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Title: Live Writing: A Psychophysical Approach to the Analysis of Black British Poetry in Performance
Author(s): Silva, Hannah
Supervisor(s): Robinson, Gemma
Keywords: performance poetry
spoken word
Black British
live writing
Lemn Sissay
Salena Godden
David J.
British Library
performance analysis
Malika Booker
Issue Date: Feb-2018
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This study redresses the scarcity of critical engagement with poetry in performance. My case studies are ‘black British poets’. I argue that the poet’s use of voice, gesture, presence, breath, prosody, improvisation, introductions, commentary and asides can be analysed as part of live writing. I demonstrate that the analysis of poetry in performance requires multiple methodologies and analytical approaches. I provide a correction to existing models and approaches to analysing poetry in performance by selecting methodology in response to the poet’s work and the contexts and heritages that inform their practice. I use ‘live writing’ as a lens that can be applied to all poetry performances, from the poet who quietly reads to the poet who recites whilst dancing. This study reveals that performing poetry is a psychophysical act that engages the poet’s entire (a)liveness. The first contextualising chapters consider the place of performance within British poetry as a whole, and how labels such as ‘spoken word’ and ‘fixed-identity’ can be used to exclude. ‘Live writing’ is discussed in relation to poststructuralism, the avant-garde and black British poetry. Chapter two, “Ways of Listening” demonstrates how a legacy of analysis founded on Saussure’s differentiation between langue and parole has impacted literary criticism and ways of listening, revealing that even recent analyses of poetry in performance re-prioritise the page. Finally, in chapter three, the potential meanings and origins of ‘British spoken word voice’ are considered and its attributes analysed using pitch-tracking software. Drawing on methodology from literary criticism, performance studies, sociolinguistics and musicology, the second half of this study is dedicated to analyses of live writing by Salena Godden, David J and Lemn Sissay. I analyse their work via the aesthetics and histories of hip hop, oral literature, Brechtian theatre, and Geneva Smitherman’s discussion of black semantics, specifically ‘talk-singing’ and ‘Signifyin’. Godden and David J are influential British poets whose work has not previously been analysed within or outside of academia. Lemn Sissay has been more widely discussed; I provide a unique contribution by analysing his use of gesture and voice, asides and commentary (or ‘performed palimpsests’) in relation to Bertolt Brecht’s writings on defamiliarisation. The study concludes with a discussion of Sissay’s The Report that refocuses my use of the phrase ‘live writing’.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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