The graffiti artist : doing the work of the lyric through juxtaposition of disparate social discourse : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for Master of Creative Writing, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
One way the lyric has developed over the last century is to accommodate non-poetic social
discourses, e.g. languages of prose, genre, profession and cultural groups into the lyric tradition.
This thesis investigates the use of discourse to perform the work of lyric. It does so in two parts:
in a critical essay and through my own creative work, a manuscript of original poetry that is
meant to account for 60 percent of my thesis.
The critical component analyses four contemporary poems that do the work of the lyric
through this accommodation of social discourse: “A History” by Glenn Colquhoun, “Mountains”
by Sarah Jane Barnett, “Torch Song” by Laura Mullen and “Gesamtkunstwerk” by Lisa Samuels.
It examines, in particular, these poets’ use of juxtaposition of disparate social discourse as an
organising technique that illustrates the process of perception that is integral to lyric tradition.
The intensity of the juxtaposition of social discourse increases with each of these poems,
challenging some of the more traditional characteristics of what it means to be lyric, such as
whether the lyric is “uttered by a single speaker” or “expresses subjective feeling”. But if these
poems increasingly seem to fall outside the traditional lyric, this study argues that they in fact do
the work of the lyric by treating the disparate discourse as both a representation and product of
an increasingly globalised and fractured world. At the same time, the opportunities the poet
provides to make links across the contrasting discourses allow the reader to construct an
enunciative posture that provides a lens onto the “ache” of living in such a world, and thus
recover the subjective experience associated with the lyric.
This critical study investigates questions that are also of interest in the creative portion:
how to use multiple strands of social discourse in poetry in an effective and relevant way, and
how to organise a disparate set of poems into a collective whole. The essay, therefore, informed
the creative component of this thesis, a collection of poetry entitled “The Graffiti Artist”. This
collection offers juxtapositions of disparate discourses as well as narrative snapshots, each
snapshot nevertheless intersecting with and connected to the life of the protagonist, a mother
who turns during a time of crisis – personal crises with her children and social crisis in the
aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes – to graffiti art. A narrative in fragments, the poems
juxtapose strands of story and types of discourse she encounters in her different roles as graffiti
artist, mother and wife. Such discourses include, for example, scientific discourse associated
with her scientist son, the medical discourse of mental illness, the discourse of advertising, and
the discourse of the earthquake-damaged city she inhabits. By using these techniques to extend
defamiliarisation, I aimed to reveal a troubled world through the lens of a graffiti-artist speaker
so a reader might see her experience from within, thus effecting a change in perception, and
doing the work of the lyric.