Poetic Space: Mapping Out How Poetry Takes Place

Lena Mattheis


How does poetry map its own space? How is place constructed in and through poetic language? While there is an abundance of research on topographical poetry, most of it focuses on (maps of) real-world referents. I would like to propose an approach that, rather than dealing with the concrete place and its geographical mapping, looks inward and schematises how language and form are used to create the spatial imaginary in which a poem takes place.

Drawing on examples from Jo Shapcott’s collection Of Mutability (2010) and Jackie Kay’s Bantam (2017), I will investigate which strategies poems use to build a poetic space (somewhat analogous to a narrative setting) in which its actions or emotions can unfold. I will focus on tracing movements as well as deictic elements, since both create spatial relationships and are archetypal to the genre of loco-specific poetry.

Both strategies (movement and deixis) can be abstracted and easily visualised to create sketch maps of poetic space that help us understand how the text constructs its own spatiality. Although the spatial turn in literary studies has sparked similar investigations in narratology, the ways in which prose texts map space seem to be quite different from the way poetic space functions. I therefore believe that a more schematic approach to poetic space can provide fruitful abstractions and aid us in better understanding the complex interplay of mappings, space and poetry.


mapping; poetry; sketch maps; space; deixis; topographical poetry.

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