Reading the Genotext in Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge: “Sapphire’s lyre styles…”


  • William Scott University of Pittsburgh



Kristeva, poetry, genotext, Mullen


In her early work on Modernist poetry and avant-garde poetics, Julia Kristeva proposed a bifurcated view of the poetic text as simultaneously constituted by both a “genotext” and a “phenotext.”  Reading the “genotext” of any given poem might start by “pointing out the transfers of drive energy that can be detected in phonematic devices (such as the accumulation and repetition of phonemes or rhyme) and melodic devices (such as intonation or rhythm)”; and, in her words, it would also need to take into consideration “the way semantic and categorial fields are set out in syntactic and logical features.” This essay seeks to demonstrate how Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge might be analyzed at the level of its genotext, taking (arbitrarily) as its primary example the first of the book’s eighty poems to illustrate how a straightforwardly genotextual analysis might proceed. The essay contends that, by closely observing the genotext of Mullen’s poetry in Muse & Drudge, one may eventually arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the “polyvocal” and “polymorphous” nature of the language and poetic design of the poems in this enigmatic collection.