Topos and the rhetoric of prairie poetry

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Dyck, Edward F.
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A rhetorical analysis of twentieth-century prairie poetry in Canada rests on several assumptions: (1) rhetoric and poetics have a non-empty, significant intersection; (2) the rhetorical and poetical tradition bears on poetry written in this century and in this country; and (3) there is a prairie poetry which is amenable to rhetorical analysis. These assumptions are also the major findings of this study. But the study itself is motivated by re-thinking the critical cliche that prairie poetry is dominated by a sense of place. Rhetoric's traditional treatment of literal "place" as a topos is the basis of a method of rhetorical analysis developed in Part 1 and applied in Part 2. Part 1 surveys the relevant tradition and concludes taht (1) the figures function as topoi for the invention of style, and (2) the topoi and the figures share an iterative binary structure which is the basis of argumentation. consequently, a topos is well-defined as a partial ordering: it is a binary relation <x,y> between two terms such that whenever <x,y> and <y,z> then also <x,z>. Part 2 traces a chronology of topoi, especially but not only of the form <prairie,x> or <x,prairie>, in the work of five major and three minor Canadian prairie poets. It identifies the characteristic topoi and arguments of each poet and demonstrates that rhetoric functions as an heuristics of th4e composition and the reading of their work.