Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Dr Marcella Polain

Second Supervisor

Dr Ffion Murphy


This thesis combines both creative and critical writing in an exploration of creativity and illness. When I began my candidature, I started writing a novel but found with the diagnosis of chronic illness I could no longer write narrative and was irresistibly drawn to poetry.

The collection of poems was written during the period immediately following the diagnosis of, and during my subsequently living with, a chronic autoimmune illness, and is an expression of the lived experience of both being ill and being a writer. The poems have been separated into three chronological parts, each reflective of the emotional changes throughout the disease. That the poems do not focus solely on illness is in part to do with my inability to confront my condition, and in part a reflection that my illness, while influencing my creative practice, is not the same as my creative practice.

In the critical portion of the thesis the intersection of creativity and illness is further examined. It explains the themes of my abandoned novel and the subject of grief as seen through Freud’s early work ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, and how that came to be an aspect of my new lived experience as a writer with a chronic illness. It then engages with Jacques Derrida’s theory of différance and discusses how this theory speaks to my switch from prose to poetry. The exegesis explores the nature of writing while ill, and of writing being separate from, as much as informed by, illness. Through an exploration of the work of a number of writers who have recorded their own illness (such as Donald Hall, Siri Hustvedt), or recorded the illness of those close to them (David Rieff, Simone de Beauvoir), the exegetical essay attempts to draw writing into a meaningful interaction with illness. Arthur Frank, Louise DeSalvo, Gregory Orr and others cast writing as a tool for healing; while this may have wider merit, I look at the implications in regards to my own circumstances. Underlying most of the topics explored are some key aspects of the personal versus the universal evident in Terry Eagleton’s How to Read a Poem. The coda looks at how, in a final twist, my illness seems to have been misdiagnosed and so, in many ways, I experienced it metaphorically. This is explored in response to Susan Sontag’s ideas, initially expressed in Illness as Metaphor (2002), regarding illness as a literal experience that becomes complicated by metaphorical language. The coda discusses how my illness seems to have dissipated and what that revision may mean for a discussion of illness and creativity.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to the exegesis.

Included in

Poetry Commons