Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Spring 6-9-2024

Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

First Advisor

Rena J. Mosteirin

Second Advisor

Matthew S. Olzmann

Third Advisor

Patrick Donnelly


The truth hurts.” So, my family said to me from my earliest comprehension. The poet’s fundamental ethic requires a commitment to authenticity, at the intersection of myriad creative possibilities. How to write poems about family, friends, and life experiences, mine included, through honest interrogation? Fortunately, empathy and truth are not mutually exclusive. When I began my thesis, my poems written during MALS enrollment were scattered, print and electronic. I could have saved myself plenty of time had I been a good curator. So said, there was an upside to gathering the strays. I was afforded the benefit of thematic discovery – family history, marriage, professional boxing (my family was avid), perspectives on racism, and more. Certainly, the gathering together was essential, but this would not have been enough without my prose writing produced across the MALS curriculum: Writing Nature, Methodologies, Playwriting, Cultural Studies, and more. The prose writing, in many cases, spawned some of my best poems because that is where room for interrogation is plentiful. As I wrote and leaned into unflattering aspects of being human, I trusted readers’ independent interpretations. Here it is and now, in the ether, it is yours. The rewards of letting go did not come overnight. Collectively, my thesis readers encouraged, prodded, suggested, and emerged as highly trustworthy editors. The incremental advances toward my authentic voice owe much to their “powers of the unvarnished.” When I enrolled in the MALS – Creative Writing program in the spring of two-thousand-seventeen, I shared that my birth as a poet came through a simply worded poem by Countee Cullen, “Incident”. That was decades ago, and it remains the only poem, including any of my own, I can recite accurately from end to end. In Countee’s narrative, a little Black boy on a trip to Baltimore smiles at a similarly aged boy who responds with a racial epithet. My reaction in the moment: That speaks to me! I could be having a sunshine filled and joyful day, but somehow, one racial incident would eclipse all. And, so, I have written a thesis true to Countee Cullen.

Original Citation

Washington, James, Jr,

Dartmouth, 05-2024-13

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Poetry Commons