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Research Statement for Emilie Collyer's essay "Wrestling with Mode and Meaning: the Play of Poetry in Theatre"

posted on 30.09.2021, 22:39 by Emilie Collyer

Background: In her 2016 State of Play essay, renowned Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius wrote, in relation to her work: ‘It’s the very heart of theatre – to disturb, to agitate, to make one feel uneasy about the shit of a world we live in.’ How might theatre enact this goal? In this essay I make the case that a key tool some playwrights use in order to ‘disturb and agitate’ is poetic language.

Contribution: In analysing recent works of theatre where playwrights employ poetic language (that is, language that disturbs narrative flow or delivers narrative in unusual ways) they are engaging with a deliberate strategy to engage audiences on a socio-political level as well as an artistic level. Using plays that deal with subjects including poverty, incarceration of women, and the history of US slavery as my examples, I demonstrate that by bringing two forms (poetry and playwriting) into conversation with each other, new ways of hearing and understanding language are made possible – for those performing the works and for those receiving them as audiences. Writing about the creative and critical possibilities that are made possible when experimenting with form in this way contributes new insights to both critical analysis discourse about performance writing, and also to creative practice theory in regard to how playwrights work and how their choices have political impact.

Significance: This essay was published by Cordite, one of Australia's leading platforms with a focus on poetry, poetics and poetic inquiry meant that my exploration of form was disseminated to a wide audience and became part of a public conversation about poetic and theatrical conventions. Cordite has published essays by leading Australian writers including Natalie Harkin, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Toby Fitch and many more.