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Zoƫ Brigley: PhD Abstract

ABSTRACT : Women and Exile: The Poetic Practice of Gwyneth Lewis, Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones

The poets to be discussed in this thesis are Gwyneth Lewis, Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones and they are all poets that originate from Wales. While many writers of Wales have called for poetic projects concerned with nation-building, these women are more interested in creating dialogues between different cultures, languages and genders. The poets have a common acceptance that identity is not simply defined by nation or sex, but that it must be permeable and open to others if human beings are to understand each other’s difference. Using appropriate theory from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, I offer detailed analysis of how these poets challenge notions of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ and I show that rather than remaining within the familiar and the known, Lewis, Petit and Rees-Jones use estrangement as a means to understand and respect the difference of others.

Chapter 1: Territories and Language: Exile in Gwyneth Lewis’ English Language Poetry Collections

While many bilingual poets in Wales (e.g. Menna Elfyn and Twm Morys) write only in Cymraeg (the Welsh language), Lewis decides to write poems in English challenging laws of linguistic purity. Lewis’ project is to create a ‘minor literature’ as described by Deleuze and Guattari in Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (1986). In discussing Franz Kafka’s writing, Deleuze and Guattari are particularly interested in the interaction between German and Czech in the Prague of the Hapsburg Empire. The former was a language of power and bureaucracy, while the latter was marginalized, yet Kafka chose to write in Prague German. Deleuze and Guattari believe that Kafka’s use of a hybrid language deterritorialized the imperialist German as a means to create a ‘minor literature’. Using the recent volume of Lewis’ poetry in English, Chaotic Angels (2006), I suggest that Deleuze’s and Guattari’s model of a ‘minor literature’ applies to Lewis’ poetry, because her poetic practice creates a collective political project that deterritorializes the English language with the inflections and idiosyncrasies of Cymraeg. Through exiling herself into her second language, Lewis discovers the gifts that can be found through the subversion of another idiom.

Chapter 2: The Secrets of Others: Pascale Petit's Poetic Employment of the Amazon and Latin America

Petit comes from a Welsh-French background and her unique cultural placement enables her to write thoughtfully about foreignness. Petit was also abused as a child, an experience that provoked feelings of alienation and strangeness which filter into her poetry. The model used to expediate readings of Petit’s poems is Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves (1991), in which Kristeva claims that through recognising the strangeness of others, the human subject must admit to his or her own strangeness. Kristeva suggests that human antipathy might be avoided by recognizing that while human beings may not share the same difference, they can at least admit that they are all different and strangers to each other. Petit is preoccupied with moving beyond a bounded poetic selfhood in order to explore the otherness of foreigners and to examine her own strangeness. I explore Petit’s strategies of estrangement and exile based on the three most important influences on her poetry: the otherness of nature in The Heart of A Deer (1994); the foreignness of indigenous people of the Amazon in The Zoo Father (2001); and the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, as a figure embodying strangeness in The Wounded Deer (2005). Petit’s complex rendering of civilisation and barbarity in both Western and Latin American cultures questions easy divisions between supposedly ‘cultured’ and ‘rudimentary’ communities.

Chapter 3: The Way of Love: Bridging Difference in Deryn Rees-Jones’ Quiver Rees-Jones is renowned for her love poetry and to discuss her work, I use Luce Irigaray’s The Way of the Heart (2002), a study that ponders how the philosopher (or poet) can approach the other via love. Irigaray’s aim is not to bind one and an other together in union, but to recognize the irreducible difference of two. In constructing this project, Irigaray suggests that a ‘third space’ between one and an other is important. According to Irigaray, the ‘third space’ prevents the domination or appropriation of one by another, but leaves space for each one to co-exist in dialogue. I argue that Irigaray’s theorizing is extremely relevant to Rees-Jones’ poetics and I provide detailed analysis of poems from Rees-Jones’ earlier collections, The Memory Tray (1994) and Signs Around a Dead Body (1998), with particular attention given to her novel-in-verse, Quiver (2004). Irigaray’s theorizing is a useful frame through which to view Rees-Jones’ poetics, because, like Irigaray. Rees-Jones offers the possibility of a fruitful relationship between one and an other and, in order to overcome the estrangement between man and woman, Welsh subject and non-Welsh subject, Rees-Jones advocates the creation of a ‘third space’. Ultimately, Rees-Jones’ poetry offers metaphors for what it is to be human and how to overcome difference by moving beyond the bastion of the whole self towards a third space of possibility, empathy and dialogue.