Poetry & Geography: Space and Place in Post-War Poetry

By Neal Alexander; David Cooper | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Road Divides: Thomas
Kinsella’s Urban Poetics

Lucy Collins

Though his earliest work was not published until the 1950s, Thomas Kinsella inherited a Modernist desire to challenge tradition, to engage in a relentless investigation of the inner life, and to expose its workings in formally challenging ways. His search for meaning is a complex and contingent process: in his work the incorporation of dynamism and stasis is not just an observable element of his formal control, but is in fact central to his understanding of the relationship between the act of human perception and the material world. For Kinsella, the individual is a cultural being, combining a variable relation to society and history with a sensibility to bodily and emotional states that are understood fully only by the experiencing self. In his investigation of the layered nature of human understanding, Kinsella uses spatial representation – in particular that of the city space – to explore the dynamics of past and present, liberating historical narrative from the constraints of linear time. By interweaving various forms of representation, from the documentary to the pictorial, from the autobiographical to the philosophical, Kinsella manipulates the space of the poem, and of the poetic sequence, to redraw the borders between the national and the personal, the philosophical and the experiential.

The complexity of Kinsella’s work reflects both the intellectual processes with which the writing grapples and their political implications. It engages too with the importance of individual subjectivity in shaping experience and understanding. Fredric Jameson qualifies the notion that the modern exhibits an apolitical character, marking a ‘turn inward and away from the social materials associated with realism, […] increased subjectification and introspective psychologization’.1 Instead Jameson adopts a position that is in fact close to Kinsella’s own – a recognition that the inward turn represents not a disregard for material existence but a willingness to subject it to the rigorous synthesis that the individual thought process offers. In Kinsella’s poetry the intellect is always in

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