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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Listening out loud : the performance of poetry in Robert Bringhurst’s Ursa Major and George Elliott Clarke’s Québécité McLeod, Katherine


Performing poetry and poetry that performs both call for a critical attuning to what I understand as performative listening — a concept that combines the critical contexts of both performance theory and theories of performativity, meanwhile invoking a critical context around the term audience. Rather than keeping each of these spheres separate, my thesis examines how their intersections uncover sites that test the possibilities and limitations of listening with one's whole body. George Elliott Clarke's jazz opera Québécité and Robert Bringhurst's masque Ursa Major invite performative readings of their textual forms. These two works perform through what Dennis Lee calls "a poetics of voice in motion" that involves thinking of poetry as being in a state of motion — a return to the meaning of poiesis as making. The "voice in motion" that Lee hears as poetics gives acoustic material to this process of making. Lee's essay, "Body Music," in which he speaks of this kinetic state of poetics, appears in the collection, Thinking and Singing: Poetry and the Practice of Philosophy — a book composed of essays that inform this paper through their content and even more so through their approach to writing about poetry as listening to poetry. As Tim Lilburn characterizes the essays in his preface to the book: "all of the writing has an open ear, proceeds by this ear: a certain form of speech can be an attempt to hear" (2). In considering Clarke's Québécité and Bringhurst's Ursa Major as forms of speech that attempt to hear, I focus on what strategies the poetry employs in order to perform; moreover, while the writing itself attempts to hear, the reading of this writing requires more than a simple scanning with one's eyes. In his introduction to the essay collection Close Listening, Charles Bernstein re-introduces the term reading to refer to the poetry reading as a performative event in need of critical attention. With this notion of reading as performance, I ask how the reading of poetry translates into an embodied, vocalized performance and how we, in turn, perform as listeners.

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