Virginia Jackson, “Specters of the Ballad” (pp. 176–196)
This essay argues that Paul Laurence Dunbar’s ballad “The Haunted Oak” (1901) indexes Dunbar’s invention of the modern American lyric through the (lynching) form of modern racism. How does race ghost-write poetry’s redefinition around the lyric? How does it create a dramatically abstract “speaker” that gives voice to and for an imagined community? Dunbar inverts both romantic apostrophe and Victorian dramatic monologue and dialogue in his speaking bough. He does this by framing his poem as a pre-romantic border ballad, a tale of Scots rebellion and English law superimposed upon American racist violence. What Jacqueline Goldsby has dubbed “racism’s modern life form” thus becomes modern American poetry’s life form, a lyricized poetic history haunted from root to branch.
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