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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cognitive ecology & visual poetry : toward a multimodal cognitive poetics Borkent, Michael


In this dissertation I offer a new approach to North American visual poetry. I develop an eco-cognitive analysis of visual poetic features and bring them into critical dialogue with other literary genres. I focus primarily on the Canadian tradition and reception of visual poetry, using it as a helpful microcosm for discussions of poetic influence and critical engagement, while also bringing it into dialogue with experimental and lyrical transnational Anglophone poetry and poetics. I propose an interdisciplinary methodology that addresses visual poetry as a hybrid of verbal, visual, and tactile modes of communication. I discuss visual poetry from the perspective of conceptual mechanisms that produce specific interpretive possibilities, thereby offering a more robust account of how visual poems specifically interact with the materiality of print culture. I begin by defining multimodal literature and visual poetry and outlining a multimodal approach to media that bridges traditional poetic and hermeneutic approaches. I propose a model of cognitive ecology as a framework that meets the needs of visual poetic criticism. In particular, I rely on research into perception, mental simulation, and conceptual integration to show how communicative modalities are transformed to yield synthetic multimodal understandings of hybrid texts. Furthermore, I consider common cognitive biases to expose the underlying fallacious assumptions in several poetic, critical, and popular approaches to visual poetry in Canada and abroad. I then show how my eco-cognitive framework offers a more productive understanding of the interactions between modalities. I offer critical tools which view the poems as multimodal anchors for conceptualization, thereby distinguishing between multimodal textuality and the readerly experience of it. Finally, I develop a theory of cognitive improvisation which addresses how even illegible or abstract cues in visual poetry can prompt meaningful interpretations. I argue that all experiences of texts involve some level of cognitive improvisation, but that visual poetry foregrounds this aspect of everyday creativity. Finally, I show how this multimodal cognitive poetics extends naturally to other forms of multimodal literature, especially comics and graphic novels.

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