Seth McKelvey
Research     Poetry    

Draft of Emily Dickinson's "Escape is such a thankful Word," from the Emily Dickinson Archive. Credit Amherst College.
From slave narratives to Henry Thoreau's cabin to science fiction, flights from undesirable realities persist in the American literary imagination. As a nation, after all, the United States was founded on escape in the Revolutionary War, threatened by escape in the Civil War, and, according to the logic of Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis, sustained, for a time, by the escape of westward expansion. It should be no surprise that American literature and culture have often adopted the content, structure, and logic of departure. This observation is the unifying impetus for my research.

Often, that pattern of escape angles away from the political state. From nineteenth-century anarchist movements to Occupy Wall Street, anti-state sentiment and rhetoric persists in American politics and culture through varying, sometimes contradictory and electorally-opposed forms. Within this history of anti-state thought, American literature is often preoccupied with imagining political philosophy's unimaginable: exit from the state. I research escape as a thematic, formal, and political concern in American literature and culture spanning genres and political allegiances, examining how fiction, poetry, and adjacent cultural productions, such as graffiti and film, struggle to imagine a way out of the political state, constituting what I call the poetics of escape.


"Unstate: Disarticulating State Knowledge and Joan Didion's Democracy"
Journal of Modern Literature 43.3 (2020)
"Turbulent Democracy: A Closer Look at JML 43.3" (21 July 2020)
(introductory blog post)

"Beyond Protest: Voice and Exit in Contemporary American Poetry"
American Literature 91.4 (2019)

"'But one kind' of Life: Thoreau's Subjective Theory of Value in Walden"
Nineteenth-Century Literature 70.4 (2016)

Review of Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry, by Michael Leong
Resources for American Literary Study 43.1-2 (2021)

"Cry criers: Jordan Scott's Night & Ox and Andrew Joron's The Absolute Letter"(review)
Jacket 2 (26 March 2018)