Eccentric Peninsular: The Cornish Coast as a site for Deconstruction in Intermedia Poetry

Critical Writing
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2019
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This paper analyses the use of ‘the coast’, particularly the coast of England’s South-West Peninsular, as a site for deconstruction in the works of a number of intermedia poet-artists. It is based primarily on selected readings of digital literature works which specifically engage with the South-West coast, covering works by Mark Goodwin, Andrew Fentham, Penny Florence and JR Carpenter (including the latest work by JR Carpenter ‘This is a Picture of Wind’, shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize 2018). The reading considers the texts’ representations of ‘coasts’ and ‘peninsulars’ and their relationship to the de-stabilisation and frustration of positions of authority and authoritative structures (especially positions and structures of nationalism and sexism). The South-West peninsular can itself be considered de-centred and eccentric, remote from England’s administrative and financial centres and with a rich history of translocal interactions and migrations (c.f. Natalie Pollard) between other peripheral artistic and cultural regions and nations (especially those with Celtic heritage). Moreover the peninsular has attracted major canonical artists and writers since at least the 18th century, including (among many other) JM Turner, William Wordsworth, Ted Hughes, Virginia Woolf, Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron. In 20th century poetry Cornwall has been resident to translocal migrants WS Graham and Peter Redrove, in addition to many of the Radical Landscape Poets (considering especially those anthologized in Harriet Tarlo’s The Ground Aslant) and a wide range of British avant-garde poets, all of whom draw on the coast metaphor. This paper draws on this rich tradition of modernist and post-modern poetics and fine art practices, and relates it to the work of contemporary intermedia digital poetry and art practitioners who engage with the same landscape. Coasts can be considered as liminal and transient spaces, unstable, ever-changing and fluxatious, cycling through daily, lunar-monthly and yearly patterns. Beaches and sand-dunes shift, cliffs open into caves and collapse, solid seemingly changes into liquid and vice-versa, and the landscape provides a gestural sign of the ancient cumulative attrition of water and wind. Coastlines, may seemingly de-limit like borders and boundaries, but the reality is far from binary. Coastal and Peninsular communities can act as refuges for de-centred artistic practices. Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro points to bohemian coastal Brighton, to where eventually ‘all the freaks wash down.’ Perhaps the South-West peninsular has a similar magnetism for eccentric practices. This paper interrogates this metaphor and its related structures. What are the implications of peninsularity, how is eccentricity utilised for deconstruction, why is the SouthWest coast a particularly appealing symbolic field? More specifically, how are these structures used in intermedia digital poetry practices to de-stabilise and frustrate positions and structures of authority (especially positions of sexism and nationalism). Pointing to established critical work by (among others) Johanna Drucker, JR Carpenter and Scott Rettberg, the paper will also provoke questions about the production and distribution networks of digital literature, which analogously and sometimes self-consciously de-centre and de-stablise authority.

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Vian Rasheed