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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cognition and the concrete poetry of bpNichol : towards a cohesive methodology Borkent, Michael


This study examines visual and concrete poetry by the influential Canadian poet bpNichol and the related scholarly criticism. Visual poetry is multimodal, employing the materiality of the book, page, words and letters, as well as artistic flourishes, playful engagements with conventions, and so on, to broaden the reader’s perception and understanding of language and communication. Previous scholarship has varied widely in engaging visual poetry, and in particular with bpNichol’s, in part by focusing on a schism between the pictorial and verbal content or by suppressing the contribution of visuality to the meanings of these texts. Thus, the material and visual focus of this poetry challenges how scholars discuss textual meaning and how it connects to other works, poetic philosophies, and theory. This study offers a framework developed from research in Cognitive Science which illustrates how language and images synthesize through cognitive processes rooted in metonymy, metaphor, and iconicity, best articulated through Conceptual Integration Theory (also called blending). The cognitive view of language traces connections between the body and the mind, illustrating the inextricable links between perceptual and conceptual meanings through embodiment. This view of language and meaning allows for connections between images and texts on various levels of knowledge. This methodology promotes a more expansive and holistic engagement with Nichol’s oeuvre, showing connections between his poetry, prose, and poetics. While it certainly has affinities with previous scholarship, the cognitive model also qualifies some conclusions in important ways, primarily by placing emphasis on the construction of meaning from both visual and verbal prompts rather than a tension between these representative modes. The cognitive perspective offers a means of discussing the generativity of simplicity in multimodal poetry with clarity and alacrity through a more organic view of meaning. Due to the prevalence of multimodal texts beyond visual poetry, the final chapter of this study illustrates how the cognitive methodology can contribute to studies of comics, children’s books, advertising, culture-jamming, graffiti, and media ecology. This study contributes to the broader discussion of materiality and meaning by illustrating the complexity of cognition involved in understanding multimodal texts.

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