University of Sussex
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Serve your own sentences: incarceration in the poetry of Anna Mendelssohn

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posted on 2023-06-09, 17:18 authored by Eleanor Careless
This thesis is a study of the work of the British poet, artist, and activist Anna Mendelssohn (1948-2009). It intends to make an intervention in recent scholarship around the literature of the prison by focusing on Mendelssohn’s poetic representations of incarceration. Specifically, it explores the ways in which Mendelssohn’s poetry thinks with but also against theories and representations of the prison that have emerged over the last two hundred years, with a focus on the twentieth century. My research is heavily invested in an interdisciplinary and historicist approach, and responds to the call made by Angela Davis for a move beyond a strictly Foucauldian account of the carceral network to an understanding of the gendered and racialised aspects of the institution of the prison. The prison has long been an important site of literary production for writers, but little critical attention has been given to an experimental, women’s literature of the prison. This study centres on the carceral poetics written by activist, Anglo-American women poets in the twentieth century. Archival material from three separate archives informs this project; the Anna Mendelssohn Archive; the Muriel Rukeyser Papers; and the Nancy Cunard Collection. This thesis is divided into five chapters which are arranged chronologically. Each chapter addresses a different site or matrix of incarceration that emerges in Mendelssohn’s work. Chapter One discusses the camps set up in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War; Chapter Two discusses the Nazi concentration camp; Chapter Three the condition of the hostage, especially in the contexts of terrorist hostage-taking in the seventies; Chapter Four discusses Holloway Women’s Prison in the seventies; and Chapter Five considers poetic representations of imprisonment in the nineties. This study identifies the emancipatory possibilities that an experimental poetics of the prison can create.


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University of Sussex

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