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Dissertation Option #1

June 16, 2010

In September I’ll be going into my fourth year at St Andrews, which of course includes the looming spectre of my Honours Dissertation. I want to start my reading around soon, so I have more than just a vague idea of what I’m going to write on when term starts. I know it’s going to be on super-contemporary British poetry, but beyond that I have several avenues I might go down. So! Readers of the blog, I implore you — comment! Help me decide. Here is a sketchy outline of option one:

Sam Willetts

Like most of my options, Willetts was made known to me during the latter part of last semester during my British and Irish poetry module (is it bad that I really miss those classes?). I was immediately struck by the raw honesty of Willetts’s style and his aptitude for balancing the concrete and the abstract. He achieves this through what you might call magical realism; the naked facts of his troubled past are offset by images of remarkable (and at times unreal) beauty. Willetts can write a gut-wrenching poem about heroin addiction and loss, but glean a positive tone from it almost by chance, with something as immediate and startling as a robin flying in through a kitchen window.

The poems are emotional but measured, and often just as optimistic and beautiful as they are troubled and visceral. This not only makes for enjoyable reading, but gives the opportunity to explore the tension between concrete and abstract, something that definitely interests me. Willetts’s talent for unearthing understanding, compassion and even humour from the darkest of experiences also offers an intriguing insight into the psyche and the human capacity for hope.

But I can’t ask your advice on a poet to write on without an example:

Detoxing in the French Quarter

As I stepped out of frigid air-conditioning
onto the skillet noon of Bourbon Street
I heard a man’s voice whisht to me, but turned
to find the sidewalk vacant – nothing there beneath
the balconies but their long griddles
of shadow. Voodoo believers say the dead
may not leave; sunned-up, I spiked cold again
to think of the Quarter still crowded with others –
its sallow caballeros and darktown strutters,
its long-dead browsers in Cohen the Gunsmith’s
and Meyer the Hatter’s – an unseen watch
of jealous jazz ghosts glimpsed through wrought-iron,
astir with the vines in the sweet-fried breeze.

(Taken from Identity Parade, edited by Roddy Lumsden)

And for a more eloquent commentary on Willetts, the Guardian has a review of his latest collection, here.

Thoughts? Feelings? I would greatly appreciate any help or advice my dear readers can offer.

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