Palm-like fingers gripping a coarse line of air: Poetry as a method of enquiry into Southwest Australian flora

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Curtin University Humanities Graduate Studies Office


Graduate Research School


Graduate Research School / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




Ryan, J. C. (2010). Palm-like Fingers Gripping a Coarse Line of Air: Poetry As a Method of Enquiry into Southwest Australian Flora. Proceedings of Humanitites Graduate Research Conference. Bentley, WA. Curtin University Humanities Graduate Studies Office.


Visual forms of botanic representation—taxonomic illustration, wildflower photography, landscape painting and picturesque prose—depict plants as idealised images fixed in space and time. Scientific language further objectifies the plant, extruding it from its broader ecological and cultural contexts, while visually dissecting it into two-dimensional planes. Yet, flora is poiētic, that is, perpetually unfolding and shifting between life cycle states according to seasonal rhythms. Multi-dimensional representation of flora, therefore, moves between specific synchronic visual moments and broad diachronic multi-sensory patterns. Scholarship on arts-informed enquiry characterises poetry as a qualitative research methodology and a poiētic process. A long-standing tradition of poetic enquiry into flora predates contemporary theoretical models of arts-based research, and is exemplified by the work of American naturalist H.D. Thoreau. In examining the potential of poetic enquiry in the multi-layered representation of flora, this paper employs a structure that intersperses theoretical discussion with poetic interludes about Southwest Australian plants.

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