Stressed? Unstressed? Attentiveness to Metre

A journey towards intentional practice

How do you scan a line of poetry? This creative-critical essay explores the faultlines opened up by this simple, but dangerous, question from the perspective of a poetry-writing practice and pedagogy. It argues for a distinction between metre and rhythm, then proposes that quarrels over scansion often come down to different assumptions about which metrical system is in use. The paper demonstrates this by examining the contradictory positions of canonical heavyweights Robert Hass and Gerard Manley Hopkins on the matter of the dactyllic foot. This paper goes on to outline a few challenges and strategies in teaching poetic metre to beginner poets. It considers the difficult task of discerning what ‘sounds right’ in a poem, using Annie Finch’s theories of metre and meaning to prompt reflective questions for the practicing poet. While an app or digital tool that could scan oral readings of poetry would be useful (both for pedagogy and practice), this essay contends that attentiveness to metre and rhythm is primarily a discipline of the body.

Poetry and Breathing

Beyond Subject and Object

This paper will consider the ways in which the poetic form echoes a visceral experience of embodiment that re-imagines the relationship between subject and object. Through a focus on poetic elements such as the rise and flow of line, the vital pauses of punctuation and white space together with the slip of association and metaphoricity, this paper contends that the lyric poem in particular not only recreates the experience of the respiring body but offers us an inhabited insight into an interplay of inside and outside, self and other, what sustains and what speaks. In this way, both poetry and breath can be seen to provide a deconstructued paradigm for subjectivity -- a subjectivity that emerges from the flow of overlap and connectedness rather than differentiation. In this sense, the poem speaks the body as well as the body speaking the poem. Informed by a conceptual framework that includes Thích Nhất Hạnh’s concept of ‘interbeing’ as well as Levinas’ notion of the face as it meets the breathing face of the other, this discussion references the work of eco-poet Anne Elvey in addition to my own poetry project, ‘Remarkable as Breathing.’

Reflections on Writing and Disability

Much of my fiction and poetry has been a long wrestle with the Pythia, the prophetic snake at Delphi. A figure who slides in and out of consciousness. The mythic imagery associated with her includes Eurydice who is unable to leave the underworld. She represents the dislocation of the postseizure state and her return to status epilepticus. The poems and text in this essay are an attempt to write what is barely writable.

Poetry as Presence: Working with Personae

A survivor's manifesto on poetic practice

This piece adopts the voice of public declaration to assert poetic practice as survivable resistance to abuses of power. It proposes that poetry is the best means to identify, expose and reconfigure what is implicit in dominant discourses that discredit the way a survivor of sexual assault may communicate. It is found that a poetic use of language that is allusive, evocative and associative can reinvigorate annihilated perspectives so as to add them to public discourse. Poetic methods can be employed to resist and subvert the supposed supremacy of linear and logical narrative structures considered essential for sense making and validity. Furthermore, they can be employed to excavate family and state histories to resurrect, sometimes from fragments, the perspectives of those that have been silenced.

Lyricism in the World of George Sand

Lyric poetry’s metier is figurative language – metaphor, simile and imagery -- used to represent happenings at human/world intersections, and within the world and the individual, covering, as Jane Hirschfield writes, “both senses and psyche” (2015).(1) These affordances render it particularly suited to the writing of character in poetic biography. The creative artefact from my creative writing PhD is a poetic biography of 19th century French social radical and prolific author, George Sand. As a work of ‘restitution poetics’ it proposes to contribute to repair of a creative, literary women’s lineage damaged by the exclusion or misrepresentation of women. Sand’s multiple milieux lend themselves to lyric representation both in the variety of roles and settings she chose for herself, and in her own rich lyric representation of those worlds in her various writings. She straddled political worlds -- lunch with the first minister, urgent correspondence with Napoléon’s nephew -- as well as more personal settings – conversing with famous artists, writers, and musicians, love trysts, as well as the world of her country property. “The language of the poem”, Mary Oliver avers, “is the language of particulars”(2) and particulars feature in the lyric and narrative modes I employ to hone in on Sand’s world, seeking to capture camembert-and-rough-red, chicken-ammonia, heart-piercing nightingales, rough Berrichon, and lined-foolscap-blue ink worlds. These are conveyed as strategies both to honour her, and to communicate her life in compelling visceral, sensory, and I hope, impactful ways.

Parallel Posts, Tumblr, and the Necessity of Poetry in the Digital Age

'You are starved for it and you don't even realise you're hungry'

This article explores the emergent format of ‘parallel posts’ or ‘web weaving’, a practice of literary collage on blogging website Tumblr, and argues that they represent a new wave of poetry reception, unbound to formal literary education or to conventional spheres of cultural capital. Following Audre Lorde’s ‘Poetry is not a luxury’, I discuss parallel posts as a vital component of the broader digital literary sphere, a counterpoint to Instapoetry, and as a resurgence of commonplace book-keeping. I analyse the prevalence of users positioning poetry on Tumblr as akin to or superior to school-bound English education, and parallel posts as a humanist practice. I conclude by arguing that parallel posts represent a reclamation of poetry as a common resource and an ideology.

Not Paying Attention

Fast and loose ekphrasis

This hybrid critical/creative paper addresses ekphrasis in an age characterised by short attention spans. It suggests that while ekphrasis is generally considered as arising from a poet’s close attention to an artwork -- the product of what psychologist Daniel Kahneman terms System 2 perceptions thatrequire time -- and can in turn prompt the reader to return to an artwork with heightened attention, it can also represent the fleeting glimpse that characterises much of our sensory experience of the world around us and, indeed, art. Considering Owen Bullock’s idea of ‘radical ekphrasis’ in relation to Kahneman’s category of System 1 perceptions – that is, immediate response to stimuli -- this paper explores the possibilities of an ekphrasis of the transitory and concludes with an example thereof.