A dao of poetry? Non-intentional composition, emergence and intertextuality

Document Type

Conference Proceeding



Place of Publication



School of Arts and Humanities


Jackson. (2016). A Dao of poetry? Non-intentional composition, emergence, and intertextuality. In The Authorised Theft: Writing, Scholarship, Collaboration Papers — the Refereed Proceedings of the 21st Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, Writing Programs, Canberra, Australia. Available here


Ten poems are presented, sampling my PhD research and exploring how poetry might harmonise ‘Western’ scientific and ‘Eastern’ spiritual worldviews. The poems invite a liminal consciousness where science’s epistemic authority may meet on equal—not privileged—terms with the more ancient authorities of body and Earth. My chosen primary foci are modern physics, philosophical Daoism, and the ecosystemic perspective afforded by complexity theory (Capra & Luisi 2014), in which large-scale patterns emerge unpredictably from relatively simple processes. This emergence, as Smith (2006: 172) remarks, is helpful in theorising how an artwork frequently ‘develops its own autonomous identity and ... takes the creator in directions quite different from his or her original intentions.’ My methodology carries this further by seeking to abandon intention entirely. To achieve this I choose randomly from lists of sources and writing experiments. Influenced by found poetry (Perloff 2012) and by the aleatory processes of conceptual writing and LANGUAGE poetry (Dworki n.d.; James 2012), I appropriate, combine and re-present ideas and text from creative and non-fictional works. I take words from books or from what Tobin (2004: 126) calls the mind’s ‘other place’ of poetry. A poem may or may not emerge; if one does, I have little idea what it may say or do. I work with eyes and fingers, pointing, highlighting, cutting and shuffling. I select and place text using body and instinct, not the thinking self. This non-intentional composition strives for the Daoist ideal of wei wuwei, action without action—egoless, selfless, apparently-effortless action. Moeller (2004) likens wei wuwei to Csíkszentmihályi’s (1990) concept of flow, the focused, effortless mental state also called ‘the zone’. Aspiring to become daojia shiren, ‘poet of Philosophical Daoism’, I practise yun you, ‘wandering like a cloud’, ‘searching everywhere’ for the Way (Chen & Ji 2016: 178, 188).

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