'Pour garder l'impossible intact' : the poetry of Heather Dohollau
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This dissertation offers the first extended study of the work of the Welsh-French poet Heather Dohollau, whose substantial œuvre in French, published since 1974, has recently received international critical recognition. My thesis centres on the idea of traversée, which originates in Dohollau’s experience of exiles, returns and bilingualism. My chapters elucidate five interconnected themes which all relate to that overarching paradigm. Chapter 1 focuses on Dohollau’s trajectories as reflected in poems on the memory of place, concentrating on South Wales and the island. The quest for place is also a quest for the past, which is handled as an after-image capable of upwelling into the present. Chapter 2 investigates the visual-verbal bilingualism towards which Dohollau’s texts on specific artworks (or ekphrastic texts) seem to strive. Dohollau revitalizes the ekphrastic tradition and challenges its conventional connotations of power struggle (W. J. T. Mitchell) in favour of a poetics of hospitality. Chapter 3 is dedicated to Dohollau’s ethos and practice of slowness. It undertakes a close-reading analysis of her syntactic and sound-related rhythms, connecting them with Derrida’s différance. The idea of poetry as a foreign language is discussed in chapter 4: Dohollau’s adoption of French as her main poetic language in the mid-1960s, her handling of motherhood and daughterhood, and her quest for a poetics of mourning and fidelity are examined in their interrelations. The concluding chapter explores the boundaries between language and the unsaid. Dohollau has been uniquely placed to engage with postwar reassessments of language and its limits (Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot), poised as she is between languages and media. As her poems show, such limits constitute a poetic resource in their own right. Her carefully cultivated liminal stance has given her important insights into the creative process as a passage into words from an unwritten, yet not utterly inchoate other of the poem.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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