The poet as performer.

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Cusic, Donald
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Middle Tennessee State University
In twentieth century America, poets do not just write poems, they also perform their poetry in readings and other platform appearances. This leads to a dichotomy in the role of a successful poet: to be a great writer and/or to be a great performer. Since poets have had, by necessity, to earn a living in some way other than through sales of books of poetry, the public reading has become increasingly important for American poets. Yet, even though performances are an integral part of the lives of many poets, critics have consistently ignored this aspect of poetry or, when they have acknowledged it, denigraded it.
This dissertation attempts to examine poets as performers in their role as a performer. Three poets are examined in depth: Vachel Lindsay, Robert Frost, and T. S. Eliot. The first, Vachel Lindsay, became a well-known poet primarily through his performances and clearly loved the stage and performing all his life. Frost was reluctant to perform at first but, as his stature as a poet grew through success from book sales, he adapted to the stage and became a consummate performer. Eliot was never inclined towards performance, although his poetry is very dramatic. Eliot contrasts with the others because, although he performed late in his life, he generally eschewed the role of performer for that of critic and poet. During his final years, Eliot's platform appearances were generally lectures on criticism.
The biographies of each of these poets are discussed because personality and a natural affinity for the stage is a major reason someone is a performer. Too, the biographical examination of each poet shows how performances affected their poetry, the public's perceptions of them as poets, and how poets fit into the American culture and achieve recognition for themselves and their poetry.