An exploration of the efficacious properties of poetry as charm in the work of Ted Hughes, and, Pinhole camera

Midgley, James (2016) An exploration of the efficacious properties of poetry as charm in the work of Ted Hughes, and, Pinhole camera. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis has two parts: criticism of Ted Hughes and a poetry collection. They reflect and refract mutual concerns: mythology, the natural world, poetry’s aspirations to efficacy and their implications for language and self. The criticism also represents a part-exorcism of Hughes’s influence from my poetics.

Poetry is ‘magical’, says Hughes, ‘one way of making things happen’. Elsewhere: ‘great works of art […] heal us’. I interrogate this will to efficacy in both Hughes’s critical writing and his poetry, which stresses transformation, ego destruction/reconstitution, and cultural/psychological healing. This study asks: how does Hughes’s poetry make ‘things happen’, and what are the repercussions for poem and reader? I examine poems Hughes supports with explanations of efficacy, and interrogate those explanations and the poems’ efficacy by turning to ‘charm’. Charm is both an analogy through which efficacious properties yield to examination, and a source of influence upon Hughes’s poetry through anthropological and mythological discourse – and is an ancestor to aspects of poetry more generally. Charm tries to affect the world; assumes the world will respond to efficacious address; and binds its targets in ritual cooperation, upholding the authority of its (in Hughes, shamanic) user.

Hughes claims our culture is ‘sick’ and our language-use is (correspondingly) open to misunderstanding; he argues that ‘intact[ness]’ of language and culture are coterminous. Given this, I argue that charm’s “‘special language’ of power” has become unreliable – incompatible with Hughes’s idea of the broken compact between language and culture. Instead, Hughes’s sense of efficacy relies on techniques he finds dependable: sound, rhythm, violence, deployment of archetypes. Hughes’s use of charm attempts to constrain interpretation, homogenise the individual and the culture to which he/she belongs. I argue that Hughes’s shamanism is not a conduit to cultural harmony but to stagnation. Examination of my poetics follows: its differing, revelatory efficacy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature and Creative Writing (former - to 2011)
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2022 14:54
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2022 14:54

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