An Ecological Poetics : Changing Symbols of the Natural World in Literature
Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisor: Professor Harriet Hawkins
This combined Cultural Geography and Poetry PhD project will take Andrea Alciato’s book of emblems the Emblematum Liber (1531) as a starting point for documenting changing ecological interactions as manifested in emblems, symbols and allegories in poetry from the Middle Ages to present. This research project contends that the once popular poetic format of the emblem works perfectly in the multifocal mode required by observers of ecological crisis in modernity. It will aim to kickstart the process of bringing this form back to life through a combination of theory and practice. Firstly, I will produce a 80,000 word thesis that will provide a new timeline for ecocritical studies focused on poetry, by charting a changing pan-European ‘ecological thought’ that can be found in the emblems and symbols of selected texts. These will be as diverse as the Emblematum Liber, Johann Goethe’s Travels in Italy, the French Symbolists poets (Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Valéry), and the modern anti-heroic emblems of contemporary British poets (Ted Hughes, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Alice Oswald). To identify this ‘ecological thought’, my analytical approach fuses together poetry with climate science, natural history, contemporary speculative realist philosophy and visual art. Secondly, this research will inform a practical creative writing project in which new poems are written for the original images of the Emblematum Liber, with the aim of writing short poems for the images of the Padua edition of 1621. My intention is to reinvigorate these emblems with developments in environmental and philosophical knowledge, as well as the new material uncovered by my research. A central focus of my research will be; how have symbols of the natural world changed over time, and have external factors (such as biodiversity loss) affected the poetic value of certain subjects over others?