The Past Ahead

understanding memory in contemporary poetry

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Abstract

The connections between memory and poetry have long been asserted and are present, for example, in the mythology and writings of the ancient Greeks. The nature of memory has been discussed by numerous ancient and modern writers, including Sigmund Freud. While Freud acknowledged that memories were sometimes fantasies, he nevertheless frequently likened the retrieval of autobiographical memory through analysis to an archaeologist's work in digging up objects from the past – as if in memory the past might remain intact and unchanged. Yet autobiographical memory is increasingly being understood as unreliable, as constituted of ‘temporary mental representations’ and as configuring present understandings rather than simply detailing past events. While many contemporary lyric poems are based on autobiographical memory, these poems often use material from the past to construct new narratives of the self. Thus the past is in front of, rather than behind the poet who makes use of autobiographical material
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-117
Number of pages16
JournalNew Writing
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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