postwar Poetics. Alongside such works as William Carlos Williams’s Paterson and Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems, Shaw and other critics have taken as exemplary of this trend Allen Ginsberg’s 1966 antiwar poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” which superimposes the horrors of the Vietnam War onto the placid landscape of rural Kansas. Yet the focus on this spatial collapse elides the centrality of temporal simultaneity to the marshalling of affect in “Wichita Vortex Sutra”—which is to say, the poem is affectively effective not only because it writes the violence of Vietnam into a bucolic Midwestern geography, but because Ginsberg so forcefully insists on the simultaneity of these irreconcilable sights and sites. By paying special attention to the interdependence of the spatial and the temporal in Ginsberg’s poem, my presentation will help to give a fuller account of the uses of presence as a mode of political critique in the late 1960s, while re-inscribing “the present” within this politicization of presence. This effort to refocus on the intertwining of temporality and spatiality in Ginsberg’s poetry is part of a larger project that reads this politicized use of presence into texts that are less explicitly marked as political but that nonetheless cultivate a similar relationship to site and simultaneity.
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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