phd summary

‘Language disembarked: coasts and forests in modern British poetry’

This PhD examines the representation of coasts and forests in texts written by British poets from 1970 to the present, in both small press and large press publications. Close readings are presented in the context of changing late twentieth century understandings of the dynamics and social practices of littoral space and the politics of British woodland. Studying the tropes and the rhetoric of the coast and forest in literature, I trace key historical and geographical models of these spaces into the digital age. Within the sphere of these two landscapes, shared modern geographies are addressed: the languages of law and land management; the operations of the technical environment; definitions of individual and collective identity; representations of history and science; the assigning of economic and vocal authority. Poets studied include Peter Larkin, Peter Riley, Anthony Barnett, Mark Dickinson, Carol Watts, Bill Griffiths, Colin Simms, Ciaran Carson, Frances Presley, Giles Goodland, Alan Halsey, Wendy Mulford, Eric Mottram, Zoë Skoulding, and Richard Skelton.

The coastal chapter, ‘L/andedness ends’, analyses the various coasts of British poetry, and compares treatments of the modern business of the land’s edge in texts and vocabularies which draw from Celtic monasticism, Norse seafaring, coastal cartography, modern tourism, and meta-histories of navigation. It hones in on language issues which apply to the various economic, spiritual, and physical definitions of the coastline, and draws out examples of writers working with lexical complication to present these (from Colin Simms’ use of creole languages in No North Western Passage to Peter Riley’s homonymic puns in The Llŷn Writings).

The forest chapter, ‘The logos industry’, takes up where other forest-literature researchers have left off – in the period of modern forestry. It analyses the language of modern forest texts in relation to historical and contemporary issues of classification, from Jeff Hilson’s use of obsolete forest terminology and hunting law in In the Assarts to Anthony Barnett’s sampling of the standard global forestry languages in his erasure-text, A Forest Utilization Family. It also analyses cultural expressions of environmental memory in the forest, with texts drawing from the discourses of environmental history and of dendrochronology, and studies texts which make reference to a history of work by poets and theorists on forest echo and ideas of voice and translation in the woods.

The PhD introduction and conclusion presents arguments about the uses of landscape-based poetry, tracking and reviewing current literature by geographers on literary texts. As well as marking some of the contemporary histories of ‘eco-poetry’, ‘radical landscape poetry’, ‘nature writing’, and others, the introduction assesses the languages, structures, and motives of what is called ‘cross-disciplinarity’ or ‘interdisciplinarity’. Some of the key, and alternative, themes of literary geographies are considered (spatial theory, bio-regional imagination, “place”), and the PhD argues for the inclusion of methodologies which show the importance of close reading to the disciplines of the coast and the forest.

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