Mapping 1: The Poem as Space

  • Heather H. Yeung
Part of the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies book series (GSLS)


Reading Walter Ong’s The Presence of the Word, Louis Sass notes that “the written word could […] be said to freeze thought, by organizing it and preserving it in a visual space; it thereby offers a new image of an independent mental universe.” He goes on to note that “the commitment of sound to space that is inherent in alphabetical writing had a noticeable effect on our sense of the world.”1 The written, silently read, word promotes an engagement with literary language that is in many ways interior, or withdrawn. This visual, silent, appreciation of the poem leads to a conception of the poem as space; this is the first of three ways of engaging with poetry that I will investigate in the first part of this study. The poem as space is, alongside the poem of space, one of the dominant ways in which poetry criticism maps poetry and poetics. Often criticism that looks at the poem as space will reject out of hand the notion of reading the self-same poem as also operating of space, not to mention as a vocalized, performative, or affective poetic experience. After looking at the idea of the poem as space, I will go on to look at the importance of this critical poetic phenomenon in relation to the two other ways that space operates in the poem—of space and as vocalic space. Taken singularly, each attempt to map space in the poem is necessarily biased, leading to a reductive reading process, but taken together, we can more readily appreciate the spatial nature of the poem on its own terms, echoing Michel Foucault’s well-known exhortation, “l’époque actuelle serait peut-être l’époque de l’espace.”2


Reading Process Silently Read Perspex Plate Object Relation Function Poetic Work 
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© Heather H. Yeung 2015

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  • Heather H. Yeung

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