Considerations on the immediacy of poetic thought

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Why does poetic verse generate such a heightened sense of immediacy? Aristotle’s discussion of energeia (‘vividness’) in his Rhetoric suggests the effect is attributable to poetry’s reliance upon inherently incomplete devices – metaphor is a prime example – which seduce the reader into participating in the generation of the work. The poem’s vividness and sense of real-time unfolding are on this account due to the reader’s misrecognition of their own sense of embodied temporality, as they creatively raise the work from the page. What this traditional explanation ignores is the possibility that there is something more immediate about the act of writing in lines than in prose in the first place. The paper turns to certain non-Chomskyan linguists who have argued that when speaking we generate our utterance in sub-sentential chunks, and that these typically clausal chunkings are reflective of our extremely narrow window of conscious attention. We simply cannot hold all we would like to say in mind and cannot even grasp quite what verbal form it will take until we actually say it. Revealingly, these linguists tend to lineate their transcripts. Their work suggests that lines of verse bring us closer to an embodied sense of the cognitive constraints contouring real-time utterance than do the multiple recalibrated and revised sentences of prose writers. Biographical note: Paul Magee is the author of Stone Postcard (2014), Cube Root of Book (2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (2000). His second monograph, Suddenness and the Composition of Poetic Thought will be published in Rowman and Littlefield’s Performance Philosophy series in April 2022. Paul is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalText (Australia)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


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