Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kenneth Sherwood, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Todd Nathan Thompson, Ph.D.


This dissertation reconsiders the work of three American poets associated with Ethnopoetics in order to resituate their poetry and Ethnopoetics itself. Analyzing the poetry, prose, and translations of Jerome Rothenberg, Clayton Eshleman, and Armand Schwerner, it shows how Ethnopoetics as a movement entails a self-reflexive approach to the primitive which calls Western values and thinking into question by proposing that the "primitive means complex" (Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred xxv). In addition to exemplifying the complexity of the primitive, these three poet-translators illustrate the pedagogical usefulness in altering worldviews and creating new poetics through what this study defines as strategic primitivism. Ethnopoetics deserves renewed critical attention because contemporary academic discourse tends to view the employment of the primitive as non-reflective cultural appropriation. This dissertation illustrates the continued critical relevance of Ethnopoetics for contemporary literary criticism through the reformulation of the idea of the primitive. This in turn, challenges dominant ideas about literature and broadens the influence that subaltern cultures can contribute to the composition, interpretation, and teaching of poetry. Ethnopoets are avant-garde artists concerned with repositioning the primitive and creating art that challenges the notion of what art is and can be, but they advocate a pluralistic approach to thinking about poetry and poetics. Ethnopoets collapse the division between oral poems and literate poems. First, this dissertation addresses the problematic lineage of the "primitive" and distinguishes Ethnopoetics' approach from cultural appropriation. The following three chapters look, in turn, at Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred and "Khurbn," Clayton Eshleman's Juniper Fuse, and Armand Schwerner's The Tablets in order to illustrate their employment of what is defined as strategic primitivism. The dissertation concludes with a turn towards teaching practices and the importance of an Ethnopoetic pedagogy.