It begins in the book : writing the material poem

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It Begins in the Book: writing the material poem comprises practice-led research in the form of three creative projects, and a thesis. Its central question is how the theory and practice surrounding the materiality of language can be applied in the context of poetic practice. The first of the three creative projects is The Material Poem: an e-anthology of media-specific writing and text-based art, published in mid-2007. The second, The Homeless Gods, is an online poem-world developed using Flash. The third and final work is Conversions, an exhibition of Chinese poetry in translation. I explore the processes underpinning them through dedicated project assessments. All projects are in some way collaborative and all parties are duly acknowledged. The thesis formulates a model by which these works (and other literary endeavours engaged with the materiality of language) can be critically assessed. The first proposition is that we must move beyond materiality’s purely formal meaning. Accordingly, I have developed a three-pronged model of materiality that centres on the following questions: what enables, and how does, a reader to respond to a literary work (material basis); what socio-cultural forces influence the relationship between writers, readers and the language-object (materialism); and finally, the actual material expression (or materiality) of a language-object. This is the subject of the first chapter. The subject of the second chapter is how this model might be applied to a specific literary genre, poetry. Drawing on texts by Huisman, Riffaterre and Perloff, I argue that poetry’s material basis is driven by its visual interface, its localised semiotic systems and, in the case of certain poetic traditions, ultimately indeterminate meaning. This material basis differs vastly from that of most other literary genres, indicating potential for experimentation with poetry’s material form. The third and final chapter centres on this assessment. Having established that interactivity and interface are emblematic of poetry’s material basis, I revisit the conceptual and creative work of artists/architects Arakawa and Gins to develop a model of materiality that echoes their concepts of terrain, landing sites and perception stations. In turn, this provides me with the required critical framework to revisit and reassess my creative projects as complete “language-objects”.
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