Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Nancy Eimers, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

William Olsen, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Bradburn, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Dennis Hinrichsen, MFA


Detroit, documentary, modernism, place, poetry


As opening poem “Diorama” suggests, Sprawl is a poetic reconstruction of the constantly shifting landscape of Metro Detroit, which extends over six counties and is home to over four million people, from the perspective of a single parent raising a young child amid financial precarity. Part memoir, part invention, Sprawl is an attempt to reconcile the tenderness and sense of purpose found in the parent/child relationship with ongoing societal crisis in the empire of the automobile. Here, a mansion may be juxtaposed with a burned-out home just up the street. How is one to construct a sense of place in such a landscape, when once-familiar neighborhoods turn to strip malls or empty lots, and one’s relationships dissolve? Sprawl suggests that there is solace in recognizing that when we ask this question, we are never alone in asking.

Within the larger geographical space of the metropolis are the in-between places of personal significance, the gas stations, burger joints, malls, and parking lots where many of the defining moments of our lives occur. The poems take deep inspiration from such places, insisting on the value of the people found there, along with their experiences. What might be considered “high culture” and “low culture” are as inextricably linked in the formal cues of the poems as they are in the Michigan landscape, influenced by pop music, mid-century mod aesthetics, comic books, and cars.

While the “sprawl” of the title refers to the seemingly endless succession of businesses and neighborhoods extending north from Detroit (“a sprawl this extensive breeds/empty pockets”), it also invokes the sprawl of history and its subterranean impact on daily life, with the poems moving between the past and present by way of montage to illustrate. For instance, a sequence of poems built on old newspaper clippings draws attention to a Chrysler plant that once constructed Redstone missiles, largely responsible for the suburb’s then-burgeoning population. Elsewhere, two poems (“Commute” and “On the Demolition of Produce Kingdom”) refer to the Detroit Newspaper Strike of the 1990’s, a local controversy with lasting implications for the community. Sprawl is ultimately interested in illuminating the relationship of one place to other places, contextualizing its characters and locales within a wider societal frame.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Abstract Only

Restricted to Campus until


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