Negotiating ‘Negative Capability’: The Role of Place in Writing

Hawryluk Lynda, Shilton Leni


Taking its lead from the poet John Keats‟ notion of „negative capability‟ (1891, p. 48), this paper explores the methodology of representing landscapes in writing, specifically using place to effect the process of „…being capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubt, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…‟ (ibid). Keats refers to the poet as „taking part‟ in the life of the poem (1891, p. 48). Being in the poem this way attempts to allow the reader to experience the emotion of the poem. Mary Oliver extrapolated this by referring to „the “mere” diction of the poem [being] the vehicle that holds then transfers from the page to the reader an absolutely essential quality of real feeling‟ (1994, p 84). This paper focuses on the work of two Australian writers whose work captures in verse a sense of connection to rugged and remote terrains. To evoke this sense of connection, Keats‟ negative capability comes into play. This moment is described here as a metaphysical space where a meditative state provides the writer with moments described in this paper as a „glimpse‟. The „glimpse‟ is a recognition of that moment of connection, without which „poetry cannot happen‟ (Oliver, 1994 p. 84). For our purposes here, we read this as being about the connection to a place as written on the page and how that then broadens out upon reading to become a connection to something beyond the notion of specific place. Keats own words speak to this possibility, of allowing uncertainty to provide a sense of meaning and connection. This paper demonstrates, via creative practice and the work of like-minded Australian poets, the internal and external processes that take place to facilitate the „glimpse‟ and inform our own writing about landscapes. This writing is individually informed by knowledge about environment and notions of poetic space, where „aspects of the unconscious move into consciousness‟ (Hetherington, 2012 p. 8). The authors will explore the commonalities and distinctions between their work, using brief examples.


Landscape, poetry, glimpse

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