Materiality and metaphor: environment and place in contemporary poetry.
PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.
This thesis considers literary and critical reverberations of environment and place in order to reframe conceptions of what nature might mean for contemporary poetry. It attends to the timeframe of 1990 – present, assessing how developments in socio-political context and critical thought correspond or conflict with poetic responses. The interdisciplinary reach of the thesis brings together literary geography and ecocriticism, both of which established their roots during this period, putting conventional understandings of place and environment under pressure. The approach encourages a geographical attention to socio-cultural concerns whilst maintaining critical awareness of recent ecocritical focus on materiality, emphasising the potentially productive friction between cultural representation and physical reality. The thesis responds to earlier Romantic paradigms, granting marginalised contemporary poetry a stronger critical agency whilst still accepting the transformations and metamorphoses of literary convention.
Taking a thematic approach, each chapter engages with key binaries found in environmental and geographical thinking to reveal how contemporary poetics unsettle and challenge such dualisms. The study looks at the work of twelve writers: Thomas A. Clark, John Burnside, Alec Finlay, Roy Fisher, Philip Gross, Barry MacSweeney, Robert Minhinnick, Alice Oswald, Frances Presley, Jo Shapcott and Zoë Skoulding. As a result, it compares and contrasts the poets’ engagements with the key threads in the thesis, suggesting that contemporary poetry of place and environment is united through its recognition of the paradox or gap between the material world and linguistic representation. Ultimately, the thesis concludes that contemporary poetry of environment and place is deliberately unstable, as it metamorphoses forms, modes and legacies, encouraging an understanding of such work as simultaneously responsive to and yet distinct from conventional paradigms of nature poetry.
Thesis (University of Nottingham only)
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