Interrogating the much-cherished concept of “poetic thinking,” this book focuses on what interview and draft materials reveal of how poets actually do think, when in the act of writing. The interviews confirm what findings from cognitive science and linguistics make clear: we rarely know exactly what words we are going to say, until we have said them. Suddenness and the Composition of Poetic Thought draws out the implications of a radically curtailed view of consciousness on how we understand the drafting and revision of lines of poetry, with implications for our theorisation of the composition of prose. Henrich von Kleist’s assertion that “it is not we, but a certain condition of ours which knows” emerges as central to this reassessment of the nature of the written word.
Employing an extensive archive of interview materials with major Anglophone poets, discussing how they think in the moments of composition, this book also provides a lucid account of the links between poetic composition and live performative thinking in the contexts of Romantic compositional practice and the early (pre)textual history of ancient Greek epic.
A transdisciplinary study at the crossroads of philosophy, cognitive psychology, literary studies, and linguistics, this book reconceptualizes the wellsprings of poetic thought and advances our understanding of thinking’s complex but vital link to improvised speech.
Paul Magee is associate professor of poetry at the University of Canberra. He is author of the ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego and two books of verse Cube Root of Book and Stone Postcard.
Introduction: On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking
Part I Revising towards Spontaneity
1. We Do Not Know What We Are Going to Say until We Have Said It
2. “That’s the Illusion You’re Supposed to Get”
Part II Two Histories of Sudden Verse
4. Romantic Revision and Its Others
5. The Iliad and The Odyssey Were Rapidly Composed
6. The Desk as Stage
7. Oral Verse in Performance
Part III Writing Is Speaking
8. Not-Quite Speech
9. Writing as “Oral Dictated”
10. Consciousness as a Window of Three Seconds
Part IV Suddenness and Art
12. The Split in the Archive
13. “Great Goblets of Magnolialight”
About the Author