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PhD awarded 2024

Among Love's Apartments: A Theory-in-Practice of the Autopoetic Essay

My creative-critical PhD project was approved by Dublin City University in January. It is called Among Love's Apartments: A Theory-in-Practice of the Autopoetic Essay. Both parts of the project are creative-critical. The creative- is a poetic essay exploring representations and discourses of Love in relation to my own experience and ignorance. As a clueless Querent, I wander a series of Apartments that are filled with voices from a wide range of sources, ancient to modern. I use poems, straight narrative, critical study and investigative re-writes. My comparative models were Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson, Susan Griffin and Kathy Acker. I realised that we are all concerned with the importance of the intimate voice, but also with its embroilment in the cultural matrix, and with the quest for information. More than this, there is a particular engagement of poetic method. Texts are structured symbolically or allegorically to represent the problem and its environment. Vivian Gornick says The Situation and the Story. I say the Situation. Not necessarily Story. Let the situation speak. Let the situation perform itself by taking each part of it on its own terms. Let the situation speak through the poetic approach to structure.

I could not find an appropriate term for what I was doing. Is that important? I think naming a method helps one to focus and visualise. I was not looking for a term to place in genre theory, but I wanted a descriptive label. 'Poetic essay' works to a degree, but it does not convey the aspiration I've just described -- to create a living situation in text. I came up with 'autopoetic essay', a term which works to suggest an open-form text in which experience is the organising engine and poetry the organising method. I draw an analogy with some of the theory attached to the biological term 'autopoiesis', invented by Humberto Maturana and originally elaborated with Francisco Varela. The scientists write, among other things, of the living organism's structural determinism, its nature as a cognitive system, the association of learning with the emotions, and the embeddedness of the organism in its medium. I can relate all of these features to the way in which my text, and many others which might be called 'essayistic', are constructed. Many writers think of their texts as bodies, and poets in particular often attempt to contact by a measure of forgetfulness, structurally enacted, what Chus Pato calls the 'prior psyche'.


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