Hosted by the Nineteenth-Century Form at the University of Michigan our group led an open discussion on nineteenth-century dialect poetry, focusing on the texts below marred with an asterisk.   Taryn Hakala (UM doctoral student in English, researching dialect in Victorian literature) contributed to our selection of readings. The remaining texts we read in our afternoon session together. Our discussion of dialect focused on the ways that dialect is tied to place and identity, and how and when the racial might erase the regional. We discussed the pressure on the racialized poet to represent an entire community, and put pressure on what we called the intentionality / authenticity border of dialect poetry. Scots, Gaelic, and Welsh identities in America were important, and we thought about what a genre of dialect poetry would look like. In the afternoon, we continued the discussion and thought about how and where there is what Virginia Jackson called “a ghost play between literacy and illiteracy,” how much of dialect poetry was about the attempt to instruct or to capture a sound (Rudy), how many of these poems might be about  “capitalizing on the ambivalence of naturalization and denaturalization of speech (Cavitch). One of our most instructive discussions, we realized that the communities of speech that dialect poems imagined and therefore constructed (because they were not actual communities) reminded us of Gummere coining that term “imagined communities” in 1901 and helped lead us to focus on one specific community that persists as a poetic figurehead, Robbie Burns.

British Dialect Poetry:

*Sheaf of Lancashire dialect poems recommended by Taryn Hakala:  “Jone o’ Grinfilt” (John of Greenfield); “The Oldham Weaver” (aka “Jone o’ Grinfilt Jr.”); Ben Brierley’s “Jone o’ Grinfilt’s Ghost;” Edwin Waugh’s “Come Whoam to thi Childer an’ Me;” Ben Brierley’s “Go Tak thi Ragg’d Childer an’ Flit”;

* Defense of Dialect Poems: a selection from Brian Maidment, The Poorhouse Fugitives;

Janet Hamilton, selections from Essays and Sketches (1880)

*William Barnes, selections from Select Poems of William Barnes (1908):  Hardy’s “Preface,” “Zun-Zet,” “Lwonesomeness,” “The Vaices That Be Gone,” and “Praise O’ Dorset.”



American Dialect Poetry:

James Russell Lowell, selections from The Biglow Papers (1848) (including the London introduction, mentioned below)

*James Whitcomb Riley, selections from The Old Swimmin’ Hole and ‘Leven More Poems (1883):  “The Old Swimmin’ Hole,” “Wotermelon Time,” “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” “My Fiddle;” The Rubaiyat of Doc Sifers (1902?) (a larger type/ more pages to print version of this poem can be found here)

James Whitcomb Riley, Dialect in Literature (1896); Michael Cohen’s selection of Riley poems 

*Paul Laurence Dunbar, selections from Lyrics of Lowly Life:  William Dean Howells, “Introduction” Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe Their Weary Eyes,”  “Accountability,” “Antebellum Sermon,” “Spellin’ Bee,” “Negro Love Song,” “When Da Cone Pone’s Hot,” “We Wear the Mask,” “Lonesome,” “When Malindy Sings;” *additional Dunbar poems, “Emancipation,” “Lager Beer,” “James Whitcomb Riley”

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Poems of Cabin and Field (1896-99); Michael Cohen’s packet of selections from Dunbar;


19th Century Writing About Dialect:

“Scottish Dialect” Chambers Edinburgh Magazine (1835)

*William Barnes, Outline of English Speech-Craft (1878)

James Russell Lowell, introduction to the British edition of The Biglow Papers (included in Lowell selection, above)

“On the Abuse of Dialect” MacMillan’s Magazine (1897)


Contemporary Criticism of Interest:

J Javier Rodriguez, “The US-Mexican War in James Russell Lowell’s Biglow Papers”

Henry Louis Gates, from Figures in Black

Daniel Tiffany, from Infidel Poetics

Tavia Nyong’o, from The Amalgamation Waltz

Lloyd Pratt, from Archives of American Time