Date of Award

Fall 1995

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


This dissertation examines how writers respond to other writer's work in the context of a community poetry group. A qualitative study of the poetry group, including participant-observation and tape recording of group meetings, analysis of conversation during meetings, collection of documents, and open-ended interviewing of participants, was undertaken over a period of ten months. Through narrative analysis of the data, one of the primary units of which is the single poem plus the group's response to that poem, the author attempted to create a credible interpretation of the activities and conversations of the group which addresses the question of what constitutes good response in the context of this particular group.

The study found that, despite the explicitly stated purpose of providing suggestions about "what may need work" in a poem, poets in this group generally did not use response to revise their poems. The group's real work was in the discussion of the poem, a collaboration to create a space in which the poet's authority to say what his poem means is protected at the same time as the group is claiming the authority to write new versions of the poem. Several things complicate and shape the act of response, including tacit ideas about proper or helpful response, the struggle over the authority to assign meaning to the text, and the necessity of maintaining harmony. But the act of response is important because it is part of the work of the poet, because it teaches group members how to be poets, and because it creates a communal space for poetry to exist in, not as text, but as work.

The complicated picture of response which emerges is examined, and implications for the way we look at what it means for a writing group to be successful, the way that we structure writing groups in classrooms, and the way that we look at literacy, as something that is practiced not something that is learned, are explored.