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“Singing the Epiphanic Song”: Lyric as Oppositional Practice in Juliana Spahr’s "That Winter the Wolf Came"

Simone Knewitz

Pages 167 - 181



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Inspired by the 2011 Occupy Oakland movement, Juliana Spahr’s volume of poetry "That Winter the Wolf Came" (2015) brings to the forefront major concerns of contemporary politically engaged poetry, in particular the question of whether and how poetry as a literary practice can engender oppositional political action and nurture collective agency. This essay argues that Spahr’s volume, in its attentiveness to forms in both their aesthetic and political dimensions, seeks to resist and reconfigure capitalist power structures and prefigure alternative social arrangements. Within Spahr’s poetics, the refrain emerges as a crucial formal device, as an ambivalent figure of repetition that performatively creates and disrupts aesthetic and social rhythms. Furthermore, Spahr’s poetry engages strategically with the form of the lyric, mobilizing the ostensibly immediate and authentic voice of an autobiographical first-person speaker. Depicted as embodied and entangled, this speaker does not project a transcendent subject, however, but a performative stance that models the individual in its close affective ties with others. Ultimately, "That Winter" celebrates the figure of the crowd as an agent of disarray: characterized by openness and possibility, the crowd’s affective power unsettles the entrenched rhythms of state-sanctioned capitalism.

Key Words: occupy movement; crowd; refrain; collective agency;

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