Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Creative Arts


This thesis is, in part, a response to the loss of poetry as an epistemic discourse, a process that began with the development of writing. However, it is also energised by new opportunities of using the powerful tool of language, and techniques of poetry.

The thesis aims to update previous defences of poetry, rebutting Plato’s initial attack in Ion, claiming poetry is non-cognitive. While building on a famous tradition, this thesis expands the repertoire of argumentation, ncorporating findings from the cognitive sciences, and insights from pragmatist, phenomenological, and ecological perspectives on the emergent/embodied nature of cognition. An emphasis on a speech-based poetics and embodied skilled practice, with no claims to transcend the ordinary and everyday, undermines formalist approaches. This approach is developed through an investigation of two new forms of the poem – ecopoetry and hypertext poetry; fresh forms to reinvigorate, not only poetry discourse, but ways of dwelling in the world.

Throughout this thesis, the processes by which language comes to mean, and be used, are explored, with a view to explaining the power of poetry. Poems provide cognitive opportunities for making use of the amazing cognitive techniques that we have co-evolved with; techniques, which put us in touch with our environments. This thesis is subject to adventure, and its arc of 16 short chapters closes with poems in Part 3.

The thesis is presented in three parts:

Part 1. Background Poetics - Poet as Language Animal

This part explores a naturalistic and empirical account of the language animal, revealing how language is a powerful cognitive technique, used both internally and externally. Identified are:

• Research findings from the cognitive sciences, which support emergent and interactionist models of the mind-brain-body, and suggest humans are embodied ecological beings; • the key concepts of cognitive fluidity (mapping across domains); extelligence (externalising memory workloads); and scaffolding (extending the mind into the material world), all of which maximise cognitive abilities. Nature, mind-body, culture, tools and techne (embodied skill) are intertwined, processural and emergent; and • the fundamental poetic character of language (metaphoric, affective, musical etc.), which empowers and energises cognitive abilities. Poetry is a key tool of the multi-faceted techniques, which we name language. Poems are complex cognitive tools, which expand our ability to understand, and move through the world.

Part 2. The Nature and Possibilities of Poems

Part 2 explores the nature and possibilities of poems, and:

• proposes an explanatory tripartite model of the poem (Speech-Act; Practice/Discourse; Art(e)fact), and develops the notion that poems are cognitive scaffolds; • argues that ecopoetry is not simply a sophisticated development of nature/landscape genres, but requires a revolution in understanding the world, and how it works (including, importantly, homo sapiens). Attentiveness to environments and ecological cycles, and a prescriptive perspective to human interrelations, requires poems to be porous to the world, including other discourses, and varieties of experience. This, in turn, requires innovative and open forms. • critiques current trends in digital generative poetries, which frequently re-engage 20th C avant-garde techniques. The danger is that techne (embodied skill) is being replaced by technology. The possibility of using hypertext as an informational technique (as originally imagined) also points to innovative open forms.

Part 3. Poems

This final section consists of poems by the author, which ‘appear’ for the defence; in part to illuminate arguments; but primarily performing a substantive Defence of Poetry themselves.

02Whole.pdf (5472 kB)