“’Half-Poets’ and ‘Whole Democrats’: The Politics of Poetic Aggregation in Aurora Leigh.” Victorian Poetry (forthcoming Feb. 2018).
This article argues that Aurora Leigh seeks to redress the divisive work of women’s democratic political representation by way of poetic form to ask whether women must always be regarded as partial citizens. Through the trope of halfness, Barrett Browning establishes a connection between women’s ability to produce writing and produce children, as well as the violent division of women’s bodies, in order to formulate a corrective political relationship between women’s halfness and generativity. Though the fragmentary nature of Aurora Leigh is evident in its very form, my investigation of the diverse formal and thematic divisions in Aurora Leigh demonstrates the possibility of a different kind of relationship between the fragmentary work of poetic form in Barrett Browning’s text and the divisive work of the political in the nineteenth century. As the poem’s meter and language performs the halving, splitting, and parting out of women’s bodies, Barrett Browning demonstrates that a cohesion of the poetic and the political is enabled by aggregation, a form of poetic counting closely aligned with both social representation and mathematical collection. Barrett Browning’s attention to halfness reflects a commitment to the value of poetic counting. Fundamentally, and more than other quantifying discourses, poetry captures “the world’s necessities” in their variety and sheer number in ways that do not reduce or flatten their value (or assimilate these necessities into the prerogatives of the economic).
“Transitions, Queer Social Counting, and the Intimate Integrity of Michael Field.” Women’s Writing, special issue in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of British Women Writers Conference, “Generations” (forthcoming Winter 2017/18).
By addressing how Michael Field’s (a.k.a. Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley) poetry literally, figuratively, and formally counts on the lover’s return, this article demonstrates the ways in which queer poets actuate the complexities of generational and intimate transitions at the turn of the century. Cooper and Bradley, an aunt and niece, occupied several generational thresholds as they were collaboratively publishing work at the fin de siècle: they were two related women, and lesbian partners, writing as one man. Here, I contend that the quantification of sexual identity in Michael Field’s poetry recognizes that unity necessitates separation. In other words, in order for two to unite, first “ones” must be separate. As they phrased it in one of their poems, they wanted to be “together alone,” language which registers the impossibility of counting in this fashion: one cannot be simultaneously together—united as a fused entity with a lover—and alone—separated from that lover as an individual.This form of unity troubles recent critical assertions of Michael Field’s “idealized intimacy” by acknowledging that the wholeness of relationships necessitates fluidity and even a permanent state of transition. Instead of perseverating over the difficulties of letting go, Bradley and Cooper valorize transitions as a fundamental component of intimacy marked by both the instability of unity and separation. Rather than achieving an ideal intimacy characterized by a binary of detachment and attachment, Michael Field’s unity is an ethical position, or what I term “intimate integrity,” in which one’s ever-changing relationship and social conditions determine what constitutes wholeness.