The Dragon’s Map : guiding and rousing the poet

  • Robert Verdon

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis inhabits territory between the work of the literary critic and the reflective creative
    writer. Employing a meditative and creatively recursive method of analysis, it considers how
    poets often write from within the confines of a provocative playlet, and see the world from the
    sanctuary of their memories of their childhood home, focused by an inner eye. Borrowing judiciously
    from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, the thesis calls this way of composing creative
    work ‘visiting her dragons’. As a result of such ‘visits’, a poet’s work incorporates the slow,
    building, climaxing, revelation of drama in an alternative world whose laws of motion escape
    her full control.
    The thesis also defends the claim that significant (valuable, novel or fitting) poetic lines
    germinate in ordered subjective scenes, generally ‘inhabited’ by that author. Original poems
    spring from a writer occupying an imagined scene’s space and structure, though are hardly
    deducible from it. The poet becomes a character in her own daydream scenario, one which
    grows circuitously from her mesmerising mythos of home and provides the feeling, image, and
    thought that lets her ‘find the words’ rather than making them up out of nowhere—or merely
    rehashing what she1 has read. In it she can ‘rewrite history’ if she wishes. This process becomes
    specific to a given work, and tends to point beyond the quotidian and the charted. A new, singular
    scene makes a space in the mind for both imaginative and critical thought. Further, such
    scenes are communicable to readers, however imperfectly, because they connect in various
    ways to readers’ own experiences of and understandings of home. This is important not least
    because it emphasises how centrally connected poetry is to human experience in the world, and
    to sensory modes of apprehension.
    This thesis also pursues questions such as how imaginal scenes grow from the writer’s sense
    of place and origin (‘home’); how they join with other influences; how they are disciplined into
    a work; and how they are transferred in verbal form to a reader. Images are central, as the poet
    may be alienated or distanced from the ‘real’ world and yet, because of that ‘exile’, able to see
    it in some perspective while still empathising with it and its inhabitants. The poet is thus impelled
    to set out her impressions imaginatively and the act of writing is an ‛emergent’ or unpredictable
    product of a special sort of daydream. The writer’s ‘history’ of daydreaming, with its
    developing scenes, is at first ‛naïve’ but must become ‛lucid’: a mental state she is acutely aware
    of; a daydream she feels she must revisit and structure or discipline (though flexibly) in order
    to go on writing. That demands a great deal of conceptual criticality and, conversely, of motivating
    passion and empathy—a ‛critical empathy’ (or critical immersion). She must feel and
    construct at the same time. And whenever we start a new project, we start from what we feel
    we really know: the concept of ‛home’ mentioned above. Without home, we have nowhere to
    begin, no anchor. With it we may make positive change, even revolution.
    The discussion of these issues is supported by an interpretation of English-language poetry and
    (to a lesser degree) examples of poetic prose / prose poetry, taken mostly from c.1920-2000.
    Each of these works amply illustrates that an imaginal scene partaking of home was important
    for the writer’s poesis. It also includes a consideration of the origins of the author’s own poetry,
    as a kind of case study providing evidence for the thesis’s conclusions. The thesis as a whole is
    part literary criticism and literary theory—and, more generally, an attempt to arrive at an
    illuminating view of that fascinating conundrum, literary creativity.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Hetherington (Supervisor), Paul Magee (Supervisor) & Scott Brook (Supervisor)

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