Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Communications and Arts
Education and Arts
Dr Marcella Polain
Associate Professor Susan Ash
Homing, as a collection, speaks to the capacity and yearning to navigate our way towards something we might call home. In animal behaviour, this seems like an instinct, hard-wired to the body. It is something I envy. By comparison, the instinct, in human behaviour, feels muffled and complicated.
These poems move between two places in which I feel ‘at home’, whatever that means: the south-west of Western Australia, where I was born and raised, and the north-west of Wales, where I lived for a time, and find myself returning to, drawn not by blood, but by longing, and a deep affinity for the landscape. Without any real intention, in the writing of the poems I found I had a lot to say about rivers. In particular, I found myself repeating images of drifting and gripping, as if these two, opposing, compulsions also said something about how we try to find our way home. The poet Mark Doty speaks of a “fierce internal debate between staying moored and drifting away, between holdings and letting go.”1 It is as if the river, too, knows something of how to arrive, and yet its movement is much like that of these poems, pulled by new hungers, at times distracted, or slowed, or apparently lost. Drift. Grip. Perhaps it is, after all, another kind of instinct.
In the critical essay that accompanies the poems, I look at the poetic leap in the work of the Welsh poet and priest R.S. Thomas. I was initially compelled by a strange parallel between an actual physical leap of escape, enacted by Thomas, who leapt a graveyard wall in order to avoid speaking to the mourners to whom he had just ministered a funeral service, and the leap found in Italo Calvino’s essay on lightness. This leap is also one of escape, in which the poet-philosopher Guido Calvcanti places a hand on a grave and leaps lightly over it, in order to elude the taunts of some local louts. Calvino calls this act, “an auspicious image for the new millennium.”2
In poetry we find the leap in the act of making metaphor, in enjambment, even in a kind of concentration. In Thomas’s work, the leap is focused in the form of the raptor; a presence repeated through his oeuvre, carrying with it many of his chief concerns, about God, love, and the inherent ferocity of the natural world. In a close reading of those poems, and with the aid of thinkers as disparate as Helene Cixous, Roland Barthes, Simone Weil and Edward Said, this essay is an attempt to trace the ways the leap works in Thomas’s poetry. It is also an attempt to analyse and understand the way poetry itself works to move the reader, in all senses of the word.
1Doty, M. (2001). Still life with oysters and lemon. Boston: Beacon Press, p.7
2Calvino, I. (2009). Six memos for the new millennium. (P. Creag, Trans.) London: Penguin Classics, p.12
Cooley, S. (2013). Homing : poetry ; &, An essay on the poetic leap in the late work of R.S. Thomas. Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/850