Inhabiting the Page: Visual Experimentation in Caribbean Poetry
Austen, Veronica J.
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This project explores visually experimental poetry as a particular trend in Caribbean poetry since the 1970's. Although visual experimentation in Caribbean poetry is immediately recognizable – for example, its play with font styles and sizes, its jagged margins, its division of the page into multiple discourse spaces, its use of images – little critical attention has been paid to the visual qualities of Caribbean poetry. Instead, definitions of Caribbean poetry have remained focussed upon oral/aural aesthetics, excluding its use of and contribution to late 20th century experimental poetic practice. By focussing on the poetry of Shake Keane, Claire Harris, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Kamau Brathwaite, and LeRoy Clarke, I bring post-colonial literary criticism into discussion with contemporary debates regarding visual poetic practice in North America. In so doing, this project values Caribbean visual poetry both for its expression of Caribbean cultural experience and for its contributions to broader experimental poetry movements. I argue that visual experimentation functions to disrupt traditional linear reading processes, which thereby allows poets to perform the flux of time and space in post-colonial contexts. Furthermore, such disruption of linear reading practices, often manifested by the positioning of multiple discourses on one page, serves to create a polyvocal discourse that resists patriarchal and colonialist power structures. Valuing the visual qualities of Caribbean poetry as signifying elements, this dissertation explores the aesthetic and social implications of inscription and visual design in Caribbean poetry.